Madjid Bougherra left Scotland with Rangers as reigning champions. Now he hopes to return having seen his former club reclaim their crown nine years on.
The third title Bougherra won in season 2010/11 was the last Rangers lifted and no major silverware has been placed in the Ibrox trophy cabinet since. The reasons for that, of course, are well told. It is a story that has saddened Bougherra as he has watched on from afar, but he was back in familiar company on Saturday as Steven Gerrard’s side rounded off their training camp in Dubai with a friendly victory over Lokomotiv Tashkent.
The former Ibrox stopper spent five years in this part of the world after leaving Glasgow – turning out for Lekhwiya and Fujairah – before hanging up his boots following a spell with Aris in Greece.
And he is pleased to see the huge progress that has been made in a short space of time by Gerrard as the Liverpool legend looks to become the first manager since Walter Smith to lift the league title.
“I have never been back to Rangers since the day I left,” Bougherra said. “I just never had the time and I heard they were coming here so wanted to come and see the game and see my friends such as Steven Davis, Allan McGregor and Jimmy Bell and other members of the staff and it was a pleasure.
“I miss the place for sure, it is something special – the atmosphere around the club, the fans, everything is amazing. In my career, the best experience at any club for me was at Rangers. I want to go back and see one game at Ibrox.
“I left very fast. I didn’t get the chance to have a proper goodbye and this is why one day I hope to come back. It would be perfect to return on the day Rangers win the title again and I’m very happy about the situation around Rangers at the moment because the club have suffered these last few years.
“Now you see they are coming back and can return to the top of the league if they win their game in hand. The comeback is amazing because they were so very, very down and no-one could have expected they would return to this position so quickly, especially without a significant budget. The club and coach have been doing very, very well.
“In the next two or three years I can see Rangers returning to the Champions League.”
It was in that very competition where Bougherra made his final appearance for Rangers. A qualifying defeat by Malmo got the campaign off to a dreadful start but by the end of the season there were far more worrying matters at Ibrox.
Rangers would survive, and now they can thrive. With Gerrard at the helm and the supporters behind him, Bougherra believes the recovery can be completed. “It was hard to see Glasgow Rangers going down like this, especially when I was there, but this style of club never dies,” he said. “You never know how long it will take – two, five or ten years, but clubs like this, they always come back.
“We can soon forget the past in football and this is a new team coming, the fans are ready to enjoy the next few years. The fans are the key to all of this, you can see them around the world. They are the ones who support the club, pay the season tickets, buy the shirts and make income from the clubs and bring the passion that makes players want to sign for them.
“Rangers made a good choice. He [Gerrard] is a young manager with a modern football philosophy and identity. He’s close to the players, he knows their mentality, especially the new generation. He can stay as long as possible and in the future bring in even bigger players when the money is back because he can attract the best with his name and create a good project. It’s a very, very good choice.”
Bougherra was a surprise face in the crowd at the Sevens Stadium on Saturday and he warmly greeted those that he used to share a dressing room with at Ibrox. The influence of McGregor and Davis is perhaps even more important now than it was during that successful spell. Bougherra said: “Steven Davis is having a very good season and Greegsy is Greegsy, a player with so much experience around the big games. They are important players.
“It was David Weir who helped me when I first arrived. He was a very important player in the dressing room and also Lee McCulloch had leadership experience and those two really took the squad under control and every team needs players like that.”