THE way blame circulates around an organisation, it could be thrust inside the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and it would probably unlock the secrets of the universe.
We all know the feeling of being blamed for some abstract deficiency within some business or other – what’s an unfortunate typo between friends, for example? Maybe you forgot to take the bins out to leave a festering waste silo lagging a fortnight behind in your back garden during the summer months. Maybe you missed that obscurest of items on the shopping list that no store has stocked since the fall of the Soviet Union. But it doesn’t matter how well equipped you are to take care of the business; you can be sure it’ll come down the line and bite you on the backside anyway.
Who’s to blame for the latest trophyless campaign at Rangers? The answer is usually packaged up in a brown envelope labelled P45 and handed to the incumbent of the manager’s office. But no one is ready to pin it all on Michael Beale just yet (are they?). His predecessor, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, then? The Dutchman was handed his jotters in November having gone from narrowly missing out on Europa League glory after a shootout defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in May to seeing off PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League play-off to reach the group stage having fended off Union Saint-Galloise in the previous round. There was a barrage of damaging results during the intervening period, of course, as Van Bronckhorst’s side lost 4-0 to Celtic in the league, 4-0 to Ajax in Group A, then 3-0 to Napoli in the space of 11 days to take much of the air out of the Dutchman’s sails.
The 7-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in October just about broke the hull, with Van Bronckhorst’s squad creaking under the pressure of a relentless run of fixtures.
A draw against 10-man Livingston at Ibrox followed another humbling by Napoli in midweek and the 3-1 defeat to Van Bronckhorst’s natives Ajax concluded a positively miserable return to the group stage where his side set an unwanted record in their failure to pick up a single point while finishing drowned in a goal difference of -20.
The sight of the World Cup break on the horizon had become something of an oasis in the storm for Van Bronckhorst as he looked to take stock after a difficult first half of the campaign, but further dropped points against St Mirren in the final match before the world’s elite set sail to Qatar had the white flag flapping as the former Netherlands defender and his backroom team were jettisoned before Lionel Messi had his shoulders inside that Qatari bischt and his hands on the glorious golden trophy.
So, it was Van Bronckhorst’s fault that Rangers had gone from Scotland’s Euro flagbearers to Champions League whipping boys? Well, many supporters were not satisfied to stop there. Wary of a transfer policy that had allowed key duo Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo – both instrumental in that run to Seville – to leave without being properly replaced had many setting their sights on director of football Ross Wilson, who had presided over recent transfer windows.
Wilson was instrumental in bringing back Beale to replace Van Bronckhorst as manager. And the recruitment of Todd Cantwell and Nicolas Raskin in January proved a popular bounty for supporters encouraged by the new broom, with Beale steadying the ship to go on a 14-match unbeaten run before hitting the rocks in the Viaplay Cup final against Celtic at Hampden in late February. It was the second time Beale had failed to overcome the Scottish champions in that period – a 2-2 draw at home in the New Year derby saw any notion of a fightback in the title race capsized – and this latest missed opportunity to clinch silverware in the 2-1 defeat at Hampden was followed less than a month later with Wilson abandoning ship to join Premier League outfit Nottingham Forrest.
What was Beale’s reaction to this departure? Well, he kind of threw him under the boat. "Recruitment has become a bit more simple since Ross left purely because there's one less person there,” Beale said. Bon voyage.
Since Wilson’s exit, Rangers have announced the departures of Scott Arfield, Filip Helander, Ryan Kent, Allan McGregor and Alfredo Morelos, with more to follow. It’s hard to argue against that clearing of the decks, with age and injuries catching up with a few. But what about Kent and Morelos? What was it Beale said when he first took the wheel? "They are two players that I worked well with previously. I think they are capable of more than they are showing right now – that's fair to say. But there will be reasons, they will have their own reasons for that and be working away at it. But I trust both players."
Well, so much for trust. After watching Morelos come on in the second half of last month’s 1-0 Premiership victory over Aberdeen, Beale stated that the Colombian striker’s Ibrox career was over. “Morelos is moving on,” he said. “I think you saw the difference in energy in the forward area when Morelos came on. And not in a positive way.” Ouch.
And this week, it was Glen Kamara’s turn. The midfielder had become a bit-part player even under Van Bronckhorst, but appears to have fallen out of the picture altogether with the arrivals of central duo Raskin and Cantwell. Beale, addressing the 27-year-old’s Ibrox future, said: “I think maybe he is one that has maybe been around here too long and maybe needs to re-bolt himself.” Ta-ta, then.
What’s that Ship of Theseus problem again? Can a ship be considered the same object if it’s replaced plank by plank, or has it changed altogether? Football clubs have always negotiated this paradox on the basis that the club crest, colours and ground bind them together, despite the constant fluctuations in personnel and individuals in the stands.
If Beale wants to wash his hands of the failures of the recent past, he can change the squad plank by plank all summer long. There’s no doubt that Rangers require a new lick of paint, either. But one thing he needs to remember is that the nature of the Ibrox support doesn’t change overnight. Any notion that his project will be given time to get afloat is folly. Failure to reach the Champions League group stage and to make a strong start in the Premiership will be met with mutiny in the stands, and Beale will follow his predecessors Wilson and Van Bronckhorst in walking the plank.