By Alistair Aird
The last time a manager was unveiled at Ibrox there was much pomp and pageantry, a whole lot of hullabaloo. The enclosure was packed with exultant supporters, proclaiming the arrival of a real big hitter, certainly in terms of his resume as a player. It was almost like Steven Gerrard was a footballing messiah. But today a man with a similarly impressive CV – and an even better coaching record – was unveiled in a much more understated manner.
Back in May 2018, after pumping the air repeatedly with his fist, draping scarves round his neck and saying, ‘let’s go’, Gerrard set about re-establishing the club as a force to be reckoned with again. And while he didn’t quite walk on water during his three-and-a-half-year tenure, he did do what he was hired for. Whatever you think of Steven after he recent departure, we’re in a much better place than we were when he arrived, and he delivered arguably the most important title we have won since our ninth in a row in 1997.
But it’s time to consign all that to the history books. Steven has gone, and at bang on 3.30pm this afternoon, his successor addressed the masses for the first time. And boy, did Giovanni van Bronbckhorst impress us.
Emerging from the Manager’s Office with cameras clicking and flash bulbs popping, van Bronckhorst, was resplendent in his club suit and tie, with a wee Rangers pin badge on his lapel. Flanked by Stewart Robertson and Ross Wilson, he took his seat at the top table. Smart, articulate, knowledgeable, hungry, determined, van Bronckhorst was all of these and more.
And if he was nervous about the grilling he was about to receive, then it most certainly didn’t show. He was cooler than a cucumber, but then again this is a guy that’s played for Feyenoord, Rangers, Arsenal and Barcelona and won over a century of caps for Holland. Oh, and he’s played in a World Cup Final too. Hardly likely therefore to get ruffled by some questions that were set out to determine his philosophy, how he sees HIS Rangers side moving on post-Gerrard.
Gio kicked off by talking about pride. He had sat in the very same Blue Room back in 1998 when Dick Advocaat had signed him as part of his revolution, and he was proud now to be back in Glasgow. He had had ‘a beautiful time as a player’, and because of that and the fact he had kept tabs on how the club had been doing since he left made it an ‘easy decision’ when he was asked to take on the task of managing this magnificent institution. This, he said, ‘is a club I want to lead’ and he made it abundantly clear that he wants to maintain the stream of success which Rangers have become accustomed to in their near 150-year history.
But that success must be on all fronts. Gio was keen to stress that no competition is more important than any other, each game presents an opportunity ‘to develop as a player’. He has been reared to ‘go maximum in every competition’. Although increasing emphasis has been placed on how lucrative winning the league this season will be, and while acknowledging that some tournaments offer more financial rewards than others, that is not at the forefront of his mind. He wants to win every single game, every single tournament. The reward for him is the same.
The not so sweet surrender at Hampden means that one potential source of silverware isn’t now available this season. Gio was asked if he felt compelled to go down to the dressing room and address the team at the end of an abject first half, but it transpired that even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t. Dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ with work permits meant that he wasn’t able to address the team, but he has seen enough in the Hampden horror show to suggest that some things need to change. Just what those things are will be revealed when he meets his players on the training pitch for the first time tomorrow.
When quizzed about his tactical approach, van Bronckhorst referred to the nascent days of his playing career. He was Dutch, brought up to follow the ‘Total Football’ ideology. As a starting point, he will be playing 4-3-3 as it’s what he’s known since he first started kicking a ball in earnest at the age of seven in the Feyenoord academy. There may well be flexibility within that, but we will find out what personnel will fill the requisite positions in that formation over the coming weeks.
But Gio made something crystal clear; if anyone doesn’t subscribe to and get on board with how he wants to play the game then they will have to seek pastures new. He expects everyone to be on board with what in his words is ‘a new beginning’. But what is clear is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done in the past, you will have to work hard if you want to be part of Gio’s plans.
The enigmatic Alfredo Morelos was also mentioned. He hasn’t had the best of seasons thus far, but van Bronckhorst was keen to stress that it wasn’t merely about one player. Gio and his staff want to get the best out of every player in the squad, each player has to be ‘the best version of themselves’.
Gio was also keen to stress he likes working with ‘talents’. He himself worked his way through the academy system at Feyenoord, so in addition to getting a gauge on what he has at his disposal in the first team, he will also invest time in looking at any possible graduates from our youth academy. Something along the lines of ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ springs to mind.
The perils of mid-season appointment was also discussed. Gio joins Rangers at a pivotal time in our defence of the title. Between now and early January, we will travel to Tynecastle, Easter Road, Pittodrie and Parkhead, venues where our title credentials will be tested. But in response to the question, van Bronckhorst was pragmatic. While the timing is ‘not ideal’ and he would have preferred to have had pre-season with his players to give him more time to put across his vision and philosophy, the most important thing is to win games of football. That’s the Rangers way after all.
Stewart Robertson, our chief executive, stayed silent for the most part. He introduced Gio as our seventeenth permanent manager then sat back as van Bronckhorst and Ross Wilson fielded the questions. He was, however, effusive in his praise of Wilson and his team in terms of the work they put in to identify Gio as the man to take the club forward.
Ross Wilson was confident in reply to the questions he was posed too. Chief among them was the inevitable; given the recent financial report, will Gio have to absorb the blow of losing some of his big hitters before he can invest in the transfer market? Wilson was categorical and clear. Football is about player trading, not just at Rangers but across the globe. But first and foremost, after Gio has had the chance to judge the players he has at his disposal, any adjustments, or improvements he wishes to make will be taken into consideration. While ‘nothing is set in stone’, the board will always embrace opportunities to improve the player pool. And he also said that no player would need to be sold to fund any such transfer transactions.
What was also confirmed was that Gio was the preferred candidate. Wilson admitted it would have been ‘reckless’ to be so short-sighted to look at only one person for the role, and while he didn’t name who the others spoken to were, he did make it clear that the van Bronckhorst show was by far and away the only one in town.
So, what can we conclude from today? We have a determined, hungry manager who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He has experience working under some of the best managers in the game like Advocaat, Wenger and van Gaal, and he always feels his players ‘can do more’. His ‘goal and ambition’ is to be successful, and from what Gio told us, if you don’t meet his standards or expectations then you won’t be in his plans for very long. Shape up or ship out. And it’s about being positive and recognisable across the board.
Yes, the future appears to be bright. Let’s Gio.