Why Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst has joined list of Old Firm managerial icons

The journey may not yet be over but Giovanni van Bronckhorst has already entered territory which is very rarely breached by managers of Scottish clubs.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst takes the acclaim of the visiting fans in Belgrade after his team's 4-2 aggregate victory over Red Star to reach the Europa League quarter-finals. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst takes the acclaim of the visiting fans in Belgrade after his team's 4-2 aggregate victory over Red Star to reach the Europa League quarter-finals. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

The scale of his achievement in guiding Rangers to the quarter-finals of the Europa League should not be underestimated.

It is only the fourth time in the last 34 years that the Ibrox club have advanced as far in a European competition. Van Bronckhorst joins Graeme Souness, who took Rangers to the European Cup quarter-finals in 1988, and Walter Smith who did it twice - reaching the last eight of the inaugural Champions League in 1993 and then again when leading Rangers to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008.

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Until van Bronckhorst’s team completed their 4-2 aggregate win over Red Star Belgrade in Serbia on Thursday evening, that remarkable run of Smith’s squad to Manchester 14 years ago was the last time any Scottish side had a presence in the quarter-finals.

Scott Arfield leads the celebrations of the Rangers players in Belgrade after the Scottish champions qualified for the last eight of the Europa League. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Indeed, since the turn of the century the only other manager to get there with a Scottish club was Martin O’Neill who did it in consecutive seasons with Celtic in the UEFA Cup in 2003 and 2004.

As Rangers supporters continue to dream of heading to Seville in May, the city where their Old Firm rivals reached the final under O’Neill in that 2002-03 campaign, van Bronckhorst is fuelling the ambitions of his players with his measured and tactically astute approach to the particular demands of European football.

His predecessor Steven Gerrard deserves enormous credit for restoring the continental credibility of a club who had been humiliatingly defeated by Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn in the first qualifying round of the Europa League the season before the England captain took charge.

Gerrard guided Rangers to four consecutive group stage participations in the Europa League, taking some admirable scalps along the way, before his departure to Aston Villa midway through the current campaign.

There was already a sense, however, that Gerrard had stalled on the European stage with the sobering 4-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of Malmo in the Champions League qualifiers last August.

But if the last 16 of the Europa League proved to be a glass ceiling for Rangers under Gerrard, losing out to Bayer Leverkusen and Slavia Prague in 2020 and 2021 respectively, van Bronckhorst has managed to take the squad to a different level – most notably with the remarkable 6-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the knockout round play-offs last month.

As Rangers await Friday’s unseeded quarter-final draw at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, there is credible room for optimism that they are capable of going even further.

Van Bronckhorst is certainly buying himself plenty of credit in the eyes of the Rangers fans, even amid a domestic campaign which sees them currently three points behind Celtic in a Premiership title race which almost certainly offers the winners direct entry to the lucrative group stage of the Champions League next season.

But it’s worth remembering that is also the prize on offer for the winners of the Europa League.

Van Bronckhorst doesn’t have all his eggs in one basket as he pursues his first taste of silverware as Rangers manager. Regardless of whether he wins any trophies this season, however, his European achievements have certainly burnished his coaching CV.

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