So, the waiting is nearly over and another season is about to begin. Holiday thoughts of hope, expectation and anticipation in equal measure but what’s really in store for the R’s faithful? What have the supporters, or more importantly the management, learned from the R’s last campaign and indeed from the last season in British and European football?
The cynics will suggest that nothing was learned from England’s deeply flawed Euro 2016 efforts but others will disagree. In fact, it could be argued that we actually learned a huge amount. At the higher echelons of the game and indeed at most levels, matches are most often won by teams having consistency of selection, a set formation, being well organised with a certain style and a clear way of playing. This all leads to familiarity and breeds confidence. Players get to know and understand their roles in the team and what is expected of them. It is not rocket science and furthermore, and even better still, players are picked in their natural positions, where they play ‘week in, week out’. This all sounds relatively simple but trying telling Uncle Roy.
Of course this approach does not guarantee success but it sure is a good starting point. Just look at Iceland and Wales for a kick off and, on a domestic level, Leicester City. In 25 years time, not only will the diehard Leicester faithful be able to reel off their Premier League winning team, but so will most of the footballing world, so consistent was was Uncle Claudio’s selection, who hardly even tinkered. Contrast and compare with the likes of Uncle Louis at The Red Devils and Uncle Roy at The Three Lions and, well, there is no comparison, both of whom had no idea as to their best formation or set of players. One has to feel a certain sympathy with Captain Wazza as he really didn’t know whether he was coming or going all season. No wonder he is looking forward to the new season with Uncle Sam and the Special One.
So, what’s this all got to do with the Rangers?
Well, Jimmy, as is always the case with a manager taking up a new appointment, was saddled with players not of his choosing. He tried to mould them as best he could but, like so many others who have gone before him, he just could not work out his best team nor his best formation, despite trying all manner of players and combinations. Even with a few additions in the ‘winter window’, results did not really improve so the R’s had to settle for mid table mediocrity.
It has to be said that the jury is still out but most fair minded R’s supporters will give ‘our Jimmy’ the benefit of any wavering doubt. He was certainly a fantastic player who was admired across the world and his managerial credentials, before joining the club, were impressive. He has done the hard yards and served his apprenticeship and was most definitely worth a ‘punt’. He appears completely dedicated to the task in hand, is extremely committed and he so wants to succeed. He certainly gives the impression of being one of life’s winners with an inner steel and self confidence. He speaks well and with passion and must surely be an inspiration to the players. And, of course, he has one of the best names in football!
In contrast, his predecessor, Chris Ramsey, who was clearly a decent man and well liked, unfortunately did not have the wherewithal to step up to the top job. He always appeared somewhat caught in the proverbial headlights, unsure and uncertain, lacking conviction and this clearly translated itself to the players. He really had to be put out of his misery and he appears far better suited to a back seat role, where his undoubted coaching talents can be best served with the youth and emerging players.
What the club really needs now is some stability and a plan, not another grandiose ‘four year plan’ but a far simpler plan, no more complicated than having hungry young players, set up in an organised formation and giving their all for the shirt. A few homegrown players too for good measure would be perfect, but that might be asking for too much at the moment and can follow in due course.
As the opening match with Leeds approaches, this certainly feels like a new dawn. Jimmy is beginning to set his stamp on the side and it is now becoming much more ‘his’ team, than that of his predecessors. Even so, despite numerous additions and departures, and on the evidence of pre-season, there is still some way to go before he settles on his best team. That said, the victory over Watford gives cause for optimism and provides some confidence for his boys ahead of the opening games of the season.
For someone as swashbuckling, dynamic and attack minded in his playing days, it is interesting to observe how Jimmy is far more cautious and reserved in his managerial role. Rangers became quite difficult to beat last season with a multitude of draws and on the evidence of the recent summer signings and pre-season results, the same is likely to be true this season. Whilst the influential Clint Hill will be missed, the club have two good solid goalkeepers, who will be accompanied by several experienced championship defenders. The addition of both Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell will hopefully provide excellent reinforcements to the skipper and last years stand out performer, Grant Hall. The returning Steven Caulker feels like a new signing too and it would be a huge disappointment if he and Nedum Onuoha are prized away by the pride of Dorset, as has been rumoured. Hands off Eddie!
Jimmy seems set on a 4-2-3-1 formation. The addition of the young Polish international Ariel Borysiuk to play alongside Massimo Luongo, Karl Henry or the recently signed, hugely exciting and talented Jordan Cousins, shows that the R’s are very well served in the holding midfield department.
Like Clint Hill, the departed Alejandro Faurlin, who has blue and white blood cursing through his veins, will be sadly missed. In his pomp he was some player but age and injury inevitably take their toll and whilst a kind man, Jimmy cannot have room for sentiment in such a cut throat business. No doubt both Hill and Faurlin will feature at some point in the excellent half time ‘on pitch’ interview sessions and they will rightly receive hero’s welcomes for all their efforts over recent seasons.
However, the problem, like much of last season, is likely to be in the attacking areas. The management must be applauded for disposing of Leroy Fer, Matt Phillips and hopefully Sandro soon, all of whom flattered to deceive and never really seemed to buy into the team ethos. As individuals, Fer and Phillips, did score some excellent goals on occasions but they were very much ‘individuals’, in all senses of the word. Of the other departures, Junior Hoillett did seem to get a lease of life upon Jimmy’s arrival and started to perform somewhere near his potential but he now seems to think that his future lies elsewhere and he won’t be hugely missed.
So, the goalscoring department will be very much dependent on the big ‘ferocious’ German and the quick hungry Northern Irishman, neither of whom are yet proven at this level. Sebastian Polter, whilst much ridiculed upon his arrival, has now become something of a cult figure. There is no doubting his bravery, commitment and work ethic and he has really won the fans over with his wholehearted performances and credit to him for doing so. He can be a real handful and he could be the 15-20 goals a season man that Rangers are looking for, if he can get some decent service. Ditto young Conor Washington, who it is really hoped will adapt to playing at this higher level. He always looks sharp and hopefully, having scored against Watford, the proverbial monkey is off his back and he can flourish. As for the mercurial JET, it appears as though he will be on the next plane if Jimmy has his way.
But will ‘Polts’ and Conor get the service ? Tjaronn Chery will hold the key, the skilfull Dutchman having to unpick defences with his vision and array of tricks, hopefully supported in the middle of the park by the dynamic Cousins. Out wide there is youthful promise but at the moment that is all it is. Ultimately, it might be that the R’s success this season will depend upon the wide men and the influence that the likes of Ben Gladwin, Nasser El Khayati, Michael Petrasso and Olamide Shodipo can bring to bear. If they can step up a level and play with pace and confidence, and create goal scoring opportunities, it could make all the difference. If they struggle, are unable to impose themselves and disappear into their collective shells, then Rangers might do the same.
Success at this level is a fine line and is often balanced on a knife edge. All Rangers’ fans will be hoping that Jimmy can cut to the chase and find his best team and formation as soon as possible, without too much chopping and changing. If he can, and inspire them to impose his high energy pressing game to slice open opposing defences, then success may flow. If not, and his defence proves porous and his attacking intentions are blunted, then we may reach yet another watershed moment.
Time will tell but for the moment the cup is full and the R’s fans, players and management are refreshed and ready for their first taste of the new season. Lessons have been learned, changes have been made and now it all begins again. Rangers could really do with getting off to a flying start to banish any pre-season nerves. Ready, steady ……….