It is now nine long years since 200,000 passionate Glasgow Rangers supporters descended upon Manchester to witness their heroes taking on Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final, the club’s first European final since that glorious night in 1972 when they beat Dynamo Moscow to win the Cup Winners’ Cup in Barcelona. The result didn’t go their way in Manchester as Dick Advocaat’s men got the better of Walter Smith’s class of 2008 but how the club’s fans must wish they could go back in time to experience such heady heights once more.
Instead Rangers find themselves in a tough predicament, playing catch up not only to fierce rivals Celtic who have dominated the game north of the border since the Light Blues’ liquidation and subsequent rebirth, but also to Aberdeen who have emerged in their absence as the main challengers to Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops.
Following Mark Warburton’s acrimonious departure from Ibrox in February, Portuguese manager Pedro Caixinha took over the reins and has been charged by Chairman Dave King and the board with reinvigorating the Gers and returning the club to the top of the domestic pile. He faces a tough task unquestionably. After finishing their first season back in the top flight in disappointing fashion with a third placed finish, Caixinha and his team will be aiming at the very least to offer Celtic more resistance in their quest for a seventh successive title than last time out when Rodgers’ men cantered to their 48th title. They now trail Rangers’ world record haul of 54 titles by just six.
Lavish Spending A Thing Of The Past
However, long gone are the days when Rangers could afford to go out and compete financially with England’s biggest and best clubs to sign some of the best talent on the market. Back in November 2000, former Gers boss Dick Advocaat smashed the Scottish transfer record, a record that still stands to this day, to sign forward Tore Andre Flo from Chelsea for £12 million. The Norwegian proved a moderate success in Govan but such lavish spending and exuberant transfer fees appear to be a thing of the past on the blue side of Glasgow, for the time being at the very least.
The club can no longer afford to shop at the top end of the football pyramid and costly international stars of the calibre of Gascoigne, Laudrup or de Boer are just a distant but happy memory for Rangers fans at this moment in time. Caixinha is instead having to use all of his nous and extensive contacts to put together a squad capable of narrowing the gap on their dominant city neighbours in the league and perhaps bring home some silverware in the form of one of the cups on offer. His dealings to date would likely fail to excite even the most ardent Gers supporter given the genuine unknown quantity status of the majority of his captures. Only time will tell if his judgement is to be trusted implicitly.
A Mix Of Experience And The Unknown
Experienced campaigners such as former Aberdeen captain Ryan Jack and Scottish international Graham Dorrans will bring much-needed quality to the midfield while the acquisition of Portuguese international defender Bruno Alves is an undoubted coup despite his advancing years. Caixinha has chanced his arm to a degree by bringing in unknown quantities such as Carlos Pena and Eduardo Herrera from Mexican football in addition to Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos from HJK Helsinki and Portuguese trio Daniel Candeias, Fabio Cardoso and loanee Dalcio. He will be hopeful they can hit the ground running when the Premiership starts in a matter of weeks.
While Rangers look consigned to doing their shopping in the bargain basement for the forseeable future, Celtic have splashed out £4.5 million to capture French prospect Oliver Ntcham from Manchester City with further expensive signings a distinct possibility if they reach the Champions League group stages. In Rodgers, Celtic have a manager whose reputation is soaring given his trophy-laden start to life in Paradise. A domestic treble and some impressive performances and results in last season’s Champions League currently makes Parkhead an attractive proposition while Rangers are arguably in a transitional phase.
More Incomings Imminent?
Rumours of a possible swoop for former Light Blue forward Steven Naismith and Hearts winger Jamie Walker are doing the rounds at the moment and both players would prove popular additions with the fans. At this moment in time however it could be argued that the gap between Rangers and Celtic has never been so great. And it is difficult to disagree having watched Caixinha’s men conspire to lose embarrassingly to Progres Niederkorn, a team of part-timers from Luxembourg in the first round of qualifying for the Europa League. Was it just a blip? Only time will tell.
With no European football on the horizon this season following that humiliating elimination in Luxembourg, the pressure is firmly on Caixinha to narrow the gap and prevent Celtic from topping the joint record of nine-in-a-row titles shared by the two clubs. He’ll need time and money from the board to achieve it but in football today there is no guarantee of either. Two things are guaranteed though, Ibrox will be full to the rafters of expectant fans on the opening day of the season, and they will demand success sooner rather than later.
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