Vacationers. When the September sun went down in 1996, the smug, overwhelmed Rangers were bewildered.
It was bad enough that a team made up of the likes of Richard Gough, Ellie McCoist, Jörg Albertz and Paul Gascoigne went through all the moves and failed to start on the old Hardturm when the Grasshoppers Zurich beat them outside the park. And when host coach Christian Gross sacked the vaunted Ibrox side, who had just hired Albertz and Sweden national team Joachim Bjorklund, as a team playing sloppy Alpine fun and not taking their role in the Champions League seriously, the Rangers supported, albeit offended. with a description, had no case for defense.
After a midweek 2-0 capitulation at Stade Den Dreff against Union Saint-Gilloise left current Geras team’s Champions League group stage hopes on a knife edge, a reminder of that uncertain night in Switzerland has emerged .
Different days, different eras. However, the responsibilities and inherent pressures remain exactly the same. Giovanni van Bronkhorst knows this as well as anyone else at Ibrox, which means he needs to recharge his careless men and soak in quickly ahead of the crucial second leg in Glasgow.
Perhaps the Rangers’ main takeaway from the loss to Karel Gerarts’ team is the risk theory for a number of new players – Antonio Colak, Rabbi Matondo and Malik Tilman – on a team for a game of this magnitude. Players who may have yet to tune in to what it really means and what it takes when you become an Ibrox player.
This column said a couple of weeks ago that it would be a relatively easy task to beat Union in a third round qualifier. Given Rangers’ success in Europe last season, and even with the sales of Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey, it was a reasonable guess even against a team that finished second in the Belgian First A Division last season.
However, after a mid-week slump in which the Blues almost made it back to Glasgow, facing a deficit of “only” two goals, there is serious cause for concern.
Assumptions that the Rangers team is stuck at the start of the season are unavoidable but also wrong. The Saint-Gilloise campaign is also in its infancy.
When Van Bronkhorst admits to being “very disappointed” with the performance, you can be sure, to yourself, that he will be absolutely furious.
If this is the Rangers’ biggest game of the season, even in August with only a few games left before the club’s Premier League, then so be it.
This is the world that the Glasgow giants have to operate in – and a penance for the gift of points after last season’s winter break, when Celtic demonstrated in the strongest possible way the importance of consistency to win the title.
Rangers should naturally try to get into the gilded inner circle of the Champions League group stages because of their own sense of worth, authority and sustainability, but the idea that their archrivals enjoy the attention, wealth and theme of Europe’s top competition should also be motivation as they try to repair the damage done to Leuven, on the outskirts of Brussels.
Rangers fans are unhappy that their team, recent Europa League finalists, performed so poorly.
When criticism stings, it can be difficult to offer perspective, but the old cliché of only drawing at halftime still holds true. A full-bodied, raucous Ibrox will benefit the Blues, as will the fact that the away goals rule no longer applies.
Before the game, boss Van Bronkhorst has to decide if Alfredo Morelos is ready enough to lead the lane.
With new striker Colac, who has been snubbed from time to time by Siebe van der Heijden and Rangers needed a quick-fire goal to get back on track, he needs the Colombian. On a night like this, this is precisely the kind of territory that Morelos enjoys as he has shown so well in recent seasons against stronger opponents than Union St. Gilloise.
Meanwhile, a jammed-in James Sands to the left of center back flopped in Game 1, and between the American’s indecisiveness and cornerback Borna Barisic’s nervousness, the Unionists immediately identified the Rangers’ weaknesses – and the visitors paid the price. Van Bronkhorst’s choice backfired, and supporters can expect change.
Ryan Kent should come back from injury to give the Hers a much-needed lightning bolt, and a Euro home starting position for rookie Tom Lawrence should tempt the manager, given his penchant for scoring from long range. Rangers need a new variety of options.
Whether it was under Van Bronkhorst or his predecessor Stephen Gerrard, the Scots overcame greater challenges.
Incidentally, the Rangers never recovered from what years ago was a 3-0 embarrassment against the Grasshoppers. The current crop would do well to learn from the historical acts of abandonment and be mindful of what is at stake.
Of course, getting into the Europa League group stage is a compensation in case van Bronkhorst’s men can’t turn the tide in their favor – but sometimes it’s hard to estimate the cost of a blow to self-esteem. Ibrox on Tuesday evening promises to be busy.