Club football has stopped for a month due to the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and Rangers find themselves nine points behind leaders Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. On Monday, the 21st of November, Rangers sacked manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a year and three days after he was appointed. The Dutchman had been in charge for 65 matches, winning 41, drawing 11, and losing 13.
Rangers released a statement that said: “Unfortunately, recent results have not met neither our nor Gio’s expectations, and we have taken this difficult decision today. Everyone at Rangers wishes Gio every success in the future.”
As a Rangers fan, I like van Bronckhorst. The night Rangers beat RB Leipzig at Ibrox in the Europa League semi-final was one of the best nights of my life. I will always be grateful to the Dutchman for that extraordinary European run. Despite the agony of losing the Europa League final in such heart-breaking fashion on penalties to Eintracht Frankfurt, Rangers still managed to end the season on a high by beating Hearts 2-0 in the Scottish Cup final.
I had always been a strong defender of the Dutchman, but this was the correct decision from the Rangers board. Results domestically this season haven’t been anywhere near good enough. After the highs of last season’s European run, defeating the likes of Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, I felt optimistic going into this season. Rangers defeated PSV Eindhoven 3-2 on aggregate to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 12 years.
It was a massive moment for the Ibrox club, who played against part-time teams in Scotland’s lower leagues ten years ago and are now back in amongst Europe’s elite. Making a European Final and qualifying for the Champions League in the same calendar year was a fantastic achievement for Van Bronckhorst. But where did it go wrong for the former Feyenoord manager?
Rangers were drawn against Liverpool, Napoli, and Ajax in their Champions League group. It was evident that Rangers had to invest and bring more players into the club to compete in this blockbuster group. After qualifying for the Champions League, Rangers did not sign one player, which ultimately backfired as the light blues finished bottom of the group with zero points and now hold the record as the worst Champions League team in the history of the competition.
The Champions League campaign was an embarrassment – there is no denying that. Van Bronckhorst was the manager and will have to take responsibility, but I believe he was hung out to dry by the board. It was utterly baffling how no signings were made after qualifying for the Champions League, and as the campaign went on, Rangers’ lack of squad depth got exposed. Centre-half Connor Goldson picked up an injury, and van Bronckhorst had no other option than to replace him with 18-year-old Leon King and, as expected, was out of his depth at that level.
Rangers weren’t equipped for this campaign, especially with the world-class teams in the group. It was glaringly obvious that they were going to struggle. My main gripe with van Bronckhorst wasn’t the Champions League campaign. It’s how bad Rangers have been domestically this season. Rangers have won ten, drawn three and lost two games in the league.
The football under van Bronckhorst was predictable, poor, with no game plan, and overall brutal to watch. After Rangers’ 1-1 draw with Livingston at Ibrox, in which van Bronckhorst’s side had 73 crosses in the game, Livi boss David Martindale said this in his post-match interview: “We knew we could deal with cross balls from wide areas. We stopped them.”
The fear factor with this Rangers team is gone, and it is something I never thought I would say about this side who reached a European final only a few months ago. Rangers signed seven players in the summer, and the only one who has had success so far has been Croatian striker Antonio Colak, who has netted 14 goals for the Ibrox club.
Recruitment has been poor, and Director of Football Ross Wilson needs to take significant accountability. Turkish left-back Ridvan Yilmaz signed for a fee of £3.4 million, rising to £5 million with add-ons, and has only featured seven times this season and is now out with an injury. That money could have been spent elsewhere in the squad on areas that do need improvement.
Centre-half John Souttar was signed on a free, has only played one game, and is currently out with an ankle injury. It was a risk for Rangers to sign the former Hearts man who has a track record of being injury prone. Winger Rabbi Matondo, who Schalke signed for £11 million, joined The Light Blues for £3 million and has been a huge disappointment and struggled to make any sort of impact.
Wilson neglected positions that needed strengthening. Eight players who played in the 2018 season are still regular starters. With van Bronckhorst now out the door, Wilson should follow suit, too, as it is clear his transfer policy has not been up to standard.
Van Bronckhorst received praise for his development of defender Calvin Bassey, who was sold to Ajax for €23 million in the summer. He also brought the best out of midfielder John Lundstram who scored the winner against RB Leipzig in the Europa League semi-final. Before van Bronckhorst came in, Lundstram was floundering, and now he looks like a completely different player.
However, some of the players’ form has declined under van Bronckhorst’s management, most notably Ryan Kent, Glen Kamara, and Alfredo Morelos. Kent was a flamboyant tricky winger that would be a thorn in the opposition’s side, and now he looks like a shell of his former self. He has only managed to find the net once in 2022. The Englishman’s contract is up at the end of the season.
Kamara was hooked off at half-time in the 1-1 draw against St Mirren, and this would be the third time since February the midfielder has been brought off at half-time. There were reports of an altercation between van Bronckhorst and Kamara that both parties denied happened and played it down. The Dutchman said in his post-match interview it was a matter of choice to take Kamara off against St Mirren.
The Finland international’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said no disagreement occurred, and the reports suggesting otherwise were based on pure speculation. He looks like a player struggling for form and confidence and has been for a while. I expect him to move on in January.
Finally, Alfredo Morelos. Someone that is an icon amongst the Rangers support has struggled to start this season due to the inform Colak. Morelos suffered a thigh injury in April and was out for the rest of the season. Since returning, he has struggled to find form and won’t accept being second fiddle to Colak, especially with his contract also being up at the end of the season.
If van Bronckhorst changed the formation and played with two strikers, the partnership of Morelos and Colak would be a nightmare for the opposition defence to deal with. The Dutchman’s stubbornness played a large part in what cost him his job at Ibrox, and I think it was clear he wasn’t getting the best out of this group of players.
Van Bronckhorst was unlucky with injuries this season, with ten players currently out. But there is no excuse for Rangers to drop 7 points to Livingston, St Johnstone, and St Mirren. Rangers need to appoint a manager with a strong character and personality to manage a club of this size and stature—someone who has high standards and discipline and accepts nothing less than 3 points every week. The Ibrox board MUST get this decision spot on or run the risk of falling even more behind rivals Celtic this season.
By: Scott Bradley / @ScottBradleyX
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Craig Foy – SNS Group