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Murray Park is given stick but there is still a carrot

Uncertainty continues off the field, but Rangers are still able to plan for the future.

Gordon Durie, third right, has tipped his young players to progress at Rangers. Picture: SNS
Gordon Durie, third right, has tipped his young players to progress at Rangers. Picture: SNS

The youth set up at Murray Park delivered the likes of Lewis Macleod, Fraser Aird, Barrie McKay, Robbie Crawford and Scott Gallacher when the first-team squad was reduced drastically two years ago. More youngsters are pushing for a place in the senior squad, to such an extent that the manager, Ally McCoist, attends all of their fixtures so that he can monitor their progress.

The football side of the business needs investment if Rangers are to build a side that is capable of eventually challenging for the SPFL Premiership title, but the first-team squad can still be augmented by graduates of the youth set-up.

Charlie Telfer and Craig Halkett were named among the substitutes against Ayr United on Saturday, while last week McCoist namechecked Luca Gasparotto, the 18-year-old defender, as a potential replacement for the suspended Lee McCulloch and Bilel Mohsni. The manager opted for experience instead, selecting Emilson Cribari to counter the physical aggression and height advantage of Kevin Kyle, the Ayr striker, but Gasparotto has already impressed in brief appearances for the first team last season.

Gordon Durie's under-20 side are currently top of the league, two points clear of Celtic who have one game in hand, while on Sunday, the under-20s will also face Dunfermline Athletic in the Youth Cup quarter-final. Individual development is more significant than team performance at youth level, but a winning mentality and coping with expectation are also attributes that players will require if they are to thrive when they break into the first-team. Several members of Durie's under-20 side are already invited regularly to train with the senior players, and the coach is adamant others can follow the likes of Macleod and Aird and become established in McCoist's squad.

"The manager has stated that if the first team wins the league early enough, a few of them will get their shot," Durie said. "A lot of them have trained with the first team and not looked out of place. The manager will try to strengthen again in the summer but it is good that he knows what they [the youths] are capable of. I know if they get the call they won't let themselves down. We don't have the money we used to have, so it is important we have youth players coming through."

The chief executive, Graham Wallace, has said already that youth development will be central to his vision for the club. There are more pressing issues right now, with Rangers needing fresh funding, and the next round of season ticket revenue being several months away. Wallace is in the midst of a 120-day review of the business, and how the club copes with its difficult financial situation will determine its long-term strength. Dave King wants to invest through a new share issue, but, for now, even the short-term future of the club is unknown.

McCoist noted last week that players of the value of around £30m have left Ibrox during the past two years. Restoring the club to its former status will take investment, and running the business on the reduced revenues available in the lower leagues will make the process take longer. These are the fundamental issues being dealt with at Ibrox, but it has an impact on youth development, not least because that area, too, needs investment, alongside the establishment of a scouting structure. For now, the youths can only do what they can to impress McCoist and his coaches.

"If [McCoist] thinks the boys are good enough, he'll pick them," Durie said. "Murray Park does get stick but I don't think people realise how many boys we've had in and around the first team. Telfer, Andy Murdoch, Calum Gallagher, Halkett, Gasparotto have all been in and around the squad. It is always hard breaking through at a bigger club, but the boys have got good attitudes. They have just got to work hard and be patient."

Durie returned to Rangers last year, to take the under-20 side. His previous experience of management was a spell at East Fife, which ended when he suffered a suspected viral infection and his doctor advised him to take a year out of the game. Durie is adamant that he wants to remain working in youth coaching rather than seek a return to first-team management, but just being back in the game at all is something of a relief.

"If I was going to pick somewhere to be involved it would be here," he said. "I [had been] out for a year and a bit, I could tell you about every daytime television programme under the sun. Once I got a wee chink of light that there might be something here that certainly perked me up. Touch wood, health-wise I have been great."

Having played alongside McCoist at Rangers, Durie is also not surprised that the manager has been able to maintain a mood of optimism amongst the players and staff at Murray Park, despite difficult times. Even recently, the prospect of the squad taking a wage cut was raised as a possibility, but McCoist, through the sheer force of his personality, has not allowed a grim mood to take hold.

"The manager has kept the place ticking over," Durie said. "He has kept everyone at the club as upbeat as he can. Everyone looks to the manager for advice."

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