Rangers opt out of Development League to challenge European elite

Rangers' youngsters will face the best European football has to offer next season after opting out of the SPFL's Development League for 2017/2018.

Rangers' Head of Academy Craig Mulholland (centre) with youth players Jamie Barjonas (left) and Ross Lyon. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey

The club obtained permission from the SPFL to be excused from the league, and will instead tackle a games programme against the finest Europe has to offer, with fixtures against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Benfica and Bayern Munich.

The unique experiment is in accordance with the SFA’s Project Brave initiative, which the club’s head of academy Craig Mulholland helped create. The initiative has received the backing from the SPFL, Scottish Football Association and Malky MacKay, the performance director.

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The club hopes the games will help fast-track the development of the club’s youngsters, with a key issue being the jump from youth football to first team football, in particular the 17 to 21 age group.

Mulholland told Rangers’ official website: “The first step was to acknowledge that, at Rangers, and indeed for Scotland as a country, we must produce a much higher standard of player.

“We must accept that for us to become a club renowned for producing elite talent, and for Scotland again to become a top football nation we are required to brave enough to undertake significant change from the way we have developed footballers in the past.

“Our observations and research suggests that young Scottish players between the ages of 15 and 17 are every bit as talented as their peers in other European nations and we believe we must expose them to a challenge and fixtures programme which, not only matches, but exceeds, the quality of provision experienced by their peers in these countries.

“This should, as a minimum, keep their development trajectory in line with these top nations and reduce the drop off figure of 37 per cent for our best potential talent making the transition from Scotland 17’s, where we have been successful, to the 21’s, who have not qualified for many years

“The challenge the players will receive on a weekly basis will, we believe, push their development to a level not experienced before by Scottish young players and will hopefully contribute to the creation of a much higher level of player, and indeed a different type of player, than has been produced in recent years.”

As well as games against Europe’s elite, Rangers will also feature in the Scottish FA Youth Cup and SPFL Challenge Cup, and take on teams in League 1 and League 2 to allow them broad experiences.

“The new games programme will create a fantastic challenge for the players on a whole new level and will hopefully result in the same positive outcome where the young Scottish footballer ends up competing favourably with his top European counterparts.

“This programme will also ensure our young Scottish talent is not facing Europe’s top players for the first time when playing for Rangers first team in Europe, or for Scotland at international level.

“Our match programme will be one of the best in Europe and will be attractive and exciting for our best young players. This will act as a stimulus for them to push their own development on a daily basis.

“We will mix these cross border fixtures at U19/20 level with matches in Scotland against League One and League Two teams. Again this exposure to playing against men will be critical in the development of these players.”