By Alistair Aird
Giovanni van Bronckhorst is the new manager of Rangers Football Club. After a week or so of furore and frustration, we have our man. Like a prodigal son, Gio has come back home.
But before we get carried away with the hype and the hullaballoo, just exactly what are we getting as Gio walks through the main doors as a Rangers employee for the first time in over 20 years?
Well, to date, Gio has held two managerial positions. After a stint in charge of the Feyenoord U21 side, he took over the reins for the first team from Fred Rutten in May 2015. Prior to Rutten, it was Ronald Koeman who had been Feyenoord manager, and Gio had been Koeman’s assistant.
There are striking parallels with Gio’s appointment with the one we have just made. A former player – his illustrious and distinguished playing career is bookended with spells with Feyenoord, from 1993 to 1998 and 2007 to 2010 – he was now cutting his managerial teeth in Rotterdam. It is to be hoped that his time at Rangers brings the same sort of success it did at Feyenoord.
Gio’s first games in charge were a two-legged play-off against SC Heerenveen. After finishing fourth in the league, Feyenoord joined Heerenveen, Vitesse Arnhem and PEC Zwolle to determine who would take the final European spot for season 2015/16. It wouldn’t be a good start to his managerial career for Gio, though. Feyenoord lost 1-0 in the away leg, and the home leg ended 2-2 after extra time.
His first full season brought a mixed bag of results. Eleven wins from the first 16 league games elevated Feyenoord to second in the table, but then the roof caved in. The next seven successive league matches were lost! By the time that slump was stopped with a 1-1 draw against Roda JC, Feyenoord had dropped to seventh position. But the draw against Roda kicked off an unbeaten run to the end of the season that yielded eight wins from the last 11 matches. That cemented third place and automatic qualification for the group stages of the Europa League the following season.
There was a silver lining at the end of the season too in the shape of the Dutch Cup. Wins over PEC Zwolle, Ajax (arguably Gio’s best result to that point), Willem II, Roda JC, and AZ Alkmaar took Feyenoord to a showdown with a former employer of Michael Mols, FC Utrecht. The Final took place at De Kuip, and captained by Dirk Kuyt, Feyenoord edged home by two goals to one.
Gio was still finding his feet as a manager, but his rise up the steep learning curve was meteoric in season 2016/17. The campaign started with another piece of silverware, Feyenoord winning the Johan Cruyff Shield, but it was to be the league campaign that further cemented Gio’s legendary and iconic status in Rotterdam.
The last time Feyenoord had won the Eredivisie was back in season 1998/99, with Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 31 goals the catalyst. Ruud would turn up at Ibrox on Champions League duty the following season after he moved to PSV Eindhoven. His penalty proved nothing more than a consolation that evening, a rampant Rangers winning by four goals to one.
Since then, title success had been elusive for Feyenoord, but in 2016/17, Gio’s side topped the table from week 1. They scored 86 goals and lost just four of their 34 matches to edge out Ajax by a single point. The title was clinched with a 3-1 win over Heracles at home, captain Dirk Kuyt scoring a hat-trick in what would be his last game as a professional. Nicolai Jørgensen, who Gio had signed for 3.5 million euros in the summer of 2016, was top scorer in the league with 21 goals.
Feyenoord started the season superbly, winning their first nine games. And between 4 December and 26 February, Gio led his team to ten wins on the bounce. The last victory in that run was a vital one, a 2-1 win at De Kuip against PSV Eindhoven. Indeed, De Kuip was a fortress that season, Feyenoord going unbeaten on their own patch, winning 15 of the 17 matches played there. Much of Rangers’ success has been built on the solid foundation of fine home form, so it’s hoped van Bronckhorst can continue to deliver stats like this when he comes to Scotland.
The standout match in the home run was undoubtedly the 8-0 pummelling of Go Ahead Eagles. Steven Berghuis, now with Ajax, scored a hat-trick in an encounter that was sweet revenge for Gio’s team. Go Ahead had inflicted their first league defeat of the season back in November.
The defence of the title ultimately proved unsuccessful in season 2017/18. After kicking off with four straight wins, Feyenoord won just one of their next eight league matches. In that sequence, they were thumped 4-1 at home by Ajax, and they never really recovered from that. Although they hammered Sparta Rotterdam 7-0 away from home and won their last eight league matches, Gio’s side finished up in fourth place, a whopping 17 points adrift of champions PSV Eindhoven.
