By Brian P. Dunleavy
Late last month, media reports suggested that Rangers officials hoped to have a new Director of Football and manager in place in time for Sunday’s Old Firm clash at Celtic Park.
Well, the clock is ticking.
On Wednesday, Southampton head of player recruitment Ross Wilson, a Scot no less, became the latest footballing figure to spurn the Scottish game for the greener pastures of England, when he turned down the Director of Football position at Ibrox, according to The Scotsman and other outlets.
In the aftermath of Mark Warburton’s (enforced?) departure in February, anonymous club officials quoted in the press suggested that, ideally anyway, a new manager would be appointed after the director position is filled. However, with Pedro Caixinha seemingly closer to signing on the dotted line to become the new gaffer in Govan—if you’re reading this in print, it may have happened Thursday or Friday—those plans apparently are out the window.
Caixinha is an interesting case. Assuming Qatari club Al-Gharafa allow him to leave, the Portuguese national is a young, up-and-coming manager with a relatively modest C.V. (Ronny Deila anyone?) He’s won three trophies as a bench boss, all with Santos Laguna in Liga MX—ironically a Celtic “sister club.” There, he managed former Hoops midfielder Mark Crossas, who reportedly texted the young coach when the Rangers rumors surfaced to jokingly tell him that is “headed to the wrong side of Glasgow.”
And, in fact, although we don’t want to raise issues of sectarianism in this space, Caixinha may be the first Catholic (he’s at least nominally Catholic) to manage the Ibrox side—although it’s possible Paul Le Guen holds that distinction. It is with some measure of relief that we report that that aspect of the story hasn’t garnered much media attention—yet.
Indeed, hopefully, at least from the perspective of Rangers supporters, Caixinha will make history for how the team performs under his watch. After a less-than-stellar start, caretaker boss Graeme Murty has seemingly righted the ship, for the short term, although you have to pity the man in some ways for having to cope with the Old Firm pressure-cooker Sunday as a lame duck.
Whether or not Caixinha—and/or a new Director of Football—will be looking over his shoulder at Celtic Park remains to be seen.
As does how all of this will affect the players on the field in Parkhead come Sunday. Will the Hoops take their collective foot off the gas thinking they can coast to victory over a rudderless ship? Will the Rangers players perform as if they have nothing to lose, building an esprit de corps out of being viewed, from the outside anyway, as the overwhelming underdog? We all can site chapter and verse instances in sport where both have happened and resulted in a shocking outcome.
However, no matter who is in charge for Rangers on Sunday—and, more importantly for the club and its beleaguered supporters, beyond—casual watchers of Scottish football, and perhaps even those concerned with dollars and cents (or, pounds and shillings) in the SFA, have to hope that things at Ibrox remain stable for a while. There’s an old corporate cliché that goes, “From chaos comes opportunity,” but that hasn’t worked out well for Rangers in recent years.