The weather in Florida may have been a little colder than expected but that didn’t seem to bother Graeme Murty. Following his promotion from caretaker boss to permanent manager of Rangers in December, Murty was taking charge of training in Orlando ahead of his sides participation in the Florida Cup. Rangers face two competitive matches over three days against Brazilian sides Atletico Mineiro and Corinthians before jetting back to Scotland to resume their domestic season. It’s a welcome break for the new boss who has helped the club to pick up the pieces following another tempestuous period.
Two impressive friendly wins in Florida may not be worth lot but it does put the team on a good footing as they return to Scotland for the second part of the season. And boy do they need it. Much was expected of Rangers this year with a new manager at the helm and a bevy of new players. There was an optimistic vibe around the club, one that has been absent for some time now. But after a nervy 1-0 home victory over Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn in the Europa League qualifying, that optimism quickly disappeared and was replaced with dread. Five days later Rangers were knocked out of Europe following a 2-0 defeat which cancelled out that win in Glasgow and put Progres through to the next round. It was by far one of the clubs lowest points (and for a club which has gone through administration and relegation to the bottom tier of Scottish football, that is quite a statement).
Things barely improved during the rest of Pedro Caixinha’s short reign. 14 wins out of 26 doesn’t sound like a terrible return but for a club that has grown used to always winning, it wasn’t good enough. The noose around Caixinha’s neck tightened a little bit more each week as his signings failed to perform on the pitch and his paranoia increased off it. Eventually Rangers board would be forced to eat humble pie and eject the man they saw as a potential game changer – someone who could leap-frog the club forward by a few years. The plan before Caixinha was to build slowly, construct a team on a sound footing then eventually challenge for honours both at home and abroad. But with Celtic getting closer to nine in a row and Caixinha whispering tempting tales of quick victories and epic rises in their ears, the board ditched the careful approach in favour of gung-ho. The cheque book was flung open and in came a host of new players, most of whom few people had ever heard of. Morales, Pena, Cardoso, Herrera, Candeias, Alves, Dalcaio all arrived to fan fare and with much hope attached. Some familiar names came in to – Ryan Jack of Aberdeen and Graham Dorrans from Norwich adding options to a growing squad. Others departed as Caixinha looked to remould the squad in his image. That in itself was a gamble for the manager given the need for his new look side to gel quickly and perform. Ultimately that gamble never paid off and Caixinha was dismissed.
Picking up the pieces once more was Graeme Murty. The former Scotland defender who joined the club in 2016 as head coach of their development squad had previously been in charge when Mark Warburton had been sacked so taking the reins again felt familiar. Whilst the search for a new boss rumbled on, Murty plugged away trying to reignite the passion amongst the group of players he inherited and instill some belief that the season was not over despite sitting far behind Celtic and now Aberdeen in the league. The group was low in confidence and splitting at the seams when Caixinha departed. Two groups had formed – the Scottish contingent led by Kenny Miller who had found himself pushed out to the sidelines in the latter part of Caixinha’s reign and the Portuguese speaking players made up of most of the new signings. Separation within a club is never a good thing and more often than not leads to disaster. Murty knew he had two months to pull them together again and get some results on the board before regrouping over Christmas with a view to making the necessary changes in the January transfer window. By then he expected a new manager would be in charge and that he would once again be back focusing on youth development but instead he is the man in charge at least until the end of the season.
Seven wins, four defeats and one good draw against arch rivals Celtic has left Rangers third in the league, three points behind Aberdeen and eleven behind their city rivals. Not much better than when Caixinha left but the side feels different – more together than before. The opening of the window along with a much-needed break to the sunshine has refreshed the Rangers squad in preparation for their next bunch of domestic fixtures. There are a few new faces amongst the mix – Sean Goss has arrived from QPR and Jamie Murphy has been brought in. Scotland defender Russell Martin and Jason Cummings should be arriving shortly too. There is also two returning faces. Andy Halliday and Michael O’Halloran are back after Murty cancelled their loans which were approved by Caixinha who saw them both a disposable. And back at the club following an almost 30 year absence is Jimmy Nicholl who has been brought in as Murty’s assistant manager.
The changes have been slow yet steady as Rangers look to get back on track and return to the original plan. Their experiment to expedite success failed miserably and likely set the club back even further. Yet the club seems more positively charged than ever before. Murty may not have been the glamorous appointment that most fans were looking for and may not even keep the job beyond next summer but for now he is exactly what the club needs – a steady hand on the wheel as the club battles through another transitional stormy period.