Giovanni van Bronckhorst: How Rangers' recovery specialist continues to stop detractors in their tracks
In the real world, the title ‘recovery specialist’ is deployed to cover those who put everything from computer systems to people back on track following trauma.
In the escapist domain of football, it is beginning to feel as if this job title could be embossed below ‘manager’ on Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Rangers business card. The course of the Dutchman’s eight-and-a-half months at the Ibrox helm hasn’t exactly run smoothly. But the undulations are perfectly encapsulated by events of this week. His name was being sung to the rafters at Ibrox as, in unprecedented fashion, Union Saint-Gilloise were put to the sword in the Champions League qualifer. They were ousted because the required 3-0 victory was snared to put Rangers within a PSV Eindhoven play-off of bringing group stage football to Ibrox for the first time in 12 years…only a week on from the same name being mud among many of the same faithful after Rangers were faced with the task of wiping out a 2-0 away first leg deficit as had no Ibrox team across nearly six decades of continental competition.
The 47-year-old’s first sighting of his new charges in the job last November practically had him looking on at them through the cracks of his fingers, as he opted for a watching brief as they were whipped by Hibs in the Betfred Cup semi-final. Come the post-winter shutdown period, van Bronckhorst endured a gruesome six weeks. A spell in which a title challenge frayed because only three wins were secured across eight games. The nadir of that sequence came with his side’s blow-out at Celtic Park on February 3. A night wherein they were blown away 3-0 by Ange Postecoglou’s team in the first week of February to lose leadership of the cinch Premiership that they were never to regain. Yet within the month, van Bronckhorst was being lauded for his tactical acumen with Borussia Dortmund skewered in eye-popping fashion in the Europa League.
However, when Celtic made it back-to-back derby victories with a 2-1 success two months later, the murmurings turned once again to suggesting van Bronckhorst might be in a pickle. It was then claimed by detractors that in fairly short order he could be marinated as the club’s manager. Borne of the belief he would suffer two further losses against his club’s ancient adversaries in the Scottish Cup semi-final and at Celtic Park. Instead, along came the barely conceivable run to the Europa League final underpinned by unforgettable home victories over SC Braga and RB Leipzig as impressive domestic form allowed Rangers to avoid defeat and bring the Scottish Cup to Ibrox for the first time since 2009.
The even temperament of the hugely likeable Dutchman can feel at odds with the emotional maelstrom it feels impossible from which to escape when at the heart of Glasgow’s all-consuming football rivalry. Indeed, it may even be an issue for his team at times. Outside of Ibrox, they can sometimes seem to allow the focus and ferocity required to dissipate. On the flip side, as with excavating themselves from a mighty hole against Union, a clearheadedness has been crucial. Recovery specialists don’t always put the parts of equipment, or even people, back together as they were before experiencing problems. The trick is ensuring they can continue to function and, whatever the setbacks under him, van Bronckhorst hasn’t been found wanting on that front.
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