IT was christened as ‘The Journey’. A decade after starting out on the road to recovery, Rangers have one final marker post to pass.

It is a route that could lead to huge riches and opportunities. Now is the moment for Steven Gerrard and his players to reap the rewards of their domestic endeavours on the continent.

When the Premiership title was won in March, there was a sense that it was almost written in the stars. That the weekend when 55 was clinched came on the sixth anniversary of regime change made the achievement that little bit more special and unique.

It was from that day in 2015 that it became a matter of when Rangers would be crowned champions of Scotland rather than if. The wait was long, but ultimately worth it.

Now, as Rangers prepare to return to Champions League action for the first time in a decade, there is another quirk of the calendar relating to their date with destiny. 

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On August 3, 2011, Ally McCoist’s side were held to a 1-1 draw in Sweden as Malmo knocked them out of the Champions League at the third qualifying round.

Nikica Jelavic had levelled the tie early on, but red cards for Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra would cost Rangers dearly and a Jiloan Hamad strike secured progression for the Swedes, who had won 1-0 at Ibrox the previous week thanks to a Daniel Larsson effort.

It is fitting, then, that on August 3, 2021, Gerrard will lead Rangers back into Europe’s premier club competition and close the final chapter in a remarkable tale of pain, of hope and finally of celebration.

Malmo could stand in Rangers’ way once again. Whether it is the side that are currently top of the Allsvenskan or Finnish champions HJK Helsinki that ultimately face Gerrard’s side, time will tell.

In many ways, the opposition are not important to Rangers. The focus will be on what they do and what they want to achieve, and Gerrard and his players will have nothing to fear despite the prospect of a tricky third round tie next month.

The return to the Champions League allows Rangers to tick the final box and complete the checklist that was compiled a decade ago.

The penultimate one, of course, was title 55 and many saw that as the end of ‘The Journey’ as Rangers reached the summit of the Premiership from the base camp of the Third Division.

And now Gerrard’s side have the chance to become the first team since the one guided by Walter Smith in season 2010/11 to reach the money-spinning group stages.

In that campaign, the matches with Manchester United and Valencia were the star-studded fixtures as the famous theme music reverberated around Ibrox and was drowned out by the wall of noise from a capacity crowd.

Thankfully, the stands will be filled once again next month. What a night, what an occasion, that will be for everyone involved as Rangers look to roll back the years.

The seasons since that last group stage appearance have been the most controversial and tumultuous of Rangers’ illustrious history and that is why this next Champions League campaign is as significant for the club and the support.

When Gerrard was appointed three years ago, Rangers were still reeling from the embarrassment of the defeat to Progres Niederkorn in the Europa League.

That tie was supposed to mark their re-emergence as a name on the continent, but it only served to weaken the brand and demoralise the support as Pedro Caixinha’s side were humbled in Luxembourg.

From such a low ebb, Rangers can now scale greater heights. The title was the most significant achievement of Gerrard’s reign, but his efforts in European competition arguably offer a greater barometer of just where Rangers were and where they are now.

It is sad to admit, but a club with such a wonderful history will never be able to look forward to Champions League glory and the gulf between Rangers and the behemoths from England, Spain, Italy and Germany is as wide as ever. It will only continue to grow.

If Rangers ultimately fail in their Champions League quest and end up embarking on another Europa League campaign, they can do so with the belief and confidence formed over the last three years and it would not be unreasonable for them to aim for the quarter-finals.

In truth, that is where Rangers are as a club and a team. They can’t mix it in a sporting or financial sense with the biggest and best on the continent over the course of a campaign.

The Champions League, at the top end, is not where Rangers belong right now and, given the limitations of Scottish football, they are unlikely to return to such levels anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean that the chance to qualify is one that should be overlooked or dismissed, though. Rangers aren’t in it to win it, but Gerrard’s side have proven that they can take on and beat some established names on the continent and this opportunity is one to relish.

Such a chance has been a long time coming for Rangers. It is a moment from which the club and the fans can look back and reflect but, more importantly, one that allows Rangers to move forward on and off the park.

The Champions League cash would be transformative for Rangers and such an achievement would be a significant boost for their Premiership defence.

Given the prize on offer – an all-but certain passage into the group stages for the 2022/23 campaign – the upcoming title race will have seismic ramifications on both sides of the city.

League flag 55 will never be topped in terms of emotion but Gerrard now has the chance to add to his Ibrox legacy during a season that could be almost as historic and defining.