MICHAEL BEALE left Rangers as a champion. Now he finds himself as a challenger once again.

The situation that he inherited on his return to Ibrox last December was not as severe as the one that he walked into alongside Steven Gerrard in the summer of 2018. The ambition remains the same, however, and Celtic must be caught and overtaken sooner rather than later.

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The appointment of Gerrard five years ago was a transformational moment on and off the park at Ibrox. It took time, and perhaps longer than it should have, but a side that were a distant third in the season before his arrival were crowned champions after two terms of improvement and encouragement resulted in a historic triumph in term three.

Beale doesn't have that same timeframe to work with this time around. He has had half a campaign to assess where Rangers are but was well aware of where they must get to before he took his first steps back up the Marble Staircase.

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There was a gulf in class and quality first time around. This term, the nine point deficit that Beale inherited remains as Rangers have gone toe-to-toe with their Old Firm rivals and continue to pay the price for their faltering form under Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

A summer of change will see Beale put his stamp on the squad and build a team in his own image ahead of his first shot at glory as a boss in his own right. The challenge didn't daunt Beale before and it won't faze him second time around.

“Back then Brendan Rodgers was firing on all cylinders," Beale said. “We had been back in the league a year or so. Before we came in the results were big and then we managed to do very well in that fixture.

The Herald: Rangers manager Michael Beale

“Then when I came back the results had become poor again. You try to make it more competitive, closer, and ultimately move forward.

“But coming out of the summer window I think you will see a Rangers team that looks really different on the pitch. It’s how we get to that summer.

“We have the Scottish Cup which is really important. But our form in the league, we’ve done everything we can do, really.

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"But while we’ve been in a good place they have been in a good place as well. We can only take care of ourself, and win the games in front of us, and so far we have done.

“We went away to Hearts a month ago and everyone though ‘oh, this will be a test,’ and we won 3-0. We then went away to Hibs and went 1-0 down and people were thinking ‘okay,’ but then we win 4-1 and it should have been more.

“We are not going to get any praise at the moment, we are not going to get anything, because of where we are. We understand that. But there is good work going on, I feel."

The core of the squad that took Rangers to title 55 was recruited in the first months of the Gerrard era as the Englishman ripped it up and started again. Time will tell just what Beale's approach is when the window opens and he can do business.

The signings of Todd Cantwell and Nicolas Raskin this winter were an indication of the work that will follow and Beale must be backed by the Ibrox board if Rangers are to stand a chance of overhauling a Celtic side that have a domestic clean sweep in their sights.

“I have identified some really good players for the club," Beale said. "The club is away working on that.

“Good players don’t always cost lost of money - they have just got to fit the way you want to play and where you want to move.

“But I’m really confident that this summer gives us an opportunity to do two things.

“One, we want to have a tighter group and then we want to recruit new faces and energy into it.

“If you look at Todd and Nico coming in this year, they didn’t cost huge amount of finance for two players.

“Certainly with the salaries we have going out at the end of their contracts we have salaries and also some finance to bring in.

“There are a lot of good players out there who are available on loan, as well, if you want to go down that route.

“Malik Tillman was one this year who has come in and been one of the better players in the league.

“That helps but my staff are extensive in terms of our knowledge of players and the players coming through the different systems. And our scouting department is really good as well."

It will be a case of quality and quantity at Ibrox this summer. For Beale, the person is just as important as the player as he seeks to refresh the group and recruit for the long term rather than as a quick fix.

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Every supporter will have their view on how many should come in and how many should go out but Beale won't get too hung up on the numbers ahead of a window that will see the first team squad significantly reduced in size.

“It’s just about identifying the right names and making sure they are a good fit," Beale added. “So I think we will build a stronger squad than this season - it’s just how quickly we can get that team up and running.

“In terms of the amount of signings, there is no set number on it. There will be some players within the club who need to be sold and they will be replaced.

“But you could say now there will comfortably be five new faces in the summer. But if we were to sell we would replace like-for-like in terms of positions. So it could be any number.

“But one thing I have been doing recently is looking at the team that played against Hibs and there are not too many things that are up in the air with that team.

"And that was without one or two who could have been involved. So the nucleus, and the core of the team, I’ve already started working with.”

The business that Rangers will do this summer cannot be set in stone while there are moveable parts and the futures of the handful of out of contract players must be solved first and foremost.

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There are others who still have time on their deals who could be coming to the end of their Ibrox careers, though. This is a squad that have had more lows than highs over their time together and, when asked if some players had been at Rangers too long, Beale said: "Look, I think in any football club… Some are on to their third manager, in a short period of time, and some have had some incredible highs here, winning the league unbeaten, reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.

"So maybe they feel that this is the moment to change - or maybe I feel that. Have you got the stomach for another three years of fighting, pushing, and moving forward?

"People get older, don’t they? It is not whether they are the right people then but whether they have the right legs and energy moving forward."