But Gio didn’t end the season empty handed. He once again led his troops to the Final of the Dutch Cup, and after a 2-0 win over PSV in the last eight, they made short work of AZ Alkmaar in the Final, winning 3-0 at De Kuip thanks to goals from Jørgensen, Robin van Persie, and Jens Toornstra.
RVP had come back to Rotterdam in January 2018, and he was instrumental in Feyenoord’s resurgence. Managing world class players like van Persie and previously Dirk Kuyt is another feather in Gio’s cap. It shows he can deal with big egos, and get the best out of them even though both were on the back nine of their career.
Gio’s fourth season at Feyenoord, 2018/19, was disappointing. Despite beating PSV Eindhoven to win a second Johan Cruyff Shield and thrashing Ajax 6-2 at the end of January, his side were dogged by inconsistency. The Ajax result was a bright light amidst the gloom, being one of just two wins in 12 league games. A fourth-placed finish was all that Feyenoord could muster, and they trailed champions Ajax by 21 points.
The Dutch Cup was relinquished at the semi-final stage – Ajax winning 3-0 – and hopes of a run in the Europa League were extinguished at in the third qualifying round.
Gio’s contract was up for renewal in June 2019, but there was to be no extension. He was replaced by another Dutch legend, Jaap Stam, and subsequently linked with a coaching role under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. That didn’t materialise and Gio’s next destination would be South China.
He took the manager’s job at Guangzhou City F.C in the Chinese Super League but he endured a horrendous start. Only two of his first nine league games were victories, and in that spell his side lost heavily at home to GZ Evergrande (0-5) and SD Luneng (1-5). It was no surprise then that when the league groupings split after 14 games into Championship and Relegation phases, Gio’s team fell into the latter. In what was a rather convoluted system, Guangzhou beat Dalian Pro 4-3 on aggregate to clinch eleventh place overall.
Gio’s last two games in China were in the Chinese FA Cup. After thrashing SZ Dongwu 6-1, Gio’s last match to date as a manager – on 2 December 2020 – ended with his side lost 5-4 on penalties to SD Luneng.
Managerial Stats – Holland
Gio was in charge of Feyenoord for 174 games. His side won 108 of those matches, giving him a win percentage of 62.07%.
His record by competition is as follows:
The above is a more than admirable record in the Dutch top-flight, Gio winning 62.5% of the matches contested.
However, his league record against the ‘big two’ – Ajax and PSV Eindhoven – doesn’t make for good reading:
Of the five defeats against Ajax, four came in Amsterdam. Gio didn’t register a league win there in four attempts. His record in Eindhoven wasn’t much better, registering just one win in four attempts. His biggest challenger at Rangers will inevitably be Celtic, so it’s imperative that he delivers a better record in the Old Firm games than he did in these games in Holland.
Named after arguably Holland’s most famous footballer, the Johan Cruijff Schaal is the Dutch equivalent of the Community Shield in England. Feyenoord won it twice in van Bronckhort’s four-year tenure, both courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. In August 2017 Feyenoord and Vitesse Arnhem were level at 1-1 after extra time, but two penalty saves from the former Liverpool goalkeeper, Brad Jones, saw Gio’s team edge the shoot-out 4-2.
A year later PSV Eindhoven provided the opposition. The teams were locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes, and in the ensuing penalty shoot-out, Jordy Clasie netted the winner. Robin van Persie started the game for Feyenoord but was substituted after 84 minutes.
TOTO KNVB beker (Dutch Cup)
This is a superb record. The only two defeats came against Ajax in the 2018/19 semi-final and Vitesse Arnhem in the last eight of the 2016/17 competition.
In the other two seasons, Gio guided his team to the Final whereupon they defeated FC Utrecht 2-1 in season 2015/16 and AZ Alkmaar 3-0 in season 2017/18.
