Date:18th November 2021 at 5:10pm
Written by:

By Lee Clark

‘Rolls Royce’  

‘Outstanding’  

‘Had it all’  

‘Classy’  

‘One of the best we’ve ever had’  

‘In such an outstanding squad, he was the stand-out’  

Just some of the accolades afforded to Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, by Rangers fans, as they reflected on his time as a player at the Club. The ‘Gers new manager was a tenacious, box-to-box midfielder, who enjoyed a trophy laden spell at Ibrox, before going on to enjoy even BIGGER success when he left the Club.

‘Best ever’?  That’s possibly a stretch however, the final compliment in that list is particularly telling when you consider the almost embarrassment of talent, that Rangers had at their disposal during his time at the Club.  Simply known as ‘Gio’ amongst the supporters, he became an instant fans favourite as he joined fellow Dutchman, Dick Advocaat’s revolution prior to the 98-99 season in a £5m deal from boyhood club Feyenoord.

Whilst Van Bronckhorst was a Dutch international, he came in as a relative unknown, which initially raised a few eyebrows, not least due to the huge fee Rangers had paid.  The Club had spent big, with substantial fees paid for the established EPL defender Colin Hendry; World Cup quarter-final starter Artur Numan and one of Scottish Football’s biggest prospects in Neil McCann.

 They had also fought off a host of clubs to acquire the services of Rod Wallace from Leeds Utd however, Advocaat had shown huge faith in Van Bronckhorst who, like Numan had been part of Holland’s 1998 World Cup Squad, that narrowly lost out in the Semi-Final but, hadn’t played a single minute of the tournament.  In fact, only Andrei Kanchelskis, had commanded a bigger fee than Van Bronckhorst as Rangers attempted to wrestle the league title back from Celtic, after losing out on their quest for ’10-in-a-row’ the season before.

Any worries Rangers fans had about Gio, were quashed almost immediately as he repaid Dick Advocaat’s faith by helping inspire Rangers to a stirring fightback in his first competitive game, the UEFA Cup tie v Shelbourne.  

The League of Ireland side had taken a shock 3-0 lead in the first leg, played at Prenton Park, Tranmere before the light blues dominated proceedings and eventually ran out 5-3 winners with Van Bronckhorst scoring the equaliser.  It was, what the ‘Gers fans would come to know as a bit of a trademark from him as he collected the ball just inside the opposition half, played a neat 1-2 as he marauded into the Shelbourne box and slotted home with his weaker right foot.

  ‘Classy’ it certainly was and if Gio was off and running amongst the Rangers support, it wasn’t long before he was starting to turn heads right across the Country and indeed the European stage as a whole.  Van Bronckhorst had formed an unlikely partnership with a certain Barry Ferguson, in central midfield and, ably assisted by the ever-impressive Jorg Albertz, set about dismantling teams with their scintillating display of one touch football, tireless work rate and defence splitting passes.  Oh, and they could score the odd goal too!

Battering’s were dished out to the likes of Hamilton, Kilmarnock, Hearts, St Johnstone (twice) Motherwell and Dundee, a game where Van Bronckhorst, really showed his quality as he put in an outstanding display, capping it off with a left foot thunderbolt from 25 yards, Rangers final scorer in a 6-1 mauling.

Rangers romped to the treble with Gio featuring in 44 of 45 domestic games, and it wasn’t just his engine in posting those sorts of numbers that impressed.  His overall contribution was sparkling, to say the least, as he ran riot in the League Cup Final win over St Johnstone, grabbed a goal against the same opponents in the Scottish Cup Semi Final, before playing a huge part in the two first half goals at Celtic Park, as Rangers ran out 3-0 winners to clinch the title.  Put simply, Van Bronckhorst was proving himself to be, the very definition of a ‘big game player’ which he had the chance to showcase, on the biggest stage in Club football, as Rangers returned to the Champions League at the start of the 1999-2000 season.

Of course, Van Bronckhorst had already announced himself on the European stage the previous season, as Rangers produced a remarkable display, in the away game with the highly rated Bayer Leverkusen, running out 2-1 winners in front of an enormous travelling support.  Van Bronckhorst, assisted magnificently by the afore-mentioned ‘partner in crime’ Ferguson, opened the scoring and dominated the game as Rangers ran out 2-1 winners. This was a taste of things to come as Rangers strengthened in the summer and began their assault on the Champions League and to reclaim the league title.

