Aberdeen will arrive at Ibrox tomorrow night safe in the knowledge they will finish best of the rest in Scottish football for a third successive season, regardless of the outcome of their meeting with Rangers.
The vastly superior goal difference enjoyed by Derek McInnes’ squad over the Govan club means the six-point gap between them, with two games of the Premiership campaign remaining, is already sufficient to effectively secure runners-up spot behind champions Celtic.
Pedro Caixinha, however, believes the Dons are coming to the end of a phase in which they have profited from Rangers’ financial collapse and four-year absence from the top flight. The Portuguese coach is full of praise for McInnes’ work but feels he is not the only one who needs to undertake a rebuilding job this summer.
“At the moment Aberdeen started this cycle of their project, Rangers were not in the Premiership,” said Caixinha. “Aberdeen took really good advantage of that, because they have been the second- best team in the country until now. But, if we can reduce the distance, we will be looking for things to be different next season, regardless of whether the difference is one point, three points or even if we are on the same points.
“I do believe that football is about cycles. Derek did a fantastic job, but I do believe that Aberdeen’s cycle is about to, not to end, but needs to be renewed. Teams have cycles, teams have good cycles, three years or four years that they are doing good, but I believe they need to change something.
“When I analyse them, I know that Ryan Jack is going to be out of contract. I hear that Niall McGinn is going south. You hear that maybe another couple of players may leave the club. It means that they need to have a new beginning, a new cycle and they need to make a new renewal.”
The Rangers manager insists he is not concerned by Aberdeen as he attempts to restore the Ibrox club as credible challengers for the title next season.
“I am not caring about them,” added Caixinha. “We are the only team in the world that comes from the fourth division to the Europa League qualifiers and all the time the team has been growing. To arrive at the top you need to be detail orientated. Sometimes a short or a small step needs a lot of work. I believe we are a couple of steps behind, but we need to establish the next step with maturity and experience in order to establish the levels, the base and the core regarding the future. I believe this is the moment to do it and I believe the work that we are doing will get it next season and the season after.
“Here, we always think about the first position in the table. It’s not quite the same, but you can think of an example where you have eight swimmers in lanes. The difference between the first one and the rest can be one second sometimes. Do you think the guy who is just below the first one is going to look to the seventh position? No. He is going to look to whoever is first. That’s what we are doing.
“Our aim is to be up so we cannot look for Aberdeen. If we are just coming now and we finish, say, three points or one point below them, that’s nothing. That’s nothing in a season. You need to take care of yourself, know that the steps you are taking are the right ones, and keep working.”
Caixinha led Rangers to a 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie last month, the start of a period in which he challenged his players to finish the season strongly in order to provide some encouragement ahead of his first full campaign in the job. “We looked at the last seven league games of this season, starting with the last game against Aberdeen,” he said.
“We established with the boys that these seven games were going to be our domestic league, our internal league. We want to end up first in that. At this moment, we are one point below Celtic – and six points ahead of Aberdeen in that table. We have two more matches and we keep going.
“Every game can give you ideas of things to set up to keep players motivated and to show the real value of playing for Rangers. We want them to be focused all the time. This is the last week of this season but the boys are coming at it like they are just starting. I am very happy with that. The boys who have played more have recovered fantastically and there is a very good environment.”