A purity to set it apart from their other recent opportunities to make this longed-for breakthrough. No knowing winks will be forthcoming over any presumed underlying need for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men to prevail over PSV in their Philips Stadium on Wednesday evening. A daunting task following the teams’ Ibrox 2-2 draw in the play-off first leg. The latest quest to reach the land of milk and honey is in no way curdled by cash concerns for the Govan club. Not now. This is all about the football; the sensory and emotional overloads that can flow from on-pitch pizazz, from being pitted against the very best. All about allowing the great footballing citadel of Ibrox to play host to club football’s pre-eminent tournament for the first time in 12 years. All about providing a sense of completeness for the Rangers that emerged following liquidation in 2012 subsequent to an invincible title success and European final appearance across a remarkable past 17 months.
It isn’t that the financial inducements on offer aren’t important, or significant. The £35million bounty Rangers would be assured if they make the group stages is a whole lot of lolly. But Rangers have banked unimaginable quantities of the folding stuff in the past year, with the potential to earn £49m from the sales of Calvin Bassey, Nathan Patterson and Joe Aribo when £12m add-ons are included. Chuck in the near £25m net banked from continental competition that culminated in the Europa League decider – a figure arrived at by combining prize money and gate receipts – and the past financial year for the Ibrox club would appear on course to see them posting a record revenue figure, which should be north of £80m.
These sums mean reaching the Champions League has become a desperate want for Rangers, not a desperate need. Although, with Celtic automatic group stage entrants, largely matching their rivals’ financial returns from the blue riband competition could be crucial to keeping pace with Ange Postecoglou’s aspiring side. But the desire to rub shoulders with the game’s true elite and further enhance the club’s global standing as memories of Seville remain fresh will trump any domestic considerations when the Ibrox side face up to Rudd van Nistelrooy’s men.
It is a time for intense focus and no distractions. A factor, no doubt, in why Van Bronckhorst has made sure there will be no circus around Sideshow Alf as he prepares his players for an assignment that will require them to sacrifice body and soul for the greater good of their club in the Netherlands. Not the sort of selflessness Alfredo Morelos appears either in shape or mood to make good on. With the Colombian being jettisoned from the Rangers squad for their Dutch mission, that would certainly appear to be the conclusion arrived at by Van Bronckhorst. Along with all others left shaking their heads at the striker’s petulant arm swinging – and, for good measure, little kick out – that resulted in a red card to reduce his team to nine men and undoubtedly impact on their subsequent dropping of two points against Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday. The crass act from Morelos, only 13 minutes after he had been substituted on, marked a return to his bad old ways from a couple of years ago. However, the difference between then and now is that the 26-year-old isn’t the Ibrox men’s attacking focal point. Antonio Colak has nailed down the central striker role and, as would have seemed inconceivable until even just a few weeks ago, the absence of the in-the-huff, hardly-buff El Bufalo isn’t an area of major concern for Rangers.
Unfortunately, there are a number of others for Van Bronckhorst.
Only in fits and starts this season have a revamped Rangers exhibited the cohesion and assurance that will be demanded of them against a PSV that looked more adept than their hosts in Glasgow in last week’s 2-2 draw. And rarely have they impressed outwith their own environs. The Ibrox men require to find the Dortmund spirit that allowed them to shock Borussia 4-2 in Germany. But that was seven months ago; a veritable age in football. Moreover, it is their only away win in Europe across their past 11 such outings.
The Rangers manager finds himself in an awkward position with team selection. Just how attacking dare he be? Is it, in fact, an evening to stiffen the midfield backbone of his team and operate with two holders and draft in the dependable Steven Davis alongside John Lundstram? Or is it more important to get bodies round Colak and deploy Tom Lawrence and Malik Tillman in advanced roles, with Lundstram behind him and wide men Ryan Kent and Scott Wright? The winger options are reduced because Rabbi Matondo simply hasn’t shown enough to be considered ahead of the former Aberdeen player.
Meanwhile, only three clean sheets in eight games in this fledgling campaign suggests that Rangers can be got at. In a pumped up Philips Stadium, it can be guaranteed PSV will pile into them. It will take a mammoth effort for the visitors to withstand what the home team will throw at them, and then do damage of their own. Only once in their progress to the Europa League final did they face a deciding leg away from home. The outcome was scraping through to the quarter-finals after a 2-1 defeat against Red Star Belgrade in March. The narrow loss was good enough then because they were protecting a 3-0 lead. In Eindhoven, they do not have such a luxury.