Rangers regression: Heat on manager, shortcomings of Ross Wilson and other board members, press conference bristles, the Steven Gerrard clue

In the aftermath of a day which causes as much dissent in the ranks of Rangers supporters as Sunday’s Old Firm defeat has, Giovanni van Bronckhorst will need every layer of the thick skin he says he possesses in the face of criticism.

If his team’s season goes any further off the rails over the next few weeks, even armour-plating might not be sufficient for the Rangers manager to comfortably deflect all of the barbs aimed in his direction.

Van Bronckhorst understands and fully accepts the first rule of football management – publicly at least, the buck stops with the man who stands front and centre in the technical area.

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But while it is an occupational hazard for any Rangers boss to effectively be a human shield for the failings of others in times of trouble on the pitch, it would be myopic not to recognise those who bear the greatest responsibility for the situation van Bronckhorst now finds himself in.

Rangers defender Connor Goldson, covering his face with his shirt in dejection at full-time at Ibrox on Sunday, is among the players set to leave the club this summer. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Having ended a decade of turmoil and pain by winning the Premiership title in emphatic style last May, the Rangers board were either unable or unwilling to sanction the level of squad strengthening which Steven Gerrard clearly felt was necessary to maintain and build upon that success.

The unrestrained relish with which Gerrard jumped at the chance to leave as soon as Aston Villa came calling last November wasn’t solely down to his ambition to manage in the English Premier League. It was also an indication of how the former England captain viewed the direction of travel at Rangers.

Since the appointment of Ross Wilson as the club’s sporting director in October 2019, the player recruitment at Rangers has appeared haphazard at best.

Of all the signings made on Wilson’s watch so far, perhaps only Ianis Hagi and Calvin Bassey can be acclaimed as successes who have the potential to deliver Rangers a significant profit in the transfer market further down the line.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst faces a challenging end to the season before embarking on a summer revamp of the Ibrox club's first team squad. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Other permanent signings such as Cedric Itten, Jack Simpson and Scott Wright have failed to make any sustained impact on the first team and already appear to be firmly out of the picture as far as van Bronckhorst is concerned.

Rangers’ forays into the loan market have also brought minimal value on the pitch from players like Florian Kamberi, Bongani Zungu, Juninho Bacuna and Amad Diallo.

Van Bronckhorst inherited a squad which is also coming to a crossroads in terms of the contractual situations for which Wilson is also accountable.

The current deals of five permanent first team squad members expire at the end of this season – Allan McGregor, Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun, Scott Arfield and Steven Davis.

Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson (centre) looks on during Sunday's 2-1 defeat against Celtic at Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Another eight players will be going into the final year of their contracts, including key first team men Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos. That trio are among those regarded as the most saleable of Rangers assets as the club try to achieve the type of profitable player trading model required to balance the books which have continued to show heavy annual losses since former chairman Dave King forced regime change in the boardroom in 2015.

It’s evident that a major summer revamp of van Bronckhorst’s squad is required and the Dutchman will need significant backing to bring in players who meet the criteria identified by himself and his coaching staff to effectively implement his optimum style of play at Rangers.

But with direct entry to the lucrative Champions League group stage through winning the Premiership title now looking highly unlikely, the Rangers board and club investors may have to rethink how they fund van Bronckhorst’s budget as he prepares for his first full season in charge.

Having handed van Bronckhorst a contract which runs until 2025, there is no prospect of Rangers acceding to the more hysterical demands of some of their fans whose instant reaction to the 2-1 defeat by Celtic was to call for a change of manager.

Even away from the regularly unhinged landscape of social media, supporter frustration at van Bronckhorst was also evident in the Ibrox press room on Sunday where fan media representatives now rule the roost.

Van Bronckhorst is generally a phlegmatic character in any circumstance but he could be seen to bristle briefly when quizzed reproachfully about his decision to replace Ryan Jack and Aaron Ramsey with Scott Arfield and Fashion Sakala midway through the second half.

As van Bronckhorst pointed out in his response, substitutions are often a convenient stick with which to beat a manager – it wasn’t so long ago he was lavishly praised for the changes he made during the Europa League knockout round play-off triumph against Borussia Dortmund.

He soon regained his equilibrium, ending his answer with that observation that he has a thick skin.

It will allow him to quickly refocus on that Europa League campaign and the first leg of the quarter-final tie against Braga in Portugal on Thursday night.

While retaining the Premiership title now looks beyond Rangers, trailing Celtic by six points with six games remaining, the possibility remains for van Bronckhorst to oversee a truly memorable end to the season.

Further progress in the Europa League, if coupled with a Scottish Cup triumph which would entail beating Celtic in the semi-final and ensuring their great rivals do not claim a fifth domestic treble in six years, would go a considerable way to soothing the currently fevered brows of those Rangers fans expressing increased scepticism about the manager.

Anything less and van Bronckhorst will have to prove he really does have the hide of a rhinoceros.

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