July 4th 2001.
That was the day that Rangers officially opened the clubs state of the art training facility and new academy grounds.
In the two decades since, a regular discussion amongst fans and media has been whether the investment has been worth it as far as player development goes.
Considering the best player produced in the last twenty five years (Barry Ferguson) came along before the Rangers Training Centre existed, it’s an understandable talking point.
Allan McGregor, Allan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Chris Burke, Danny Wilson, Barrie Mckay.
Until very recent years, that’s the guts of what had been successfully developed by the club over the first decade and a half as far as first team regulars go.
Of that group, the entire amount brought in via player sales was around £13m. Now, several of those players did play a role in winning the club trophies over the years so were more valuable in that regard.
However, that’s not a particularly long list and it got a lot worse before it got better.
After the events of 2012 the whole club was in a state of rebuild. Ownership, sponsorships, the first team squad, etc…
The academy and youth development was no different, in fact that was bottom of the list and wouldn’t receive any real attention in the first few years following.
With the club just trying to get back through the leagues it was basically bringing in a group of average SPL players to get the job done and even then, by the time they got to the 2nd tier of Scottish football those players weren’t up to the standard needed to win the title.
During that time, Ally McCoist highlighted Rangers’ lack of scouting resources and lack of staff at academy level due to the cost cutting requirements.
At that point, there simply was no academy or set-up.
It wasn’t until 2015 when the takeover was completed that Rangers hired Mark Warburton who deserves a lot of the credit for pushing the club to refocus on the academy and producing our own talent.
In the space of six months we went from having no scouting network, no development path and no basic infrastructure to having UK wide scouting, a player profile model and a consistent playing style at every level.
Now, that doesn’t mean instant results. Those basic building blocks put in place seven years ago were just the start of a long process.
The first real product of high quality was Billy Gilmour. Developed by the club and brought into training with the first team by Warburton at age fourteen, everyone was well aware of the level of talent.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see it in a Rangers shirt as Chelsea snapped him away very quickly, but a Champions League winners medal and an important international starter by age 20 speaks to what the club brought through.
Thankfully, that was only the start.
The moment the club announced Steven Gerrard as manager he set about improving the professionalism at every level of the club, that very much included the academy set up.
Connecting all levels of the club, ensuring the philosophy and strategy was consistent at every level and creating a clear pathway to the first team were made priority, priorities that have truly come to fruition with the arrival of Ross Wilson as director of football.
Wilson brought with him a great reputation that he built at Southampton, the man in charge of a huge staff consistently producing and recruiting top talent.
Joining a club not long removed from administration, a lot of the work done by Wilson saw Southampton improve every season for over half a decade, getting into the top 6 of the Premier League and generating over £200m in player sales.
Wilson brought this approach and level of staff with him to Ibrox; A European wide scouting team, recruitment team, data analysts, video analysts.
That team have done a lot of excellent work in regards to the academy in recent years. On top of the homegrown players being produced at the youngest levels, that quality is being topped up by very good recruitment of young talent into the academy.
Charlie McCann brought in from Manchester United, Juan Alegria scouted in Colombia and brought in via Finland, Tony Weston brought in from Blackpool, Kane Ritchie-Hosler from Manchester City, etc…
The next step in aiding the development of these players was the successful introduction of the Rangers B team this year, allowing the young players to play against men in a professional setting and gain that valuable experience within the Rangers set-up instead of having to rely on loan moves that often don’t work out.
This set up has seen Alex Lowry shine for the B team, earn a call to the first team and pick up back to back Man Of The Match awards in his first two appearances.
Charlie McCann and Leon King have followed into the first team set-up.
So, the question is are we now for the first time seeing the kind of return from the Training Centre that we had all hoped for? I believe the answer to be yes.
With such an emphasis now placed on finding young talent, especially homegrown talent, and the financial premium that comes along with it, the club have positioned themselves very well as far as finally creating the model that’s been talked about for years.
Nathan Patterson came through every level, moved into the first team, played domestically, played in Europe, became the National team starting RB and moved to the Premier League for a club record £16m fee by the age of 20.
That one player has resulted in more income for the club than all the names listed earlier combined.
There are now several other players from the youth team on the verge of following Patterson’s progression path:
Alex Lowry (18), Charlie McCann (19), Leon King (18), Juan Alegria (19), Tony Weston (18).
This is really the first time the club have had a consistent stream of talent knocking at the door since the inception of the Training Centre in 2001.
With those players in place, the recruitment and scouting constantly ongoing and the set up being improved each year, the investment is finally paying off for the club.
It’s taken 20 years, but there is finally a structure and team in place to maximise the facilities and investment made by the club.
Hopefully we get to see a lot more of Lowry and the likes playing first team football for Rangers than we did with Gilmour and Patterson, but regardless, the path has been created and the talent to walk that path is also in place.
Competition! FREE to enter!
Think you know Rangers?
Then answer this week’s Rangers Pools Question of the Week. There’s Match Tickets, Signed Merch and more up for grabs PLUS an Edmiston House Package every week!
You can play here for FREE here 👉🏻 http://www.rangerspools.com/question-of-the-week