As I am in and around the Hummel Training Centre as Rangers Under-15s coach, people ask me all the time what the manager is doing to improve things so quickly.
I would never liken myself to Steven Gerrard but people know the way I am – I have started my own academy. The belief I have is that if you do the basics well then you will be a better individual. The team will benefit
And, to me, the manager is installing lots of basic attributes which have helped him achieve what he did as a player – he has high standards in training and while preparing for games.
He demands the players work hard for each other. These are the things you would expect at Rangers. But it shows you how nothing too fancy and nothing too complicated combined with hard work can bring success.
It’s great for everyone at the club, from top the bottom. Even though the academy is separate from the first team, I did sense when Graeme Murty was going through a tough time last season and the first team was struggling it had a knock-on effect to the mood in the camp. It filters down to the academy.
We all need to be on the same page. The positivity from the first team and the manager has certainly made the environment a lot more upbeat. But success only comes from winning games.
Everyone knows there’s a long way to go. Before last weekend v Motherwell, the Rangers back four looked as assured as I’ve seen for a long time. The majority of games, I feel, are won and lost in the middle of the pitch. If Rangers defend well tomorrow against Celtic’s explosive front two or three, even without Moussa Dembele, it will give them an opportunity to win the game because I do think they will score a goal.
My first Old Firm game, in March 2007 when the late Ugo Ehiogu scored the winner in a 1-0 victory at Celtic Park, took my breath away. The atmosphere, the week in training, it was everything I thrive on. It’s a big void when you don’t have that pressure any longer. The current players are lucky to have it. They will realise how much they miss it when it’s gone.
I know I do.
There are plenty in the Rangers side who have not been in the cauldron before. The one thing the manager will try to instil, from his experience in Merseyside derbies, will be the importance of keeping a cool head.
You need aggression but you need to keep 11 players on the pitch. Celtic are renowned for moving the ball around. The manager has come in and set up a really hard working, aggressive Rangers team. So it could be two contrasting styles.
Celtic will want to have the ball at their feet and dominate the ball and break quickly. I am looking forward to see how this new Rangers cope with that.
Brendan Rodgers and his staff and players need credit for what they have achieved. But this season, while doing analysis on BT Sport, it’s the first time there’s been a negative vibe when discussing Celtic, what with transfer sagas and players rebelling.
They might put it behind them to put on a five-star performance tomorrow. But these stories would not have come out last season. It’s all bubbling away and gives Rangers real hope they can close the gap.