European humiliation, a faltering title tilt, bad choices and a wider malaise… how it all turned sour for Giovanni van Bronckhorst at Rangers just six months after being a penalty kick away from European glory
- Giovanni Van Bronckhorst was sacked as Rangers manager on Monday morning
- The Dutchman, who played for the club, replaced Steven Gerrard only last year
- The 47-year-old won the Scottish League Cup in his first season in charge
- And he took the Light Blues to the Europa League final, which they lost
- Rangers finished bottom of their Champions League group this season
- They are nine points adrift of league leaders Celtic after 15 games
The 17th permanent manager of Rangers when he was appointed on November 18 last year, Giovanni van Bronckhorst departs having presided over the third-shortest tenure.
But while both Paul Le Guen, who lasted 240 days, and Pedro Caixinha, who managed 227, never looked like good fits for the role, the Dutchman leaves having enjoyed some extraordinary highs.
Exactly six months after being confirmed as Steven Gerrard’s successor, Van Bronckhorst took Rangers to within a penalty kick of winning the Europa League against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Rangers parted ways with manager Giovanni Van Bronckhorst on Monday morning
His side had already beaten Celtic in extra-time in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and would go on to beat Hearts in the final.
Yet, just six months later, Van Bronckhorst has been fired and the hunt for a new manager has started.
But how did it go from that night in Seville to the sack in such a short space of time?
Despite losing the Europa League Final, the Dutchman build up a lot of credit by eliminating sides like Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig to get there.
This was topped up when his side went to Holland and beat PSV Eindhoven to secure a return to the Champions League.
What could possibly go wrong? Everything as it happened.
The Dutchman led Rangers to the Europa League final last season, which they lost on penalties to Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville
A pot four team, a draw that put Rangers in with Liverpool, Napoli and Ajax was about as challenging as it could have been.
But his team were all over the place as they lost 4-0 away to Ajax first up.
By the time they shipped three goals at home to Napoli then two more at Anfield, the campaign was in danger of becoming a humiliation.
When Scott Arfield edged Rangers ahead against Liverpool at Ibrox, it briefly looked like they might get some points on the board.
Van Bronckhorst leaves the club with Rangers nine points adrift of league leaders Celtic
Level at the break, Van Bronckhorst’s side fell apart in the second half, conceding six more without reply. The 7-1 final score was their heaviest-ever home defeat.
By the time Napoli eased to a three-goal victory in game five, Rangers were fighting to avoid becoming the worst-ever side in the history of the Champions League.
A final night 3-1 home loss to Ajax ensured Van Bronckhorst’s men finished with zero points and a goal difference of minus 20 to take the most unwanted title in the game from Dinamo Zagreb.
FALTERING TITLE TILT
The run to Seville didn’t dress up a simple fact. Rangers were four points ahead of Celtic when Van Bronckhorst took charge and four points behind them after 38 games.
Any understanding he was given due to a) coming in mid-season and b) doing so well in Europe, was conditional on this season being a different story in the Premiership. It wasn’t.
Van Bronckhorst’s side dropped points in five of their 15 games, drawing against Hibs, Livingston and St Mirren and losing to Celtic and St Johnstone.
He wasn’t helped by Celtic’s excellent form. An away loss to St Mirren is the only domestic blip for Ange Postecoglou’s men.
But for Rangers to be nine points and 17 goals behind Celtic at this stage is a long way from acceptable.
Rangers finished bottom of their Champions League group, losing all their six games, conceding 22 goals and scoring just twice
NOT UP FOR THE FIGHT
The first signs of it were evident when Celtic raced into a three-goal half-time lead at Parkhead in February.
When games started badly under Van Bronckhorst, they’d a tendency to go rapidly downhill.
Look at some of the hammerings his side took after that loss: another capitulation at Celtic in September, this time by four goals. Four goals conceded a few days later away to Ajax.
Napoli easing to a pair of three-goal victories. Liverpool winning 7-1 at Ibrox after being a goal down.
Where was the backbone and character on these occasions?
The Light Blues suffered a historic 7-1 humiliation at home against Liverpool last month
DILUTION OF QUALITY
For long enough, Rangers had spoken of a player trading model. It finally arrived in the summer with the departures of Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey coming on the back of Nathan Patterson’s departure.
Those three brought in a combined initial sum of £37m. For the model to work, part of that money had to be reinvested wisely.
The portents weren’t good. January signings Amad Diallo, Aaron Ramsey and Mateusz Zukowski made negligible impressions.
Signings of Amad Diallo, Aaron Ramsey and Mateusz Zukowski did not have the desired effect
Working in tandem with sporting director Ross Wilson, Van Bronckhorst had to get his summer signings right.
In the plus section, Antonio Colak has been a fine acquisition and is currently joint-top of the Premiership scoring charts. Tom Lawrence also looked the part until he got injured.
But the £3.4m splurged on Ridvan Yilmaz, five starts since moving from Besiktas, looks questionable, as does the £2.5m spent to bring in Rabbi Matondo from Schalke.
Malik Tillman has ability but the on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder lacks heart.
John Souttar has been injured since making his debut on the opening day at Livingston.
Ben Davies has been available for less than half of the games. But both of these players arrived with poor attendance records.
Several key players such as Kemar Roofe have been missing this season due to injury
Notwithstanding the fact that players like Souttar and Davies were always likely to miss games, no fair appraisal of Van Bronckhorst could overlook the number of key players he was missing at times this season.
Lawrence was starting to look the part but hasn’t been seen since the win against Ross County at the end of August.
Connor Goldson’s value has been evident since he hobbled off at home to Liverpool.
Kemar Roofe has made just two appearances. At different times, Colak, Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara, Fashion Sakala and Alex Lowry have been sidelined. Van Bronckhorst was also never able to call on Ianis Hagi.
Even for a squad of Rangers’ size, the injury list has been crippling.
Van Bronckhorst didn’t help himself in the way he handled certain situations.
Last season, Allan McGregor was the undisputed first-choice goalkeeper with Jon McLaughlin the back-up.
But if the latter wasn’t deemed to be good enough to get a run in the team back then, it made no sense that he was suddenly promoted at McGregor’s expense.
It just didn’t look good when that decision was subsequently reversed.
The Dutchman also looked weak when he brought Alfredo Morelos back onto the side just 10 days after bravely omitting him for the trip to play PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League play-off.
Morelos has scored just twice in 14 games since then and was atrocious in what proved to be the manager’s final game in charge at St Mirren.
THE WRONG MESSAGE
If you don’t believe your players have a chance, how can you expect them to feel any different?
After that four-goal hiding in Amsterdam on the opening night of the Champions League, Van Bronckhorst’s words effectively ran up the white flag with five games still to play.
‘To compete in the Champions League you need hundreds of millions. Otherwise you can’t compete,’ said the manager at full-time.
‘Look at Ajax, they sold players worth over £200m. Look at Liverpool as well. For us to compete with them, it’s too much to ask.’ This was a classic case of a negative mindset reaping what it sowed.
Ajax bossed both encounters against Rangers in a depressing Champions League campaign
A WIDER MALAISE
It would be wrong to suggest that Van Bronckhorst was the sum total of Rangers’ issues.
Given that recruitment is jointly the responsibility of Wilson, the sporting director is therefore also culpable.
Could the board of directors have invested more in the team after Champions League football was secured? Not a single signing was made after that win in Eindhoven.
The players’ part in the manager’s downfall can’t be overstated. If they were fighting to save his skin in recent weeks, they’d a strange way of showing it.
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