Rangers On Rocky Roads

There comes a time in the tenure of every manager when he faces a crossroads. A bad loss comes from out of nowhere, potentially even at the home fortress. The players feel uninspired, and it translates onto the pitch. A disconnect, somewhere, will threaten a good season or a growing club. For Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, that happened today.

Rangers, one of Scottish football’s traditional power clubs along with crosstown enemy Celtic, hit their fork in the road at their famed Ibrox Stadium this afternoon against a second from bottom Hamilton Academical. For fans, the loss was unnerving and infuriating. Rangers own Hamilton at Ibrox—Today’s defeat was just the second time in 94 years that Hamilton has won there in league play. Coupled on the heels of the Scottish Cup crash out to bottom of the table Hearts, a club that seemingly had rebuilt itself but has seen the bottom fall out once again, its been a crap week for Rangers.

While the on-field results have been sub-par domestically the last week or so, the fire has been stoked by Steven Gerrard and the Rangers players to the media. They’ve turned the guns on each other.

Gerrard didn’t mix words after the loss… “I didn’t think I could be more disappointed than I was after Hearts – but here I am, even more disappointed than I was a few days ago.” Stevie G quickly turned from a despaired state to a condemnation of his roster. “‘ I’m not really sure I’ve got that many words to describe it. I laid down the gauntlet before the game and will continue to do that, but I have a dressing room that’s shot of confidence. We have played ourselves into a rut, and I’ve got a real tough, tough job to pick that up and improve it from here.”

Stern words from the English legend who made himself at Liverpool and a man who never lacked any confidence in his abilities during his playing career. Gerrard’s team is most definitely devoid of much confidence at this juncture. They’ve spilled out 13 points since the turn of the season and winter break, they’re three in a row in the SPL without a victory, and while Celtic blinked today in a rare loss, Rangers fell up the stairs. The only glimmer of hope in recent weeks was a two-legged Europa League victory over Braga of Portugal. 3-2 at Ibrox and 1-0 in the mountains of Portugal were good to see the Glasgow side to the final 16 of the Europa League. In the Last 16, they’ve drawn perennial German power Bayer Leverkusen.

Rangers will need to sort the house and fast, as the Europa League matchup with Leverkusen’s first leg is just a week away. The German side comes with a stacked deck that includes midfielders Lars Bender, Karim Bellarabi, and Kai Havertz among a host of players who feature for the German National Team, among players who feature for other nations. Leverkusen is very much alive in the Bundesliga Champions League spots race, sitting just outside the top 4. So, simply put, Rangers are facing a massive uphill battle against Peter Bosz’s side.

A Rangers side that is dead for confidence, a silent locker room, according to Gerrard, is a low point. The side looked uninspired at the weekend in the loss to Hearts and failed to operate in the final third against Hamilton. If Rangers are to advance past Leverkusen, they’ll need to find some pep in their step and lace up the boots, and fast. They’re a talented bunch, but it seems that Gerrard is losing the locker room…When that happens, a war often ensues—A race to see who wins—Can the manager dump the problem players in a window before the problem players cause enough problems to dump him. This is where Rangers has found itself in the last week. A team that beat Braga should have been flying high—but they took their weak Scottish opposition for granted, perhaps, and paid for it.

Gerrard has been a key cog in the revitalization of Rangers into a Scottish power player once again, and to part with him after this run would be a mistake. Celtic will not be caught. The title is now theirs to throw down the well, and they likely won’t let it happen. For Rangers, the keys to a solid run in will be performing as well as possible in the Europa League against Leverkusen, hoping to nick a result at Ibrox and survive a brutal away leg and to to hold serve on second place in the Scottish Prem without stumbling to the finish. They’re well clear of the pack, so it is not as if second is in danger of going way right now, but for their own sake, stringing together a few wins in the league can only boost their confidence.

The right decision would be to let Gerrard right the ship. They’re not getting relegated, and their place in the Europa League for next season is all but assured. Too often, clubs pull the string on a gaffer and the deck of cards comes crumbling down. One of my prime examples was then Wisla Krakow owner Boguslaw Cupial churning through managers almost on the yearly. His biggest folly, however, was in the 2011-2012 season when he sent Robert Maaskant packing after winning the 2010-2011 title, made a run at Champions League and was fighting in the Europa League…Furthermore, Cupial blew up the development plan that Masskant and fellow Dutchman Stan Valckx had put together. The club teetered ever since and will be the feature of a future article—They’re the author’s favorite club, so it’s happening.

For Rangers, however, with their position being what it is—Keeping a man with the clout on the transfer market that Gerrard could potentially wield and the larger than life persona he brings with him to the club is a roll of the dice worth taking—The risk of jettisoning him doesn’t outweigh the potential reward of making a move at this juncture.

 

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1.) Evening Standard

2.) Twitter

3.) Daily Mail

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