The prevailing opinion is that the Dutchman will forgo his right to remain in post should his team fail to overcome Aberdeen at Ibrox. Yet, if that is deemed a legitimate judgement, the question to be asked is: why wasn’t there a clamour for Steven Gerrard to be jettisoned by the club this time a year ago? No-one is pretending Rangers aren’t currently struggling for any sort of convincing form. However, even with that being the case, Van Bronckhorst’s side are two points better off at the 11-game mark than last season. Ah, but what of their excruciating hammerings in the Champions League, it might be said. Well, these five straight losses are the product of van Bronckhorst squeezing Rangers into the group stages … and not flunking out in the qualifiers, as befell Gerrard.
How much the slayings by Liverpool, Napoli and Ajax have coloured opinions of Van Bronckhorst’s first full campaign even by the very man himself was betrayed in his reaction to being told of the two points’ difference in the cinch Premiership points haul for Rangers across the two campaigns. He responded by referring to being only “two points off” now before he was happily corrected. “It’s the perspective you see. It’s how you want to look at it,” he said of his predicament. “There are always two ways to look at it. Some will look for a negative, others a positive.
"The glass is either half full or half empty, that is always the case. As you say, we are two points better off than this time last year, we have qualified for the Champions League after 12 years and we have reached a Europa League final. I’m looking at what we have already achieved and what we might still achieve this season. Europe is different, the Champions League is a different level than we are used to. But we are still competing for the championship and we are through to the semi-final of the [Premier Sports] cup. There are so many positive things to look forward to. That’s always my way of thinking.”
The Rangers manager doesn’t exist in a bubble, though. It was put to him that there is a bloodlust surrounding him that means his job security has been wedded to defeating the Pittodrie side. “It’s the way,” van Bronckhorst said. “I don’t really think about it. You get it because people are talking about it. That’s the environment we are living in now with social media. It puts the message across. You can see south of the border [on Sky Sports News] subtitles [along the bottom of the screen] of the chants from supporters [against managers]. It only adds to the pressure we already have. I’ve been here in the past. I’ve had worse situations than we are in now. We are in the Champions League having reached a European final.
“When I was with Feyenoord [and in our 2017-18 Champions League campaign] we only got three points in the final minute of our final game. It’s the level in Europe we are facing and sometimes people forget to put it into perspective. Which competition are we playing? Sometimes that is difficult to understand. But overall I am always positive, I have learned from experiences as a coach. I once lost seven games in a row [in my first season as a manager in 2015-16], and that was without the Champions League. We have to keep going. We are in a situation where we miss many influential players, but that happens in football. It adds to the challenge and we need to deal with it.”
Van Bronckhorst has often referred to the seven-game losing run in his first six months as a manager. He turned that around to claim the club the Dutch title within 18 months through not wavering. As he won’t now, where he could potentially only have weeks to steady the Rangers ship. “We have to concentrate on the way we work, that’s what I did during that period,” he said. “You keep sticking to your beliefs and don’t change a lot. Most of the time, big changes like that don’t help. I am confident in the way I work, the way I train, the way I prepare my team and my tactics. Of course, the tactics are dynamic. You have to evolve with the teams you are facing. If you look back at my time as a coach I have been successful with my teams. Why do I have to change? I am confident with the relationship I have with my players. They are working hard, they are training hard and they are trying the best they can.”
It has become fashionable to suggest it would have been better for Van Bronckhorst to have avoided the bruisings and batterings dished out to his team in the Champions League. The 47-year-old gives that short shrift. “I always try to reach the highest level possible,” the Rangers manager said. “That is always your intention. That’s what my players did at the beginning of the season, playing against Union, playing against PSV, and overcoming those two opponents to be in the Champions League.
"It’s against my nature to say, let’s not qualify for the Champions League next season; let’s go for the Europa League – that’s better for us. It’s against all nature, guys. A nation who qualifies for the World Cup for the first time in 20-30 years and then are out in the first round … they congratulate you, you have qualified for the World Cup, and then complain they are out in the first round, playing against Argentina and Brazil. I can never say to my guys, let’s qualify for the Europa League. Don’t try to be in the Champions League, it’s impossible.”