Expectations have not adjusted to the club's circumstances, so supporters have grown increasingly agitated. Losing to Annan Athletic at Ibrox, when the visitors played the more composed football, prompted some fans to leave early and others to boo the team from the field. Afterwards, Ally McCoist said that the display only confirmed his opinion about the changes that need to be made to his team, which in turn prompts another question: what kind of club do Rangers want to become?
The commercial recovery is under way, but the reality remains that Rangers will only be as strong as the commitment and the loyalty of their fans allows. On the journey back to the top-flight, Rangers need their supporters. At the same time, the fans need to see progress, or at least recognise that a sustainable philosophy is in place.
If the club is to replicate the rebuilding of the commercial operation, the football department needs investment and a strategy. Can Rangers match the success of other clubs that suffered a financial crisis but used it as an opportunity to fundamentally alter how they approach operating a football team?
When Borussia Dortmund stood on the brink of bankruptcy in 2005, the "We Are Borussia" campaign – a collective of fans, businesses and the local authority – restored the club's immediate financial stability. Dortmund had over-reached, spending money they did not have on players, and the redemption was influenced by past mistakes. A plan was drawn up, essentially to focus on youth development, but also buying only younger players with a potential resale value. The BVB Academy is one of the best in Europe, but only through investment and perseverance.
Dortmund also established a clear management structure. Chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, Michael Zorc, director of football, and coach Juergen Klopp work together to ensure that every aspect of the club's business is compatible and sustainable. The three men are the core around which Dortmund's resurgence has been based, since they understood the importance of developing their own players, buying others with consideration to making a profit, and implementing a style that would entertain the supporters and maintain their commitment. Watze describes the strategy as a five-point plan. "The first was the struggle for survival, the second restructuring, the third was development of a sporting philosophy, the fourth implementation and the fifth is sustainability," he said.
Fans had to buy into it, though, since players are sold at their peak value, and popular striker Robert Lewandowski will be the next to leave, either for Bayern Munich or Manchester United this summer. Fans continue to fill the 80,000- seater stadium, and have revelled in Dortmund's return to glory, winning the league and cup double last season and reaching the last 16 of the Champions League in this campaign.
Feyenoord also turned to youth development in their moment of crisis. It took the fans raising €25m through a share issue to allow the club to survive and there were further calamities along the way, such as a 10-0 loss to long-standing rivals PSV Eindhoven.
The setbacks were borne, though, since a structure was in place to ensure the team recovered. Wim Jansen returned to the club and appointed his son-in-law, Stanley Brard, as head of the Feyenoord academy. The likes of Leroy Fer, Jonathan de Guzman, Georginho Wijnaldum, Jerson Cabral, Jordy Clasie, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Luc Castaignos have all been developed, providing a stream of first-team talent, as well as transfer income. As with Dortmund, Feyenoord expect to sell at least one star every summer.
Olympique Lyonnais suffered financial difficulties during the past decade, too, but always maintained investment in their academy. There are currently 31 graduates playing in Europe's top five leagues, with only Barcelona having produced more. Swansea City, meanwhile, recovered from financial calamity and the threat of relegation from the Football League by introducing a hierarchy in which the first-team coach is independent of the youth and scouting departments. This ensures stability whenever the head coach leaves, but also allows a sustained recruitment policy.
"Most clubs don't have a clear vision, they allow the manager to set the direction, then they change the manager so often, they get stuck in a merry-go-round," said Huw Jenkins, the chairman. "We had to go down a different route, to compete with clubs who think spending money is the only way to get success."
Rangers supporters can be hard to please when trophies are not being accumulated, but the club has often sought to buy players who are hardened and experienced, rather than players of potential. The approach now needs to be sustainable. Is the scouting network extensive enough? Is the youth department as good as it can be? Craig Mather is the director of sports development, a role that is critical to the club's future success, yet has never articulated his vision.
Rangers can follow the lead of others in regaining success within an affordable business model, but that requires implementing a strategy now.
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