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As a Rangers fan I was interested in Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager’s words, spoken a day before tonight’s (17/5/17) game (Aberdeen beat Rangers at Ibrox for the first time since 1991 winning 2-1) that Rangers should be embarrassed at finishing behind Aberdeen in the league.
I’d agree with McInnes if this was the Rangers of old with better players and realistically expected involvement in a title race with Celtic. In any other season, before Rangers went into administration and were unceremoniously relegated to work their way up from the bottom tier of Scottish football, finishing second behind Celtic would be considered a failure but finishing third, behind Aberdeen, would be tantamount to a crisis with, one imagines, a managerial head rolling. But this isn’t that Rangers. We need some context, some perspective.
A few commendable players aside (Clint Hill, the injury sidelined Lee Wallace and the ever dependable Kenny Miller), this is a very poor Rangers side who have been in the lower leagues for the past four seasons and have struggled in their first season back in the rather grandly named Scottish Premiership. Some of the players brought in by previous manager Mark Warburton, who were from the lower English leagues, acquitted themselves well, by and large, in the Scottish Championship where the sole aim was promotion to the Premiership. They led a title charge which, on many occasions, steamrolled other Championship sides out of the way as they claimed the title and promotion.
Sadly, many of these players have proven unable to make a sustained leap to Scottish Premiership level football, which frankly isn’t the best in the world itself. While some poor results can be put down to Warburton’s stubborn refusal to change failing tactics, blame can also fairly be laid at the door of players like Tavernier, a defender (in the loosest sense of the word) who can’t defend, preferring to ply his trade in the opposition half. Also Waghorn, who, injury problems aside, has seemingly lost his scoring boots. If he had been more clinical against Celtic at Parkhead earlier in the season in the 1-1 draw, Rangers could have beaten their fiercest rivals on their home turf. That game was, arguably, Rangers best performance against Celtic all season and Graeme Murty, then caretaker manager, was in charge.
Home grown talent like Barry McKay has provided much needed inspiration but to the frustration of many fans seems highly selective about when he turns on his game changing skill. Others include defender Danny Wilson, previously a growing starlet with Rangers before leaving to ply his trade with Liverpool. As many who make the journey south do, he found himself washed back up on home shores with points to prove although in the interim period away from Ibrox he seems to have lost the ability to defend. Joe Dodoo has proven himself a diamond in the rough but one wonders if the hustle and bustle of Scottish football will prove too much for him. But a few gems can’t carry a team all season.
Nonetheless at the start of the season some of the more realistic Rangers fans accepted this would be a very much ‘transitional’ season and grudgingly even admitted in hushed tones that their team might finish the season in the top four or even six. So am I embarrassed by getting gubbed by Celtic this season? Yes. Embarrassed at some very lame performances? Yes. Embarrassed by finishing third, behind Aberdeen? No, not this season. Frustrated and disappointed yes, but not embarrassed.
McInnes suggested a team with Rangers financial resources should be embarrassed. The problem with that view is that I’m not entirely sure Rangers do actually have such substantial finances available. In addition, Rangers problems run deeper than first team level. Alex McLeish has stated that while he wasn’t officially interviewed for the manager’s job, more of an informal chat, he’s not sure he’d have taken the post (despite previously saying he’d have found it a hard job to turn down). Many Rangers fans, myself included, would have accepted McLeish, if not with open arms then as a steady pair of hands who knew the club and the league, having been successful with them as their manager previously. But McLeish expressed doubts about the politics ‘behind the scenes’ at the club just now and whether he really needed that at his time in life. Frankly, who could blame him?
To be fair to McInnes, he was responding to Pedro Caixinha’s own comments on Aberdeen. I like McInnes. Many of the Ibrox faithful, including previous manager and club legend Walter Smith (whom some fans would have loved to see return for a third spell in charge – let the man enjoy his retirement for goodness sake!), would have liked McInnes as new Rangers manager before Caixinha was appointed. Indeed, if Rangers flounder badly next season then Caixinha’s stay may be cut short (Paul Le Guen revisited?) and the calls for McInnes to take the Ibrox hot seat may grow. McInnes’s very success with Aberdeen and with limited finances would make him a hot favourite. In fact one of the things McInnes said made me wonder if he was subtly telling the Rangers board that if Caixinha doesn’t work out then McInnes himself knows what it takes to be their next manager. His words will resound with many Rangers fans:
“If he thinks that is doing brilliant at Rangers, being on the up by finishing ahead of Aberdeen, then he’s clearly mistaken,” added the Aberdeen boss. “His job as Rangers manager is to finish above Celtic and he should be more concerned about that challenge.”
Rangers have a long way to go in rebuilding. If they manage to build a team that reaches the giddy heights of yesteryear and finish behind Aberdeen then I might consider being embarrassed but with this poor team having just clambered its way up the lower leagues and at times giving the impression of a swimmer still treading water till a lifeboat comes along, do I feel embarrassed?
No, not embarrassed, just realistic and hoping for a speedy rebuilding process even if that means several more years before challenging again for the title. At that point, if Rangers finish third behind Aberdeen, then I’ll considered being embarrassed.