Rangers must back Giovanni van Bronckhorst this summer as Dutchman joins Ibrox managerial royalty

Some time after the euphoric Rangers support had finally and reluctantly left the stadium on Thursday night, Giovanni van Bronckhorst re-emerged from the Ibrox tunnel with some of his nearest and dearest.

Amid beaming smiles and joyful laughter all round, the Rangers manager and his coaching staff gathered with family members and close friends for some group photographs which are sure to be cherished among them for years to come.

As van Bronckhorst shared one of the greatest moments of his career so far with those closest to him, perhaps even he would be finding it difficult to fully process the scale of the achievement he has overseen since returning to Rangers six months ago.

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There have been times within that period, as a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership table was lost to a Celtic side who are now on the verge of reclaiming the domestic title, when some supporters raised doubts over whether van Bronckhorst was the right man to bring further success to Rangers after the progress made during Steven Gerrard’s tenure.

But no-one is questioning the Dutchman’s credentials now. He has joined Rangers managerial royalty in becoming only the fourth in that role to lead the Ibrox club to a European final after Scot Symon (1961 and 1967), Willie Waddell (1972) and Walter Smith (2008). Van Bronckhorst’s prospects of now emulating Waddell, the architect of Rangers’ sole final victory when the Cup Winners’ Cup was claimed in Barcelona 50 years ago, appear hugely promising.

Over 10 European matches in charge, starting off with the 2-0 win over Sparta Prague at Ibrox in November which secured progress from the Europa League group stage, van Bronckhorst has displayed levels of coaching nous and tactical flexibility which are perfectly suited to the demands of continental club competitions.

If the astounding 6-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout round in February seemed like a signature moment for the 47-year-old, it now stands as a staging post to him potentially delivering what would arguably be the most laudable triumph in Rangers’ 150-year history.

In the era of the ‘Big Five’ leagues of England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy exerting a suffocating grip on UEFA’s major club tournaments – Porto were the last side to break the monopolies in both the Champions League (2004) and Europa League (2011) – van Bronckhorst has defied both logic and the budgetary constraints of Scottish football to steer Rangers into the Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville on May 18.

Midfielder John Lundstram, pictured celebrating after scoring Rangers' third goal against Leipzig, has flourished under Giovanni van Bronckhorst's management. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The player recruitment overseen by Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson and funded by the Ibrox board has attracted plenty of criticism for their perceived failure to build properly from the position of strength delivered by Gerrard’s rejuvenation of the team which culminated in last season’s undefeated Premiership title triumph.

That inability or unwillingness to ‘go again’ – as Gerrard recently described it – certainly contributed to the former England captain’s decision to quit and take charge of Aston Villa last November.

But regardless of those circumstances and any culpability for them which lies at the door of Wilson and the Rangers directors, their decision to appoint van Bronckhorst has been spectacularly vindicated.

Having previously delivered silverware in his first managerial job at his hometown and boyhood club Feyenoord, van Bronckhorst was already well versed in dealing with the expectations of a fanatically loyal and demanding supporter base.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst celebrates after his team's 3-1 win over RB Leipzig in the Europa League semi-final, second leg match at Ibrox on Thursday night. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Even during the most difficult moments since he came back to Rangers, where his experiences at an early stage of his playing career from 1998 to 2001 moulded him into the stellar performer who would excel on the biggest stages of all with Arsenal, Barcelona and his country, he has maintained a serenity and degree of self-assuredness which appears unshakeable.

During the Europa League run, van Bronckhorst has managed to transmit similar levels of belief and confidence into his players. He clearly also has an aptitude both for tailoring his tactical plans to their capabilitities and communicating those ideas clearly, as evidenced by the manner in which they were ‘executed to a tee’ in the words of captain James Tavernier after Thursday night’s epic 3-1 win over RB Leipzig.

Van Bronckhorst’s influence has perhaps been most visible in the performances produced by midfielder John Lundstram over the past few months. The 28-year-old Englishman had a difficult start to his time at Rangers after his move from Sheffield United last summer but is flourishing under van Bronckhorst, whether as an auxiliary central defender, a midfield enforcer or when appearing in the right place to score as he did when claiming the decisive third goal against Leipzig.

Regardless of the now all but inevitable disappointment of failing to defend the Premiership title, Rangers know they have a manager who can get the best out of the resources at his disposal and also further the development of players such as 22-year-old defender Calvin Bassey who has also come on leaps and bounds since the turn of the year.

The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Seville where Rangers will face Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League final on May 18. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Van Bronckhorst has earned the right to be backed significantly in the transfer market this summer, given the financial rewards of the Europa League journey which would grow considerably if Eintracht Frankfurt are beaten and Champions League group stage football is secured for next season.

In the meantime, his focus will be trained solely on how to give his team the best possible chance of lifting the trophy aloft at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium when he will hope to have fresh reason to take some precious souvenir snaps for the van Bronckhorst family album.

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