Players looking lost and a team lacking in identity. Gareth McAuley has watched Rangers go from Europa League finalists to a team devoid of character in the space of a few months and wondered just how his old side have managed to be so drained of courage and confidence.
The Northern Ireland stalwart reckons it got so bad that stars who earlier this year were putting Borussia Dortmund to the sword suddenly look blunt. Like they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. And that is a damning indictment of any manager and his coaching staff. Those players may have looked lost under Gio van Bronckhorst. But McAuley is adamant the Ibrox chiefs have found the perfect solution to rediscovering the identity that made them a force to be reckoned with. In Michael Beale he insists they have the ideal character to sprinkle some magic on a floundering squad.
Even without a January transfer warchest McAuley expects Beale will turn things round - because he knows how to get the likes of Ryan Kent, James Tavernier and Glen Kamara back firing on all cylinders. It all starts on the training ground. And it’s on Auchenhowie’s lush green surfaces that McAuley reckons Beale comes into his own.
Sessions designed specifically with the next game in mind and always innovating and interesting ensured players were kept on their toes on a daily basis. McAuley brought the curtain down on his career when he answered an SOS from Steven Gerrard to help bolster his defensive options in 2018. It was a chance to work with a legend he couldn’t resist.
But the 80-times capped Northern Irishman, who also counts Roy Hodgson, Steve Clarke, Michael O’Neill and Roy Keane among his former managers, was blown away by the ability of Gerrard’s right hand man Beale. Man management and coaching won’t be a problem to the current QPR boss whose coaching CV includes academy roles at Chelsea and Liverpool as well as assistant manager positions at Sao Paulo and Aston Villa.
Most importantly, McAuley reckons the 42-year-old knows how to get the better of Celtic having played a key role alongside Gerrard in the invincible season two years ago. McAuley said: “Having worked with Mick during my time at Rangers, I view him as the real deal in terms of coaching, man-management and his vast knowledge of the game.
“He knows the club, the league and knows what it takes to end the dominance of Celtic. Players enjoy his sessions, his eye for detail and how he communicates his instructions and gameplans. Every session was centred on the next match and not a minute was wasted. The sessions were exciting, innovative and kept you focussed.
“But Mick is just as impressive away from the training pitch as he is on it. Chatting football with him is an education, making you think about the game in a different way. He may be viewed as inexperienced in full management terms, but the knowledge and understanding of the game he has accumulated over the years gives him an authority on football.
“Having watched Rangers in recent months, I felt the players were lost and the team had no identity. Confidence is an all-time low and it was though the players didn’t know what they are doing. Obviously, the remit for any new manager coming in will be to chase down Celtic and leave them in the shade. But before Rangers can even think about doing that, the players need to have their confidence restored and given a system that not only brings about positive results, but allows the players to shine.”
Beale’s reign will get underway for real when the Premiership returns from the World Cup break on December 15. A home clash with Hibs is first up before tests against Aberdeen, Ross County and Motherwell set the scene for the New Year Old Firm derby.
By that point the January transfer window will have opened for business with Beale understood to be happy with the finances he’s been promised to bolster his squad. Van Bronckhorst took a thinly veiled dig at his paymasters’ financial backing on Sunday when he referred to the “difficult circumstances” he had to operate in.
McAuley knows Beale won’t have a blank chequebook to operate with either, predicting he might only bring in another defender to help fill the gaps of an injury ravaged backline. But in his Sunday Life column he said: “I really don’t think it will be a case of the new manager being given a load of money in January to spend in the transfer window.
“Rangers will not be able to buy their way out of trouble. Therefore, the players at the club will need to be developed and improved, that’s Mick’s forte. He may be able to bring in a defender in the absence of Connor Goldson, but that’s probably all the business they will do in January. So he needs to work with what he has and Mick will relish that opportunity to work his magic. That’s why he is in football. He’s only too aware how big a club Rangers are on the global stage and the responsibilities that go with it. Players will want to play for Mick Beale and I think he’d be a great appointment for Rangers.”