Rangers European trip is over and manager Pedro Caixinha is in the hot seat. His road to redemption is now longer than expected after Rangers suffered an embarrassing elimination by Luxembourgian club Progrès Niederkorn losing 2-1 on aggregate. The result was a terrible way to return to European football for Rangers after a six seasons hiatus and it marked a disappointing begin for Pedro Caixinha’s first full season in charge of the club. It is now hard to find a way for both Caixinha and the club to recover their own reputations.
The Caixinha experiment was a gamble since he was recruited last season when Rangers failed to find an alternative to the departed Mark Warburton. Questions were immediately raised up about the Portuguese’s résumé as he was cleared by Qatari club Al-Gharafa to take the job as Rangers manager after a journeyman coaching career over Europe, South America and the Middle East.
Until now, Caixinha has done little to silence his doubters. On the contrary, many critics pointed out that last season’s caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s side sorted out a draw with Celtic while, under the Portuguese, Rangers registered a mortifying 5-1 defeat at Ibrox against the Bhoys. The legitimate understanding that Caixinha needed time to overhaul team roster this summer quickly eroded after their opening European campaign loss. Fans feel embarrassed as there should be no doubt that Rangers had enough talent to get their way through the Europa League qualifying round.
Instead, Rangers manager Caixinha is already under pressure after the humiliating loss they suffered in Luxembourg. Truth to be told, Scottish clubs’ failure in Europe is well documented through the years but Rangers defeat still remains as one of the most shameful result registered by a club from Scotland in European competitions. So, the question about how Caixinha could repair this damage remains – but this topic has to be thrown under a deeper prospective.
Indeed, the connection between club and Portuguese Pedro Mendes, the manager’s agent, appears obvious. Although Pedro Mendes isn’t as influential as his compatriot Jorge Mendes (who can also count José Mourinho as one his clients) there is no other way Caixinha could have been appointed at Ibrox. Jorge Mendes, the former nightclub owner who was also the agent of Pedro Mendes in his playing career and helped broker his deal to Tottenham in 2004, is one of the most powerful men in modern football and also looks highly involved in the recent Portuguese invasion of Britain – with Watford and Wolves having appointed Marco Silva and Nuno Espirito Santo while Sheffield Wednesday already have Carlos Carvalhal in place. Mendes established a strong relationship with the Chinese Fosun group which bought Wolverhampton in 2016. The Portuguese agent was highly involved in every Fosun’s decision about football since, first and foremost helping the Chinese conglomerate to identify Wolverhampton as the club to buy.
Mendes led the hiring of former Valencia and Porto manager and of some footballers that made former manager Paul Lambert unhappy with Portuguese agent’s influence over the club. The same Mendes looked to push Wolverhampton to appoint Portuguese managers Vitor Pereira or Marco Silva after Wolves opted to part ways with then manager Walter Zenga during last season’s troubles. Marco Silva, who is represented by Carlos Gonçalves (a close friend of Mendes), agreed on a two-year contract with Watford to succeed Walter Mazzarri after a experience at Hull where he was surprisingly appointed to replace the sacked Mike Phelan with the impossible task to save a club at the bottom of the league.
Now, without prejudice to the prominent rising of the Portuguese coaching school and its tactical periodization approach (which achieved success across Europe under coaches such as Leonardo Jardim, Paulo Sousa and Andre Villas-Boas), the influence these managers could produce into British football is still to be fully determined. The upcoming season could give us a deeper answer. Until now, things have gone south over the Hadrian’s Wall.
Surely, Caixinha landed in a bizarre environment, one in which the chairmen (Dave King) is ghost-presence and there was no director of football appointed before the signing of a manager with no real knowledge of Scottish football. A recent tax case concerning the utilization by Rangers of employee benefit trusts to convey £50m for employees’ payments since 2001, also doesn’t help. Judges decided that payments through EBTs are taxable while Rangers made them look like loans.
At this point, Caixinha’s attitude and skills will be highly scrutinized and the coach will face a huge challenge to get the fan base back on his own side. The coming season offers a chance of redemption, although the road to narrow the gap between Rangers and Celtic still seems like an extremely long, and perhaps perilous one.
Edited by: @andofootball