Fear and self-loathing at Rangers as another clear-out beckons under new manager - while Celtic chase a first
The Ibrox board must have hoped that relieving Michael Beale of his duties would act as a release valve for the acrimony and angst asphyxiating their club, only for the ghastly display from their team under the interim charge of Steven Davis against thoroughly-unremarkable Cypriot hosts Aris Limassol to represent business as has become depressingly usual. The 2-1 defeat in Thursday’s Europa League assignment to a side a mere 263 places below Rangers in the UEFA rankings had the Ibrox faithful in attendance baying for blood.
As they did following the 3-1 defeat at home to Aberdeen in Beale’s last stand five days earlier. As was the case when victory was mind-numbingly dug-out against Motherwell the previous weekend. And, pivotally, as occurred when a defensively-destablised Celtic did a number on them in their own backyard a month ago, to claim the spoils in the bitter rivals first derby meeting of the campaign. Barracking has become the new backing for the Rangers fanbase, their howls of derision borne out of despair.
In turn, self-flagellation has become the default for those performing as if not playing on pitches but quicksand. Centre-back Connor Goldson declared that the inability to defeat a team who only made their debut in European competition last season – and had never posted a win beyond qualifiers – was “rubbish”. “We have to apologise but all we do at the minute is apologise to our fans,” he lamented. This arresting admission came a fortnight after Kemar Roofe – witnessed vigorously shaking his head as the Rangers players unwisely trooped toward their incandescent travelling supporters in the Alphamega Stadium to clap them – reckoned the boos that rained on them from their own supporters over their struggles to see off Motherwell were down to them being “bored”.
Rangers look lost, bemoaned former Ibrox midfielder and now pundit Derek Ferguson, as on BBC Radio Scotland he was left aghast by the absence of a Limassol “reaction” to their abject showing against Aberdeen. What scares the Ibrox fanbase witless is that it is not apparent how, as a club, they can find themselves again. Of course, a new manager can be expected to be in place before the return from the imminent international break. Kevin Muscat, Philippe Clement, Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are currently the main contenders yet whoever takes charge could be walking into a bear pit.
The synapses of Rangers followers are being fried by the apparent permanence of their secondary status to Celtic. On Sunday, an-all-at-sea Ibrox team will travel to Paisley to face a St Mirren side that sit above them in the Premiership table after a storming, unbeaten sequence across seven league games that has provided them with their best start to a top flight campaign in 75 years. A spell during which Rangers have lost three times – as has not been witnessed in such a span of fixtures since 1987. There is every chance then that the Ibrox men could add a fourth league defeat to their litany of losses in this campaign. Such an outcome could leave them not just trailing Celtic by 10 points, but see them be left six points adrift of Stephen Robinson’s men. Any pretence of a title race would be ended right there.
More than that, though, Celtic would be placed on course for a first. In the 123-year history of league football in this country, no team has won 12 out of 13 championships as the Parkhead side are bidding to do this season. To be going for 55 in 2024-25 … Rangers, naturally, will point to the fact it is only two years since they were last top dogs, 16 months since they appeared in a Europa League final. However, the fact is that any teenage supporter of their club would require to be at least 16 to possess genuine first-hand recollections of being in a stadium as their team clinched a title, that day coming in May 2011.
Rangers’ 2020-21 success was extraordinary in being achieved without a single league loss – but the feat came in extraordinary circumstances as the covid pandemic era resulted in, at times, confusing protocols covering player availability and all games being contested in empty stadiums. The new normal that existed before and after this period has been Celtic’s greater financial wherewithal and agility in the transfer market keeping them out of reach of their ancient adversaries.
Perhaps a new manager could change that but, by God, he will need to be anointed. Only three potential Celtic first picks remained in the squad overhaul that followed Rangers trashing them to win the title by a record 25-point margin. Ange Postecoglou was able to initiate a revival for back-to-back championship success thanks to more than £40million being invested in arrivals. Rangers’ next manager will have to perform surgery equally as extensive – and not just talking his scalpel to the raft of desperately ill-judged new signings, destined-to-be-misfit attackers Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers costing the guts of £7m.
It has all too readily been overlooked that the new man will be required to address growing issues with players Beale inherited. Captain James Tavernier, John Lundstram, Borna Barisic, Ryan Jack and Goldson look like performers who have suffered one crisis-period too many across the varying lengths of their Ibrox careers. The returns from all appear to be diminishing. Rangers, rightfully, were careful not to overcommit on buys last summer in offsetting their outlay through sales, for a £5m net spend. What faces the incoming manager is making that sort of budgeting work to build a championship-winning squad next year, on the back of facing the potentially joyless task of plodding along with the current, deprecating squad for eight months. To call that a monumental challenge doesn’t even begin to cover it.
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