Rangers may be wrapped in a coal-coloured cloak but the Ibrox club’s interim manager Graeme Murty can cast his mind towards Wembley this afternoon for evidence the darkest hour really can come before the dawn.
Murty, then in his playing twilight, was a member of the Southampton side forced to embark on third-tier football only eight years ago. From the outside, this era would seem to represent a low point.
A point, indeed, entirely removed from where the south coast of England club are presently: seeking to claim a second major honour as they face Manchester United in the League Cup final, after becoming a model club in the English top flight. An organisation whose rearing, recruitment and recouping – both on-field and financially – with players is considered revolutionary.
Yet for the 44-year-old, who later worked in the Southampton academy, the ‘now’ at the club was assured by the ‘then’ of 2009. “I didn’t realise the scale of Southampton as a club until I got there,” he said. “Playing at Reading, I thought they were always fairly large. But when I got to see the fan-base, the infrastructure behind the football pitch – I realised it had been built knowingly, and professionally, to go only one way. You’re seeing a manifestation of that now because all of the things you see now were put in place when Southampton dropped down to League One.
“When I went there in 2009, the club were very clear in their mission statement in terms of where they wanted to be, particularly in their use of the academy. They were clear that 50 per cent of their first team would eventually come from their academy.
“And within five years they’d be challenging in the Premier League as well as playing European football. They’ve nailed it. When you get on board with something like that – and you have the energy and investment ready to go – it’s very hard not to be excited about it. To then see them actually go and execute it, you have to take your hat off to them.
“Lots of clubs can learn from Southampton, not just Rangers. Because they have a chart of players, managers, staff who all buy into the philosophy and want to be involved with how Southampton do it. They call it the Southampton way. That’s not a trite little title. It’s something they live by every day.
“If clubs are looking to build and invest, I’d look at how they’ve done it and how they’ve managed to add quality every year. You need the right people in the right posts at the right time to do it. You can’t see that any clearer than in their academy. They just produce player after player after player.
“They’re very exacting in the way they select those players. They’re exacting in their standards. They had different criteria for different positions. But more than anything, their academy is clear that they must be good people. A lot of effort goes on behind the scenes in getting a Jack Stephens into the first-team. It can be everything from him living in the right area to getting cooking lessons. It’s a whole package in supporting their young players. When you see that it’s no surprise that they get exposed early to the challenges in the first-team and flourish.”