The appointment of a new manager at Rangers Football Club is a momentous event. Indeed Michael Beale is only the 18th man to have had the prestigious position bestowed upon him by the custodians of our great institution, even if the rate of change is gathering pace in the modern world of football.
Such a change often brings with it optimism and hope, although I was somewhat taken aback by the negativity that embroiled sections of social media when it became clear he was the frontrunner. Beale was often credited, by the same fans, as the brains behind the Gerrard era even if his modesty prevents him from admitting to as much.
It was not a period without flaws of course but ultimately was one which saw year-on-year improvement to the point of being unbeaten league champions for the first time in a decade. Some of the attempts to rewrite that fact have been transparent but wholly unfair in my own humble opinion.
While Van Bronckhorst had demonstrated tactical nous and guile which helped drive the team to the club’s fifth European final, this campaign began to reveal underlying flaws and failings that were perhaps masked by last season’s midweek heroics. The team lacked identity and style. They appeared unfit and lethargic. And ultimately that created a disconnect between the manager, his team and the supporters. Results eventually saw that connection severed when after just over a year in charge Gio was relieved of his managerial duties at Ibrox.
The above failings have perhaps guided the board towards our former first-team coach as he ticks boxes that were left blank by Van Bronckhorst. Under his guidance we had a clear identity and style, even if that evolved over time. We had a team that was undoubtedly fitter and sharper than the one that has taken the field this season. Furthermore the capitulations we have seen recently were not a feature of the Gerrard era and it is difficult not to acknowledge the damage such defeats had on the mood of the fans and even the team itself.
Our new manager is undoubtedly a talented coach. Steven Gerrard is on record as saying “It would take me 15 to 20 years to become as good as Michael Beale as an on-pitch coach” and given his experience in the game that’s no minor admission. Of course he will be tasked with a new role as the main man in the dugout. However, the coaching pedigree is clear for all to see and was the reason QPR, and indeed Wolves, saw him as the right man to take their club forward.
While actions speak louder than words it has been encouraging that Beale has used the latter to clearly demonstrate his understanding of the task, the failings that have hampered the team this season and the changes he needs to make to drive the club forward again.
In an interview with Sky Sports Beale spoke of “creating an identity the fans can be excited about”, “taking the handbrake off” and of his need to “drive standards” at the club. Some of this of course is a subtle acknowledgement of what went wrong under his predecessor but, more importantly, it is things he plans to rectify going forward.
The ultimate proof of course will be on the pitch but having the fans and players buying into the above is a meaningful, if easy, first step.
The Englishman of course has some credit in the bank given his previous time here and fondness for the club which inevitably earns some bonus points with the support.
There’s something special about an outsider becoming completely infatuated with our wonderful football club and there’s no doubt Beale has taken Rangers, and life in Scotland, to heart.
He might not be Jorg Albertz or Lorenzo Amoruso but equally I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t something heartwarming or almost romantic about his obvious affection for Rangers, even if it’s only coming from a few miles down the road.
Beale will of course inherit the injury problems that plagued the squad under Van Bronckhorst. He will therefore attempt to hit the ground running without key players in key positions and in anyone’s eyes that’s far from ideal.
He also faces the issue of other previously pivotal players such as Kent and Morelos being shadows of their former selves and indeed he acknowledged as much in his recent interview. He will be hoping his previous connections and relationships can light a fire under the underperformers and immediately provide a lift to the team. God knows it’s needed.
The new manager will also have to handle the transition from coach to manager in what is an unforgiving and pressured environment at Ibrox. The man he worked under, Steven Gerrard, took some time to adapt to this as he often found himself riding too high or sinking too low after games and I hope experiencing this will give Beale some insight into what is required of him as the man now wearing the suit.
He was quick to distance himself from the notion that he was overly friendly with the playing squad, describing himself as the disciplinarian of the previous coaching staff. But even above that he will now be the one walking into that dressing room needing to inspire, fire up or dress down his team each week to manage the egos and personalities in the right manner.
So while I am not ashamed to admit I am delighted for Michael Beale and have a comfortable level of faith in him being a success, we cannot escape the fact that he needs support, time and patience.
A mixture of questionable recruitment and a horrific injury list has left the squad worse off than should be reasonably expected, given we have bounced from a league title to a European final and then into the Champions League.
Beale must be allowed to shape his team as he did with Gerrard previously but that not only requires excellent coaching, it requires the right players and time to do so. Our league championship, for example, was won with the management team recognising the need for reinforcements in attacking areas and you only need to look at the numbers from Roofe and Hagi to see how they helped elevate the team from challengers to champions in that particular season.
Next summer provides an opportunity to clear the decks with many senior players seeing their contracts come to an end and I hope Beale is brave enough to let go of the comfort blanket and use that window to provide an overdue refresh of the playing squad.
But that will require funds and at the moment it is not clear quite how these can be self-generated from player sales with very few obvious assets in the price brackets we’d be expecting.
Ross Wilson stated in the Blue Room press conference that the board would support him as much as possible if he wants to go into the market and I hope that can begin in January.
Of course it is unlikely that he could realistically state anything else but this time it really must translate into proper backing and support as we’ve seen the damage even temporary underinvestment can have on the success of the team on the pitch.
The issue isn’t only the amount of money we will spend, it is the value we get in return for that investment. John Bennett previously boasted about increasing the wage bill as an indication of backing the previous manager, oblivious to the fact that this only meant we were getting diminishing returns for our buck given the on-pitch failings.
Ross Wilson’s position now falls under huge scrutiny with this summer’s rebuild having been followed by the sacking of a manager. Throwing money at Beale’s revamp will mean little if Wilson cannot identify the right players needed for whatever money we spend. And we’ve failed in that department for far too long.
Between now and then of course we are still Rangers; Beale has to go and win games.
I am not convinced that Van Bronckhorst had the full backing of the playing squad and that they were “all-in” behind him, and his methods, and if that can change under the new manager then it at least provides a stronger base upon which we can build and move forward.
But we must still temper ambition with the reality of where the squad is at presently and that means giving the new manager time to implement his ideas and build a squad in his own identity.
Beale has two weeks to whip the squad into shape and get them firing for the return of domestic football. All the talk following his arrival will then stop and the real test will be on the pitch. I fully expect that we will see an uplift in performances and a change in style in the short-term but that will mean little if it is not reinforced and bolstered by backing in the transfer market, particularly next summer, when it really matters.
Beale has coached a title-winning team. He must now prove he can manage one.
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