Focus falls on Rangers' Ross Wilson following Giovanni van Bronckhorst's demise
In truth, though, that was the easy part for the Ibrox club’s powerbrokers when it comes to their current footballing predicament. It patently wasn’t working out for the Dutchman in Glasgow – despite his one-year tenure being adorned by the unforgettable run to last season’s Europa League final. However, the Rangers board will surely recognise that their team’s on-field fragmentation cannot be attributed entirely to horrendous injury issues and van Bronkhorst’s shortcomings. Awkward introspection is demanded.
The 47-year-old increasingly may have been unable to get a tune out of his depleted Ibrox squad; Celtic able to open up a unassailable-looking nine point lead in the cinch Premiership as a consequence. In no small measure because Rangers’ playing personnel simply have too few strings to their bows. And this brings into all-too-sharp focus the input of sporting director Ross Wilson, the club’s transfer guru and the man it can be assumed will be tasked with the recruitment of a new manager.
Wilson has become something of a bete noire for the Rangers support as the club’s squad has become bloated with jersey-fillers signed on his three-and-a-half year watch. He can dine out on the £19m profit made through the sale of Calvin Bassey to Ajax in the summer. However, with the loss of the defender, and the £19m earned through the transfers of Nathan Patterson and Joe Aribo in the past year, the family silver at Ibrox essentially has been flogged. Rangers want to operate the player trading model that has kept Celtic at the forefront of Scottish football and firmly in the black for the majority of the past decade. In almost breaking even for the past trading year – and being certain to do so over the current cycle thanks to the proceeds from the deals for Bassey and Aribo as well as their Champions League group campaign – they appear to be moving in the right direction on that.
However, such progress seems set to stall. The £11m in fees invested on summer arrivals Ridvan Yilmaz, Ben Davies, Rabbi Matondo and Antonio Colak, as it stands, does not even appear recoverable. Injuries have hampered Yilmaz and Davies, as is true for free transfers Tom Lawrence and John Souttar, but not one of these acquisitions – including 14-goal Colak – looks anything like the equal of those in their positions across the city. And Rangers’ standing always comes down to how they measure up against Celtic.
Wilson is entitled to have sleepless nights over that. For not only is he, alongside the board, required to deliver a manager suited to the environment, the Ibrox sporting director will need to provide him with funds eclipsing those released in the summer. On the immediate priority, a forceful, experienced coach appears a must. That should discount names being bandied around such as former Steven Gerrard assistant Michael Beale, starting to struggle at Queens Park Rangers that in June provided him with his first frontline management role. A return for Gerrard himself should not be considered, and Livingston’s David Martindale cannot be part of the conversation. Sean Dyche, meanwhile, will be looking for a bigger meal ticket than Rangers could offer in earning £3.5m ahead of being jettisoned by Burnley seven months ago – £2m more than van Bronckhorst is believed to have been on at Ibrox. Ralph Hasenhüttl was taking home £6m a year until Southampton lost patience with him a fortnight ago.
They will require to be more imaginative. Such as former Rangers defender Kevin Muscat, fresh from lifting the title with Yokohama F Marinos, ought to have appeal. It would be stupidly petty were his credentials set aside because the Australian is an acolyte of Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou, whom he worked under at Melbourne Victory. And because he has experienced a career trajectory that is firmly Postecoglou-like, succeeding him at Victory and Yokohama. An uncompromising player – to put it euphemistically – he is precisely the sort of driven individual Rangers need right now. The same could be said of Bodo/Glimt manager Kjetil Knutsen. Both men are league winners. So too was van Bronckhorst it should be noted, which demonstrates such a CV entry is no guarantee of success. But being able to meet such demands can’t be perceived as other than a major attraction.
However adept any coach might be, though, they are only as good as the players purchased for them by their club. Frankly, on that measure Wilson’s strike rate is decidedly underwhelming. Admittedly, he hasn’t had oodles to lavish on signings, but that is how it must be at Rangers after 10 years of losses. Chillingly so, when you consider how their bitter rivals have been able to retool. Postecoglou has been allowed to invest £42m in his squad across 18 months. And hardly any of that has gone on players whose value hasn’t subsequently increased exponentially. He could be backed to such an extent because Celtic raked in £37m from their asset management of Odsonne Eduard, Kristoffer Ajer and Jeremie Frimpong inside the past two years.
Rangers have made a complete hash of oiling the financial wheels through moving on the players expected to do similar for them. These weren’t Bassey and Aribo, but Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent. Now in the closing seven months of their current deals not only are they now worth practically nothing in the market, they no longer even appear the answer on the pitch. It is a similar tale with such as the ageing Allan McGregor, Steven Davis and Scott Arfield, who Rangers stuck with in handing them one-year extensions last summer when they should have twisted by revitalising in those berths. The same is true of not cashing in on Glen Kamara following the Euros. It is impossible to know how central Wilson’s role was in these missteps. What is beyond doubt is that Rangers sporting director cannot afford to be implicated in further grave ones.
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