THE earliest days of a managerial reign are undeniably uncertain but they are also the most important. If he hadn’t already considered it, Pedro Caixinha will know only too well the size of the task he has volunteered for at Ibrox and he will want, where possible, to be in control of his own destiny.
There is the challenge of commanding and engendering respect. There are decisions to be taken over a playing squad that is simultaneously bulky and short on quality, while fresh recruitment – likely for a new spine – hinges on a budget which is nothing more than a nebulous concept. There are, of course, all the concomitant factors associated with taking on any new job in a new city.
Already, though, it appears the 46-year-old is operating with one hand tied behind his back. The Ibrox hierarchy’s decision to stall on appointing a director of football has created a power vacuum of sorts, one which produces the conditions for well-conceived plans to founder.
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When the Portuguese coach first held discussions with the Rangers board in Lisbon a little under a month ago, it is believed he had a strong idea of who his first-choice assistant would be. But, a few weeks later, the narrative has changed, raising a fundamental question in the process: Why is it so important to have a deputy who has a link to Rangers’ past?
The pragmatic approach is rooted in the failure of the Paul Le Guen era a decade ego, when the Frenchman opted for an entire of backroom team of compatriots only to be left floundering because he lacked local knowledge.
But the decision to appoint a local assistant feels as if it might have been foisted on Caixinha. Certainly, one would have expected the Portuguese to bring in long-time assistant Helder Baptista, his fitness coach Pedro Malta and goalkeeping coach Jose Belman. But the presence of a fourth ‘Rangers man’ has the air of the interloper about it.
It is a touchy subject, of course. The Ibrox club has clung to its history since liquidation through necessity: to foster healing from within and withstand the brickbats from without.
Pictures of Caixinha perusing the various baubles accumulated by Rangers of old was instructive. It was an image loaded with meaning. It said: ‘Here is what this club is about, here is our identity, no-one can take these trophies away from us’. Pre-occupation with the past has been a recurring theme around Rangers.
Retaining links with your heritage is all very well if it is for the right reasons but in this instance it seems to look like continuity for continuity’s sake. Consider it from Caixinha’s perspective – the manager should reasonably expect to be able to appoint his own man.
Yes, it makes sense to have someone in situ who can give him an overview of the local game but, really, how long would it take any observer of professional football to get up to speed with the Scottish game? A few months watching tape and attending games, maybe more, but certainly not until mid-July.
The lack of familiarity, of not
holding pre-conceived ideas about certain clubs or players would surely be an advantage.
Shorn of the blinkers, Caixinha might conclude that he can make a defender out of say James Tavernier or that Barrie McKay needs to expend more energy to play in his team.
The word is that numerous former and current players with Rangers links, some with little or no coaching experience, are already jockeying for position. This is a worrying development and smacks of individuals who are motivated by the chance to further fledgling (or non-existent) coaching careers.
And to whom does Caixinha turn? Barry Ferguson, Lee McCulloch, Kenny Miller, Alex Rae . . . The list of would-be suitors is hardly inspiring and immediately raises another
problem: that of having a strong
personality in the dressing room who might command a greater loyalty than he would expect to garner himself from his players.
Rangers should be brave and allow Caixinha to clear the decks on his own terms. The obsession with former glories is understandable but to all intents and purposes – whichever the colour of your blinkers – they belong to another era. Trying to appoint a Rangers man by stealth speaks to lessons unlearned and it suggests they do not quite trust the man they have chosen to oversee their immediate future.