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Wheeling out the old guard . . .

FOR all the chaos and upheaval of the past few years, some things remain remarkably familiar at Rangers.

Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd will combine again for Rangers in the SPFL Championship. Picture: SNS
Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd will combine again for Rangers in the SPFL Championship. Picture: SNS

There are those who will tell you that, despite going through chairmen, chief executives and board members with the same kind of gusto shown when squandering the best part of £70m, the club is really still controlled by many of the same characters who got in there first when administration and eventual liquidation consumed the business in 2012. Certainly, on the playing side of things, it is very much a case of 'plus ca change'.

Last season saw the return to Ibrox of full-backs Steven Smith and Ricky Foster. This summer, it is Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd entrusted with the job of taking Rangers through the latest sector of their 'journey' back from oblivion.

Boyd scored 22 in the SPFL Premiership with a struggling Kilmarnock side last term and ought to have a field day further down the food chain. Chances are he will form a lucrative partnership with Kenny Miller, just as they did in more prosperous times at the Govan club, but there are maybe more doubts about the man preparing for his third spell in the famous blue jersey.

Miller is now 34, and it has been three-and-a-half years since he left Rangers and his stays at Bursaspor, Cardiff City and Vancouver Whitecaps were mixed, to say the least. His signing on a one-year deal is perhaps predictable for a club with no scouting system whatsoever in operation. Ally McCoist, the manager, knows him well and believes he can be depended upon. Of course, the collapse of Rangers should have resulted in a club, destroyed by its own greed and wastefulness, rebuilding with a solid infrastructure, a footballing philosophy, a sensible and realistic attitude to finances, a strengthened youth system, clever scouting and some kind of long-term vision.

It did not happen, though. It is probably part of the reason Lee McCulloch, still captain at the age of 35 and an inspirational figure on the climb back through the leagues, remains likely to play a major role in the campaign ahead. There is no-one else.

McCulloch is the only player in the squad older than Miller, but is happy with his own physical condition and insists his former Rangers and Scotland team-mate will prove his own standard of fitness over the weeks and months ahead. "His age is no concern for me," said McCulloch, preparing for Rangers' first two friendlies of the summer at Buckie Thistle on Thursday and Brora on Sunday.

"It's just a number. I feel fit after a good summer and Kenny looks after himself too, so there will be no issue there. Kenny's a great signing.

"In terms of his ability, he's a fantastic player for us to have. I know him well. We've played for Scotland together and he has been at Rangers before. I can't speak highly enough of him. Kenny's experience will be vital and I think he'll be good for the kids as well."

Boyd, still just 30, is a different kettle of fish. He has had his own troubles since leaving in 2010 with life at Eskehirspor in Turkey being difficult, and his stay at Middlesbrough little better.

He repaired his dented reputation at Kilmarnock, however, and earned a recall to the Scotland national squad. McCulloch believes he will go from strength to strength at Rangers. "Kris had a great partnership with Kenny and they won us the league pretty convincingly a few years ago," he recalled. "They were a great foil for each other. Boydy's my mate and the goals he scored for Rangers, along with the ability he has, mean I'm delighted to see him back.

"He's changed a lot. He has been away for a few years at different clubs after he left here and has experienced different circumstances. Things didn't quite work out the way he wanted them to, but he's back in Scotland now and he scored a lot of goals at Kilmarnock last season."

Boyd's goals may prove vital. Hearts, returning to health under new owner Ann Budge following their own unsightly meltdown, are expected to provide the main competition.

Hibs, adopting a new structure and approach under their recently appointed chief executive Leeann Dempster, will also be expected to make it back to the top flight at the first time of asking.

McCoist is a man who has learned to take nothing for granted and is quite correct when he claims that facing up to the two Edinburgh clubs in the Championship sums up "the madness of Scottish football".

However, he speaks with a degree of trepidation. Hearts are now well into the process of signing new players under their director of football, Craig Levein, while Alan Stubbs will be given the freedom to construct a new squad of talent after taking over as the head coach at Easter Road.

McCoist does not quite know what he will be facing in what could be a most testing campaign and that makes homework a little difficult ahead of his side's curtain-raiser at home to the Tynecastle club on August 9.

In addition to a brief Highland tour, Rangers will head for North America for two weeks - playing twice in the United States and twice in Canada - before travelling to Derby County for a friendly a week before the season begins.

"Hearts and, to an even greater degree, Hibs will have changed squads from last year," said McCoist. "The change of management at both clubs will have a massive influence on their playing pools.

"The two Edinburgh teams are really big clubs. There's no doubt about that and we've enjoyed going there on numerous occasions. We've had some great tussles at Ibrox, too, and I don't see next season being any different.

"It's bizarre we are all in the second tier, but that's where we are at the moment. That's the madness of Scottish football, but it gives us an opportunity to pit our wits against two of the country's great clubs and we are looking forward to that."

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