The start of 2019/20 season and champions Rangers are looking to build on a successful campaign in 2018/19. So, how has the first half of the season gone for The Gers…
So for the first time in three years, we’re entering a campaign as champions and quite frankly, in a much better position than last time. A stronger squad, better finances and some exciting young talents are making for a really exciting season especially with automatic entry into the Champions League group stages meaning that we could make some real progress this season. So, how did we do?
Well firstly, departures and there was some real big ones this summer. Some of the key men of our rise through the leagues have gone and been replaced by a band of exciting youngsters. The biggest in terms of name was our captain and our most consistent performer since the beginning of this save, Lee Wallace. He wanted out towards the end of the season and at 31 and having Jamie Mills and Cesar Armando Hernandez taking over meaning that we accepted a £195,000 bid from QPR and he was off. That meant that Sebastian Faure became club captain and Greg Pascazio became vice-captain. We also lost our best player from last season Marcos Lopes for a deal worth £5 million to German side Hoffenheim which was another sizable hole in the side. We also lost our starting keeper towards the end of last season Andy Gilmour for £400,000 as well which saw the promotion of young Stephen Tidser for a short while (we’ll get to that soon). We also shifted on four goal striker (and hero) Guyon Philips to Cardiff for £650,000 as well which is another huge profit for us. We also got a small fee from Bolton for young defender John McCann who wasn’t going to make it at Ibrox. There were also the usual loans and releases with notable names such as David Templeton, Liam Donnelly and Andy Little all leaving. Sadly though (if you follow The Long Ball on Twitter you’ll already know this), I wasn’t able to get rid of Geoffrey Mujangi Bia. It’s not all perfect…
So with plenty of names leaving, we had to get some bodies in to supplement the current squad and the promoted youth and we only got three and they were all for different needs. Firstly, I picked up released Chelsea youngster Jeremie Boga early on. My scouting team loved him and I thought that he could be that difference maker that can take us above and beyond in big games this season. Then I got a bit of a bargain for a really special talent. 14 year old Frenchman Osseynou Tendeng (nicknamed Ozzy because I could) cost me £100,000 and is already at the very least a good quality Championship player at that age. So, as far as I was concerned, business was done on the incomings until I saw how much money I had sitting in the transfer kitty and checked the transfer list. That’s when I loaned out Tidser and brought in the transfer listed Nicola Leali. A high quality goalkeeper not quite in his prime and for £4 million it’s an absolute bargain.
Footballing wise, it has been near perfection. Three defeats in all competitions including pre-season is pretty pleasing and the first one didn’t arrive until late October. It’s been incredible with Jeremie Boga tearing apart every team in sight (he’s averaging nearer 8 than 7 in all competitions so far) and we sit atop the SPL with a small lead over Celtic. Bogey teams are no longer bogey teams with St. Mirren especially being torn apart home and away. We’re 1-1 in Old Firm games too with both us and Celtic trading 3-1 victories so the second half of the season is set to be exciting.
We’re still in all the cups with a League Cup semi final against Hearts and a Scottish Cup Fifth Round tie with Aberdeen still to come. Our biggest success though has been in the Champions League. Drawn in a group with Legia Warsaw, Zenit and Borussia Dortmund, I was hoping to get third and maybe sneak second but we pretty much blitzed the group. Undeafeated with four wins and two away draws in Russia and Germany with the draw in Dortmund being very frustrating when Andy Murdoch missed a late penalty and Habib Ben Yahia had his goal ruled out for offside. We’re into the knockout rounds as group winners and will play Atletico Madrid in the next round.
Player performance has generally been good with some exceptional stuff. Boga obviously has been our star man but the one that has really stepped up and really surprised me is Yussuf Poulsen. He’s been solid without being spectacular but he’s finally getting a regular shot up front and has been taking his chances. He only sits behind Boga (15) in terms of goals scored (Poulsen’s on 13) and this should easily be his most prolific season in a Gers shirt. He’s keeping Habib Ben Yahia out of this side as the Tunisian continues to struggle in front of goal and with consistency. Cesar Hernandez has been exceptional at full back and has kept Jamie Mills out of this side for long periods while Bobby Smith and Alexandr Klimovich have really impressed this season. Leali has been good in goals as well as we motor along at a pretty destructive pace. Special mentions have to go to Ryan Mackintosh and Derek Johnstone who have made the step up to senior level relatively easy while Saidy Janko, Hernandez and Leali have all become full internationals with The Gambia, Mexico and Italy respectively.
There are a couple of issues however. Most noticeably is the falling out I’ve had with Jordy Clasie who up until he acted stupidly was actually having a good season. Then he was brought on in a cup tie at Alloa where we were winning comfortably and proceeded to get a straight red for a pretty appalling tackle that was totally unnecessary. We scraped through that game with a young side in the end but I was furious and fined him a week’s wages on the basis of idiocy. He took issue with it and refused to back down so he’s leaving ASAP. Also, the form of certain players is concerning. Nicolae Pusca has had a poor season while Ben Craig has rarely played and struggled when he has so he’s leaving while Nicky Law looks to be at the end of his time at Ibrox. It’s a real shame but football is a ruthless business at times and he isn’t worth keeping around now.
As for me, I’ve had about ten interview opportunities and they’re becoming more frequent as this season progresses. Wigan, Huddersfield, Fiorentina, Udinese, Lille, Hamburg, Genoa are just a number of clubs I’ve turned away because there’s something special happening at Rangers and I want to be the man at the helm for it all.
January is a big time for us too as there is naturally some interest in my players especially from some heavy hitters. Schalke are very keen on Klimovich, Lazio want Ben Yahia, QPR are sniffing around Mackintosh, Gaitan is wanted by Newcastle and, most worryingly, Hernandez is wanted by Stuttgart and Inter Milan. It’s going to be a tough window but I plan on keeping everyone I want to.
So stay tuned for the end of the season which looks set to be an exciting one. How far do you think we can go in Europe? Will we win the title? Who will stay and who will go? Will Jeremie Boga still be our Superman? You’ll find out soon.