By Brian P. Dunleavy
Certainly, a key part of Pedro Caixinha’s remit as new Rangers bench boss entails preparing the side for its first European adventures in some six years.
But how the Ibrox men fair in the Europa League qualifying round this summer will depend largely on what Caixinha does during the summer transfer period. With his appointment coming in March, or well after the closure of the January transfer window, the new (and relatively novice) manager will have only one chance to freshen his squad before Rangers begin play in the first round of qualifying for the competition—in other words, he’ll have just one chance, and one chance only, to get it right.
Scotland’s current place in world football has been belabored (and ridiculed) in this space—and elsewhere—for some time. With the country currently sitting 25th in the UEFA rankings, Rangers, Aberdeen and the winners of the Scottish Cup (assuming it’s not Rangers, Celtic or Aberdeen) will have to enter the Europa League at the first round of qualifiers, with so-called “minnows” from Ireland, Wales, Iceland and places far more far-flung.
It’s almost a no-win proposition for a club the size of Rangers, and for Caixinha, who already has his doubters—namely, Graeme Souness—within the Rangers’ ranks. Souness told The Scottish Sun this week that, “I don’t think it’s a good idea [to hire Caixinha]… for the reason that there are lots of goods coaches in our isles.”
True, Caixinha has never managed a British club, and he’s never had to work in the metaphorical fishbowl that is the Old Firm in Glasgow. Just ask Ronny Deila how easy that is.
But while Rangers supporters are hoping for an upset in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic, the true test of the Portuguese gaffer’s mettle—and managerial acumen—will come this summer, when he has to make astute signings of players who can help the side immediately, not just for European purposes but to get a leg up in domestic play as well.
With the future of Emerson Hyndman still in doubt—there were actually reports this week that Celtic would make a move for the promising American and Bournemouth loanee— Caixinha has to find a number of missing pieces: a striker, a couple of wingers (one for each flank) and a play-making midfielder, for starters.
Of course, a number of clubs have these positions on their respective shopping lists as well—including Celtic.
Unfortunately, Souness’ comments don’t help the cause. Think about it: If you’re a potential signee, would negative comments from a club icon inspire confidence in the stability and staying power of the new regime?
It’s not Souness’ job to grease the skids (to use a distinctly American, and dated, cliché) for Caixinha, but patience, as they say, is a virtue (another tired cliché, we know).
Speaking of club icons, Caixinha also has to carefully navigate the impending storm surrounding the future of aging attacking player Kenny Miller, who is out of contract at season’s end. Miller is well regarded around Ibrox, and a misstep here could anger players currently in the squad, turn off potential future signees and alienate supporters.
Caixinha may not be from the right island, in Souness’ view, but if he’s left out on an island after this summer’s comings and goings at Ibrox, it will go a long way toward determining his future in Glasgow.