It was just two weeks ago that Rangers supporters were prompted into a state of euphoria by chairman Dave King’s announcement of a positive settlement in the club’s retail dispute with Sports Direct.
It gave them the green (sorry, Pedro) light to rush out and buy the replica shirts they had boycotted for the past two years. Little could they have imagined the shame and embarrassment which would be perpetrated on their behalf by players wearing those blue jerseys in Luxembourg on Tuesday night. The recriminations from what is surely the worst European result ever suffered by a Scottish club must inevitably resound deafeningly around King, his fellow directors and the previously unheralded Portuguese coach in whom they have entrusted so much faith and investment.
As he returned to his office at the club’s training ground yesterday, Pedro Caixinha found himself confronted by a diary suddenly rendered blank over the next four weeks until the Scottish Premiership kicks off on 5 August.
Those assumptions of competing in at least the first three qualifying rounds of the Europa League have been shattered by the pitiful 2-0 defeat against Progres Niederkorn. Outwith the now defunct Intertoto Cup, it stands as the earliest ever elimination from European competition by a Scottish club, eclipsing St Johnstone’s loss to Armenian side Alashkert at the same stage of the Europa League in 2015 by five days.
Caixinha had made it clear group stage football was his ambition, perhaps even his expectation, as Rangers made their return to the continental stage for the first time in six years. Instead, the only notable mark they have made in Europe this season was setting a new attendance record for any match in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
That near capacity crowd at Ibrox for last week’s first leg against Progres, when even the slender lead provided by Kenny Miller’s goal should have provided a sufficient platform to complete the job, indicated the level of enthusiasm and anticipation which had been engendered among the Rangers fans for Caixinha’s first full season in charge.
That sense of optimism has been severely punctured by the performance and result in Luxembourg, even prompting one bookmaker to offer odds as miserly as 11-2 that Caixinha will not be in charge for the Premiership opener against Motherwell at Fir Park.
That scenario can almost certainly be discounted. As painful as the early European exit is, King, pictured, and his colleagues will afford more time to a project which saw them hand three-year contracts to Caixinha and his backroom colleagues Helder Baptista, Pedro Malta and Jose Belman when they recruited them from Qatari club Al-Gharafa in March.
Yet there can be no doubt Caixinha is now under the most intense pressure imaginable to hit the ground running when the domestic campaign gets underway.
There can be no honeymoon period for the raft of new signings he has made this summer as he reshapes the personnel he inherited from Mark Warburton.
Ripping up the squad may be regarded as a necessity but wholesale changes on that scale seldom provide instant results.
Those who played against Progres Niederkorn certainly struggled to make a positive first impression on the Rangers fans who are seldom reluctant to make snap judgments on new faces. A more rational assessment must wait until more games have been played and following the introduction of experienced internationals such as Bruno Alves and Graham Dorrans.
That said, time simply isn’t on Caixinha’s side. King went out of his way to pay a compensation fee to Al-Gharafa, rather than wait until Caixinha’s contract there expired in the summer, in order to allow the coach the last two months of last season to assess his squad and the challenges posed by his new environment of Scottish football.
During the round of media interviews he conducted a fortnight ago after announcing the termination of the Sports Direct deal, one of the many eyebrow-raising statements made by King was his assertion that the 5-1 defeat against Celtic at Ibrox in April which Caixinha presided over could ultimately prove the making of him as a successful Rangers manager.
Yet there will be many of the club’s supporters who now feel the reservations they adopted about Caixinha’s capabilities that afternoon, as they endured Rangers’ worst ever home defeat in an Old Firm fixture, have been vindicated by the result in Luxembourg.
Caixinha is a personable, engaging and infectiously enthusiastic character. So far, however, there has been no evidence in Rangers’ performances under his guidance of a discernible pattern of play or footballing strategy which can even begin to address the gulf Celtic have placed between the Glasgow clubs following Brendan Rodgers’ arrival last year.
No amount of cliched motivational slogans adorning the walls at Ibrox and the club’s training centre, or the frivolous gimmickry of banning his players from wearing green boots, will improve the tactical, technical or physical deficiencies on the pitch which should be Rangers’ priority.
The club undoubtedly have a greater sense of direction off the pitch and the appointment of former Manchester City academy chief Mark Allen as director of football – he formally starts work at Rangers tomorrow – is an indication of a more coherent plan after several years of chaotic mismanagement in the boardroom.
But the bottom line for Rangers, if they are to satisfy and sustain the appetite of more than 40,000 season ticket holders who have seen the club through the darkest period in its history, is the immediate need for more effective, entertaining and consistently winning football from the first team.
The jury is still out on whether Caixinha is the right man to deliver it. But as is the case for any Old Firm manager, the final judgment may well be swift and unforgiving.