Pedro Caixinha has expressed his determination to lead Rangers “from the mud” and back to the summit of Scottish football.
The Portuguese coach insists last Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat, which Celtic won at a canter, has neither opened his eyes nor changed his view of the gulf he has to bridge if Rangers are to pose a genuine challenge to their Old Firm rivals’ current dominance.
Caixinha has generally been charm personified in his media conferences since taking charge of the Ibrox club last month. But there was a feistier side of the 46-year-old in evidence yesterday as he reflected on the fallout from the 2-0 Hampden loss against Celtic in which his team were widely criticised for a passive and uncertain approach.
A defiant Caixinha maintained that, even in hindsight, he would not have changed his preparations or tactics for the semi-final. He claims only a lack of passion let his players down and he is confident of a more committed attitude when they face Celtic again in tomorrow’s Premiership fixture at Ibrox.
“It is not only from one match that I am going to perceive that gap,” said Caixinha. “The gap is quite clear. It is evident. We are quite realistic about that. But we are working to trim it. From inside, we are working.
“You know where this club was five years ago? Do you know any other team in the world that came from the mud and got in this position in five years’ time? So that needs to be valid and all of you need to understand that Scottish football, and all of you in your life, need a strong Rangers. That is what we are working for.
“You know what we receive from our fans and supporters – passion. At least the one thing you should give back is the same. I analysed that with the players and they know when we realised that (we were not showing it last Sunday). I am not saying that they saw one side of me or the other side of me. But we analysed it with the players – what really happened and what was supposed to happen.
“We lost the match, Celtic were better than us. They beat us. Definitely we missed that passion. We missed that commitment. No change of style, no change of tactic. Just change the passion. You are not going to win an Old Firm game by tactics. Did Celtic change their tactics? No. They played exactly the same, they played with their identity. Did we change our identity in the previous five matches? Did we? No.”
Asked why he felt so sure of improvement from his team this weekend, Caixinha added: “Because I believe in the players I have inside. You know what it means to have wounded pride? Have you ever faced someone with wounded pride? How did it feel from the other side, feeling like the other one was like that? How did you smell it? Well, that is the way we are.
“They are totally ready to show that on Saturday. But they need to show that to themselves and to ourselves. Not to nobody else. They have been great this week, like they weren’t on the previous week. But now they have the wounded pride.”
From a personal perspective, Caixinha admitted he was also troubled by the outcome at Hampden but insists he was able to place it firmly behind him after just one restless night of wrestling with what went wrong.
“If I have a match, I sleep like an angel before the match,” he said. “If I lose or I draw the match, I don’t sleep the day after. I just need one day to charge my batteries. After that, I am smiling again and facing what comes. It doesn’t matter what game it is. Drawing or losing makes me feel like that.”
Caixinha, meanwhile, refuted a report which claimed there is discord among his players over his schedule for a shortened summer break before pre-season training begins ahead of a Europa League qualifier on 29 June.
“The players don’t need to complain, because the plan has not been presented to them yet,” said Caixinha.
“If someone is doing my work I would appreciate they come and tell me how it’s going to be. At the moment, it’s unofficial and when it is official and when I want you to know it, you will know it from me. I am the manager and I am the one that plans the pre-season and the vacation.
“The season finishes on 21 May, our first competitive game next season is 29 June and you normally need five or six weeks of pre-season. So it’s a question of maths.”
There was an obvious level of irritation in many of Caixinha’s responses and he was keen to let it be known he will publicly fight his corner whenever he feels the need.
“You are seeing someone who is clear, up front and open – but everyone has his own limit,” he added. “When I feel I am not being respected, I’m not going to give respect. I’m polite, I’m educated but I’m a f***ing tough guy.
“I don’t care about external critics. I don’t care about that. I care about what I have inside and what I believe in. That is what I care about. Because if we had won the game, even if we had played like we had played for example in the first half, you would say ‘brilliant, what a fantastic second half’. I analyse it my way.”
Caixinha confirmed that Niko Kranjcar, sidelined since October by a knee injury, has returned to training but the Croatian midfielder will not play again until next season. Captain Lee Wallace will again be absent tomorrow but Caixinha expects him to return for the last three games.