With 11 of last season’s squad leaving and just 39 days to the new season, new manager Mark Warburton faces a mammoth task to turn the Ibrox club into a force worthy of their position as odds-on favourites to win promotion. Here, we analyse his problems and possible solutions
As he turns his attention to the in-tray in his new office, Rangers manager Mark Warburton has already stressed he will not be rushed into the process of improving and reinforcing the depleted first-team squad he has inherited at Ibrox.
But, with just 39 days until his new club play their first competitive fixture of what will be a pivotal season in their quest to begin reclaiming desired levels of status and credibility on the pitch, time is simply not on Warburton’s side.
With 11 of last season’s squad leaving upon the expiry of their contracts at the end of the season just completed, Rangers have retained just 14 of the players who appeared for them in their failed attempt to earn promotion from the Championship.
With the addition of some of their under-20 and youth players, Warburton and his assistant, David Weir, will start work with a group of around 18 professionals.
It remains to be seen how many of those are considered good enough to be included in the new management team’s plans.
What is already certain is that Warburton will need to strengthen his squad, both in terms of numbers and overall quality, if Rangers are to justify the belief of those bookmakers who have already installed them as odds-on favourites to win the 2015-16 Championship and earn the automatic step up to the Premiership.
During his successful 18 months as Brentford manager, Warburton displayed a knack for using the loan market to good effect and was also adept at picking up players on freedom of contract who improved his team.
In all areas of the squad now under his command, he will need to use those skills to maximum effect.
FOLLOWING the release of both Steve Simonsen and Lee Robinson, Rangers have just one senior keeper left in Cammy Bell. The 28-year-old’s form after returning from injury last season was less than stellar, culminating in his howler at Fir Park in the second leg of the Premiership play-off final which put paid to Rangers’ hopes of overcoming their deficit against Motherwell.
There are high hopes for Rangers’ current under-20 goalkeeper, Scotland youth international Liam Kelly, left, but a new number one is likely to be high on Warburton’s agenda.
It is a position Rangers would not have been in had they not astonishingly allowed Craig Gordon to slip through their fingers 12 months ago, after hosting his recovery from injury for the best part of a year, and watched him become Scotland’s Player of the Year with champions Celtic.
THE departures of former captain Lee McCulloch, Sebastian Faure, Richard Foster and Bilel Mohsni leave Rangers with just three senior defenders – Lee
Wallace, Darren McGregor and Marius Zaliukas. Left-back Wallace is a likely candidate to become the new club captain, while McGregor and Zaliukas have reasonable enough claims to remain part of Warburton’s plans.
Canadian international centre-half Luca Gasparotto, who shone on loan at Airdrie last season, may be handed an opportunity as he steps up from the under-20 squad.
But the back four is an area where recruitment is clearly a necessity and strong speculation linking Rangers with former Hearts captain Danny
Wilson, below, who was mentored as a teenager at Ibrox by Weir, is not a surprise.
IAN Black and Kyle Hutton are among those whose contracts ran out at the end of the season, leaving Rangers especially light on numbers in the central midfield positions. Nicky Law, who has been linked with a return to English football, and Dean Shiels both have another year left on their current deals, while 20-year-old Andy Murdoch did enough in the final months of the season to suggest he can hold down a place under the new regime. The same applies to impressive 18-year-old Tom Walsh, but the first team prospects of Fraser Aird, Robbie Crawford and Barrie McKay are less promising.
Rangers fans will be intrigued to discover if Warburton and Weir can revitalise the career of David Templeton, the former Hearts winger having faded from the first-team picture last season.
New faces in midfield are a must and Lewis Macleod, right, sold to Warburton’s Brentford for a knock-down fee in January, has been linked with a loan return to Ibrox.
Hibs’ Scott Allan, above, the Championship’s Player of the Year last season, has also been the subject of speculation along with fellow boyhood Rangers supporter Andy Halliday, the former Livingston and Middlesbrough player now a free agent following his release by Bradford City. Haris Vuckic, whose impressive form on loan from Newcastle almost single-handedly kept Rangers in play-off contention at the end of the season, would be welcomed back with open arms at Ibrox but negotiations with Mike Ashley’s club may just be a little more complicated now.
THIS is clearly another priority area for Warburton. Last season was supposed to see Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller, brought back to Ibrox by Ally McCoist, fire Rangers to the Championship title. But recapturing former glories proved beyond the pair. Boyd endured a dismal campaign and left upon the expiry of his contract, along with Jon Daly, while Miller’s contribution at least proved sufficient to trigger an extra year’s option on his deal.
The 35-year-old’s experience can still prove valuable, but Rangers need fresh blood up front. Nicky Clark, who also has another year left on his deal, has failed to convince at the club and the responsibility of scoring regularly is still too onerous for promising teenager Ryan Hardie. This is an area where Warburton and Weir may well look to the loan market.
At Brentford last season, for example, Weir utilised his Everton contacts to secure England under-20 striker Chris Long on a successful temporary move and he may return to the Goodison club once more in search of help..
THE INS AND OUTS AT IBROX
RANGERS’ new management team of Mark Warburton and David Weir have inherited a squad of just 14 senior players following the club’s decision to release 11 first-team squad members whose contracts expired at the end of the season.
The loan deals of the five players signed from Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United in February this year have also ended.
Cammy Bell, goalkeeper, 28
Darren McGregor, defender, 29
Marius Zaliukas, defender, 31
Lee Wallace, defender, 27
Nicky Law, midfielder, 27
Andy Murdoch, midfielder, 20
Tom Walsh, midfielder, 18
Fraser Aird, winger, 20
Robbie Crawford, defender, 22
Barrie McKay, midfielder, 20
David Templeton, winger, 26
Dean Shiels, midfielder, 30,
Kenny Miller, striker, 35
Nicky Clark, striker, 24
Steve Simonsen, goalkeeper, 36
Lee Robinson, goalkeeper, 28
Lee McCulloch, defender, 37
Bilel Mohsni, defender, 27
Richard Foster, defender, 29
Steven Smith, defender, 29
Sebastien Faure, defender, 24
Kyle Hutton, midfielder, 24
Ian Black, midfielder, 30
Kris Boyd, striker, 31
Jon Daly, striker, 32
LOAN DEALS EXPIRED
Gael Bigirimana, midfielder, 21
Haris Vuckic, midfielder, 22
Kevin Mbabu, 19, defender,
Remie Streete, 20, defender,
Shane Ferguson, winger, 23