Although the league will always be paramount for Rangers, success in the domestic cups is also craved. Gio has shown in his time in Holland that he has the ability to mould a team that are hard to beat in
UEFA Champions League
Winning the title in season 2016/17 granted Feyenoord access direct entry to the Champions League group stages. They were pitted against Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Napoli. Alas, Gio’s side started with a 4-0 home defeat to Man City and lost again when they came to Manchester. Shakhtar also did the ‘double’, winning 2-1 in Rotterdam and 3-1 in Donetsk. The only win Feyenoord registered came in their final fixture, a 2-1 home win over Napoli.
It is to be hoped that Gio will lead Rangers into the Champions League group stages next season on the back of winning the Scottish Premiership title. That will present another monumental challenge for our new manager, and he will be out to improve his stats at this level.
Europa League Qualifying
A fourth-place finish in 2017/18 granted Feyenoord a place in the third qualifying round for the Europa League. They were drawn against the Slovakian side, AS Trencin, but were trounced 4-0 in Slovakia. That made the return leg in Holland all but academic, and a 1-1 draw saw Trencin advance to the next stage comfortably.
Europa League Group Stages
Feyenoord qualified automatically for the Europa League group stages in season 2016/17 by virtue of the fact they finished third in the league. They were drawn in Group A alongside Manchester United, Fenerbahçe, and the Ukrainian side, FC Zorya Luhansk. The campaign kicked off with a 1-0 win over the eventual tournament winners, Manchester United, but defeats home and away against Fenerbahçe and a 4-0 thumping at Old Trafford saw Gio’s side finish third and fail to advance to the knockout stages.
Managerial Stats – China
Gio was in charge of Guangzhou City for only 23 games, and his side won only eight of those matches (34.78%).
His results are broken down as follows:
Chinese Super League
Chinese FA Cup
After wins over Shanghai Greenland (5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw) and SZ Dongwu (6-1), Guangzhou City were eliminated at the quarter-final stage, losing on penalties against Shandong Luneng Taishan. Former Everton and Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini was part of the opposition XI, and he scored one of the penalties in the shoot out.
When he took on the job at Feyenoord, Gio adopted an attacking 4-3-3 formation. For his first league match in charge, a 3-2 win over FC Utrecht, his attacking trio included Colin Kazim-Richards and Dirk Kuyt, both of whom scored in the game.
He hasn’t always placed emphasis on being on the front foot, though. Of the 174 games he was at the helm for Feyenoord, he played the attacking 4-3-3 in just 42 of them. His favoured formation, which he used in 111 matches, was a more conservative 4-3-3. However, don’t be fooled by this. In one of the games when he used this formation, Feyenoord battered Sparta Rotterdam 7-0! In addition to the two favoured formations, Gio also utilised 4-2-3-1 (17), 4-1-4-1 (1), 3-4-3 (1), and 5-3-2 (1).
During his short spell in China, he approached games in a similar manner, although there were occasions when he went with 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3.
It bodes well that van Bronckhorst offers flexibility in his tactical approach, although one would suspect he would adopt a positive 4-3-3 with the players he currently has at is disposal at Rangers.
What does the above tell us about the new Rangers manager?
The previous incumbent came with a reputation of being a world-class player but had no experience of being a first team manager. That’s a box that Gio can tick. He has a wealth of experience at the top level as a player, but he has also been a manager in his own right. The success he achieved with Feyenoord cannot be underestimated – he masterminded four trophy successes, with the league title win the club’s first for almost 20 years – although this is tempered slightly by a chastening experience in China.
Gio has also had to massage and manage some pretty big egos – Robin van Persie being one example – and his dabbling in the transfer market on a budget has reaped rewards, notably Nicolai Jørgensen who top scored in the championship-winning 2016/17 season. The highest fee paid for a player was the £5,850,000 splashed out to bring in Steven Berghuis from Watford, and of the 64 players brought in during his four years in Rotterdam, a fee was paid for just 13 of them. His total spend was £38,520,000.
Gio will have contacts too across the globe, so if rumours of a small transfer kitty at Rangers are to be believed, this and the fact that Gio has worked under financial constraints in the past can only be a good thing.
All in all, Giovanni van Bronckhorst looks to be a good fit for Rangers. He will excite the fan base, and his reputation as a player should earn him respect from the playing squad. He inherits the team in a good position, so we hope he comes in, hits the ground running, and delivers 56 as a minimum.
Welcome back, Gio. Your time is now.