Gio, for his part, picked up where he left off, an almost ever present in the side as Rangers won 11 of their first 12 league games and qualified for the group stage of the Champions League following one of the great European nights at Ibrox, defeating previous season’s foes, Parma in the final qualifying round.  It was his displays in these upcoming contests that truly elevated his status however, as he dominated midfield battles in the company of true greats of the game.  

Many Rangers fans look back on the matches with Bayern Munich with a sense of ‘what might have been’ as Van Bronckhorst and Ferguson ‘schooled’ World Class operators such as Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg, however it was his display in the 4-1 demolition of PSV Eindhoven that really stood out.  Rangers had been given little chance in this ‘group of death’ but really made their mark on proceedings with two wins over the Dutch Champions as Gio, once again swatted aside another European powerhouse of a midfielder, Mark Van Bommel and inspired the team to a thumping victory.

Unfortunately for Van Bronckhorst and Rangers, qualification from the group was just out of reach but, they had done their reputation no harm, with many now declaring the formidable midfielder ‘World Class’.  It’s a view shared by his team mate from his first season in Glasgow, Colin Hendry.

‘He was world class, he was just exceptional. Giovanni was always just a seasoned professional. When you look at his playing career at Rangers and what he did after that – he played for Arsenal and Barcelona. That’s an incredible playing career’

Despite that set back Van Bronckhorst and Rangers went from strength to strength on the domestic front, winning the league title by a massive 21 points and firing 18 goals during a Scottish Cup run that seen Gio score the opener in the Final, as Rangers ran out deserved 4-0 winners over Aberdeen.  Big performances and big goals against nearest challengers Celtic were also on display as Van he set up the winner in Rangers 1-0 win at Celtic Park, a game described by many as Celtic’s ‘final roll of the dice’ before scoring a fabulous goal during a 4-0 demolition, in the reverse fixture a few weeks later, at Ibrox.

Five trophies out of six on the domestic front and more than a little credibility restored on the European scene, was a quite sensational return in Gio’s two years in Glasgow however, it was all to turn sour in his third and final season at the Club.

Despite a humiliation at the hands of a rejuvenated Celtic, Rangers and Van Bronckhorst started the 2000-01 season strongly, winning 7 out of 9 in the league and taking 6 points from 6 in the opening two Champions League games.  Gio was now very comfortable on the biggest stage and put in two man of the match performances in these contests, scoring in a 5-0 hammering of Sturm Graz followed by one of the finest performances in the modern era by a Rangers player in Europe. His pile-driver from fully 30 yards, early in the game was enough to settle the match and despite a defeat in the next outing, away to Galatasaray (where he scored another screamer), Rangers were in a strong position to qualify from the group stages for the first time.  

Disaster was to strike however, as Van Bronckhorst picked up an ankle injury which would rule him out for several weeks and whilst he managed to start the away match in Graz, he was to limp out early as Rangers crashed to defeat.  In fact, they never won any of their final three group games and the coinciding three defeats on the spin in the league during October, meant Rangers and Van Bronckhorst season was in tatters.  Those 55 minutes in Graz were to be Gio’s only contribution of those six matches, and for both player and Club, the season wasn’t to recover. Van Bronckhorst’s lack of influence was there for all to see as Rangers were dumped out of both domestic cup’s and finished an agonising 14 points behind Celtic, and with only 19 appearances to his name it was very much a season to forget.

In the summer, it was announced that Van Bronckhorst was to leave the Club for English giants Arsenal.  Whilst Gio had never hidden his desire to play in the Premier League, many of the Light Blues’ legions were a little miffed at, what they believed to be, a bargain price that Arsenal had acquired his services for.  Whilst £8.5m is no paltry amount, and indeed a tidy profit to the Club, it’s testament to Gio’s ability and his overall contribution in a Rangers jersey that so many felt insulted by the transfer fee.

Was he the best ever? Probably not.  Was he World Class?  Very possibly yes.

One thing is for sure Giovanni Van Bronckhorst STARRED in a squad that gave the Rangers fans some of their finest moments following the team – and it’s these memories, on top of a stellar career, that has seen him welcomed back with open arms!
 

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