Kevin Thomson was back in an old routine yesterday. Driving from home in Edinburgh to what used to be called Murray Park but is now more routinely known as the Rangers training centre, he was gladdened to find not much else has changed.
He was collecting his new training gear before starting life as a Rangers youth coach. Thomson will be working with the Under 13s in the first instance, on a part-time basis. In this respect, something else is different.
“All kinds of things are still in place at Rangers from when I was a player, albeit I understand my new position now,” he says. “I am going to a different car park. I am not going to the pros’ car park, I am not a player any longer. It is not about me. It is about being the best I can be for the kids.”
Thomson has passed up several other opportunities to climb the first rung of the coaching ladder. Why now? And what is it about Rangers that means he is prepared to answer their siren call to work in the club’s academy rather than accept higher profile opportunities elsewhere, such as manager at East Fife.
“Longevity is the key,” he says. “Some people will say I am not brave enough to take a manager’s job now. But I want to do it properly, put into practice what I’m thinking, and what I’ve learned. I am only 33. Five years down the line, how good a coach might I be then?
“I feel I have worked hard to get this opportunity. I don’t feel as though it’s been an old pals’ act. I feel I have earned it from working hard at my own academy.”
He doesn’t want to become victim of the short-term thinking that sees managers ousted after a few bad results. It’s not why he started the Kevin Thomson Academy (KTA) in late 2016. There the focus is on ensuring players improve whatever age, whatever standard, over time.
The Rangers position gives him the flexibility required while seeking to juggle his commitments with his own academy, which celebrated its first anniversary in November, and also as a radio and television pundit. He carried out co-commentator duties with BT Sport for the first time at the Kilmarnock v Rangers game last month. A day earlier Graeme Murty, pictured, the club’s development coach, was appointed manager of Rangers until the end of the season at least. This has accelerated the need for extra help for academy manager Craig Mulholland, a youth coach when Thomson was a player at Ibrox.
There is a clearly defined career path for those within the academy structure. Thomson is happy to take his first steps down it. Other former Rangers players, including Peter Lovenkrands and Andy Little, have already been recruited. “I am not after anyone’s job,” says Thomson. “But I want to be the best I can possibly be. I hope the day will arrive when I am good enough to manage any club.”
Right now, as well as his own pupils at KTA, his focus is on Rangers. “The resources, the set up, for young players it is mind blowing,” he adds. “Having all that and all those resources you have to step back and wonder why as a nation we are not a lot better than we are.”
It’s also possible to wonder if Rangers, in terms of developing players, have fallen short of what should be expected. “Billy Gilmour just left for £500,000 and you have Ross McRorie, David Bates and Jamie Barjonas breaking through,” counters Thomson.
“They cannot produce 11 players in a season – no academy in the world does that. But you do wonder what is success? Is it producing just one player, the next Kevin Thomson or the next Scott Brown, who comes in and does well and is sold for millions of pounds? I don’t think that’s right. You should want 10 players, 11 players – 20 players!”
Thomson will share coaching duties with Gregory Vignal, another former Ranger prepared to continue the second act of his career coaching at youth level. “It is a great commitment from him to come over from France for what is essentially three nights a week and a game at the weekend,” says Thomson. “You have to sacrifice something like I have done to get my academy up and running. You invest in your own future. To me that looks like what Gregory is doing.”
Once it seemed Thomson would be helping players develop much closer to his home, and at a place that most would assume was closer to his heart – Hibs. He returned to Easter Road for a third spell two years ago to play for no payment while also helping Lee Makel with the Under 15s.
“I was looking forward to having an opportunity at the Hibs academy when I went back there and it never materialised,” he says. “I had to obviously have a re-think about where my path was going as a young coach. It is the reason why I took the bull by the horns and created KTA,” he continues. “There is no denying the support and the continued recognition I get from the Rangers fan base, which is different class. Either academy would have been a great step in my young coaching career.”
With many Under 13s fixtures taking place on a Saturday afternoon, the question has to be asked: what happens to his Hibs season tickets?
“I might send an email to Mr Petrie to see if I can get my money back!” he says, with reference to chairman Rod Petrie. “My dad can take the kids to Easter Road on a Saturday,” he adds. “I saw someone on Twitter say that I have never patronised Rangers, I have always given my all even though I am a Hibs supporter. They [Rangers fans] seem to like that.
“I have great fondness for both clubs,” he adds. “I was a supporter of Hibs, I played for them and I feel I did well. I saw the high times, the low times, I made them a few quid, I played for free. I have done the full cycle with Hibs. That’s just the way it is.”