The Ange Postecoglou project at Celtic was still very much in its infancy when Beale took the decision to join Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa, with cynics braying that the Australian wouldn’t be in town for much longer either. How wrong they were. If Rangers were still Scottish football’s top dogs when Beale and Gerrard decanted after delivering a first top-tier title for a decade, then it is very much a different story now. The former has watched from afar as Celtic marched relentlessly to the championship, sweeping up the League Cup along the way, before storming into a nine-point lead this season.
The vastness of that gulf, created by a series of unconvincing Rangers performances, precipitated the sacking of Giovanni van Bronckhorst and has led to Beale being parachuted back into Ibrox, this time as the frontman. The Londoner has been shrewd enough to familiarise himself with Rangers’ backstory and traditions meaning he will likely be au fait with the famous quote from one of his predecessors, Bill Struth, about the Ibrox club “welcoming the chase” from others.
This time, though, it is Beale and his players who are in pursuit. Few realistically expect Rangers to overhaul a Celtic team that is purring like a well-oiled machine and that may buy the new appointment a bit of time to shake up a squad seemingly bereft in confidence. Beale, though, is bullish about the state of affairs. There is grudging respect for the job Postecoglou has done at “that club” but believes if Celtic could turn around a seemingly hopeless situation in a manner of months then so can he.
“They’ve got a lot more rhythm now than then,” he said of his Parkhead rivals’ transformation. “It’s fair to say we were the bosses around here then. But they have momentum, haven’t they? I think Ange talks hugely positively. He came in, he rode the wave of where we were and just got down to his work. He’s seen the fruits of his labour.
“I’m a career coach so I have a lot of respect for the coach of that club and he’s done a very good job so far. He’s got a vision, he’s recruited towards it, and he’s followed the model all Old Firm managers have done, whether that’s Brendan Rodgers, Steven Gerrard or Walter Smith.
“I’ve got to go on that journey and I want that journey to be very short. I think where we are now is really disappointing compared to where we were sat a year ago in the domestic game. But my mind right now is not about the table. It’s about, ‘Can this team get to where I want them to be as quickly as possible and can we start winning games?’
“I can’t worry about any of the other stuff right now. I know if I stick to the vision I have for this team and the players come on and enjoy it I’m going to make a strong Rangers. I think not all is broken around here. I’ve just got to get to work.”
The derby games have often been the defining fixtures in a championship race, the results that can propel one team towards the top and leave the other frustrated in second. Beale is keen for the next one to roll around but admits beating Celtic will count for little as long as Rangers are stumbling against St Johnstone, St Mirren and Livingston. “[Winning the derbies] would have been a lot more important if we hadn’t dropped the seven points we have done recently,” he added. “Now we have to prove we can beat everyone else consistently then make that game what it is. As a one-off game when you play it it’s a rivalry, a derby, it’s got everything. It’s electric. But unless you join the dots up in between you have no right to only wait for those games. That’s where we’ve fallen short in my previous time here and already this season so far.”
A manager’s introductory media conference is perhaps the only time in his tenure that he can shoot for the stars without the fear of contradiction. After a long afternoon sitting down with a number of assorted media groups, this was Beale’s final obligation of the day but his enthusiasm still burned brightly as he laid out his grand vision as if delivering a dressing room team talk.
“If I didn’t think we could do it with this group of players, I wouldn’t have come back,” he added. “And I mean everybody that’s available in our squad. Write our squad down and put it next to our biggest rivals. Okay then, game on. So if you put our two squads together, game on. In terms of resources, their spending power has been slightly bigger than ours. But game on. We’re not the haves. In that battle, we’re slightly the have-nots. So game on. My advice to the players is really clear. I’m just wanting them to commit. Forget anything that’s happened in the past, let’s just step forward now. You can feel my energy for it. So if you’ve got some boots then bring them along!”