THE first transfer window will shape Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s ambitions for the coming months. His second will determine Rangers’ aspirations for the following years.

When Steven Gerrard was appointed as manager in May 2018, he set out a plan that would encompass four periods of wheeling and dealing. After that, he believed, Rangers would be capable of being champions rather than challengers.

The Englishman was true to his word. Having inherited a squad that wasn’t fit for purpose, he improved his ranks in successive windows as Rangers re-established themselves in Europe and closed the gap domestically before delivering title 55.

The group that he left behind and handed over to van Bronckhorst last month is the strongest and deepest than Rangers have had for a decade. It is nearing the end of its cycle, however, and change is coming.

It will be Van Bronckhorst that will oversee that process as he looks to recruit his own players and put his own stamp on the squad. He is, of course, starting from a more comfortable and consolidated footing than Gerrard did.

The 46-year-old does have some legacy issues to clear up, though, and the coming months could see plenty of business – both in and out – completed by Van Bronckhorst and sporting director Ross Wilson.

The aim for the January window will be to retain his most influential performers and perhaps tweak certain areas to give Rangers the best chance possible of being able to retain their Premiership title. That work is already well underway.

It is hard to see Rangers doing too much in terms of incomings during the January window. For one, they don’t need a raft of new signings. And secondly, the finances are not there for a significant restructuring.

Unless major money is put on the table, there will be no high-profile departures and key figures at Ibrox have stressed that there is no requirement to offload a valuable asset in an attempt to balance the books.

There are still players that can be trimmed from the squad, though. A return to England is on the cards for Jack Simpson, while the forgotten figure of Brandon Barker should also be allowed to move on.

But it is into the future that Van Bronckhorst must really look as he assesses how the Ibrox group will shape up come the summer and heading into his first full campaign in charge.

It is seemingly inevitable now that Connor Goldson will move on at the end of his contract and leave Rangers for free. If the blow of losing the vice-captain isn’t hard enough to stomach, the fact that not a penny will be received for a multi-million-pound valued defender is even more galling.

Plenty has been said about Rangers’ transfer strategy and how they must operate in the market but the words have yet to be put into action. The theory of buy low and sell high has not been seen in practice and the Goldson example is exactly the kind of situation that the champions cannot afford to repeat.

In that regard, there must be some crunch talks held with a handful of Van Bronckhorst’s main men come the summer. Either they sign on again, or they are sold off.

The futures of Allan McGregor, Steven Davis and Scott Arfield – all only contracted until next May – are not that pressing right now. If Van Bronckhorst wants to keep them, they should be easy to deal with.

Decisions must also be made on Jon McLaughlin, Leon Balogun and Jermain Defoe. If they are to stay, what will their roles and wages be for another campaign?

When it comes to a handful of those – Robby McCrorie and Ryan Jack aside - that are out of contract the following summer, the questions are more complex. They are even more crucial, too.

Filip Helander, Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos are entering the final 18 months of their deals and it would be madness for Rangers to run the risk of them leaving at the end of next term for free.

There is an obvious downside to losing such important players from the squad, but Rangers would be shooting themselves in the foot financially if such a valuable quartet walked out the door without a transfer fee being recouped.

If there is no willingness on the players’ part to put pen-to-paper, then their Rangers careers must come to an end 12 months before their contracts expire. Money talks, after all.

When Glen Kamara signed a new deal in September, it was effectively money in the bank for the champions as they rewarded the Finnish star for his efforts and protected themselves in the market. Rangers now need others to follow his example.

It all leaves Van Bronckhorst in a tricky position. His squad can successfully defend their title this term, but how many will still be around in the weeks after the last ball is kicked?

Some could retire, some could look to leave and some may have no option but to move on. From a position of strength, Rangers could quickly find themselves on the back foot if the core of the group is no longer there going into next season.

The business that Rangers do next month will define their Premiership bid and the potential Champions League bounty that comes with the silverware this term is as important as the trophy itself.

If that prize is not clinched, it makes the seemingly inevitable summer rebuild all the more difficult to complete successfully. Failure, then, is not an option at Ibrox.

When Van Bronckhorst was unveiled as Gerrard’s successor, he insisted that players who were not committed to the cause that they would find a ‘tough manager’.

Over the next few months, he must find out who is on board for the longer term and who wants to be part of the project for years to come.

The importance of those conversations and the resulting decisions cannot be underestimated for Rangers and Van Bronckhorst.

He has picked up where Gerrard left off. It may soon be time for him to bring an end to the Gerrard era altogether.