FOLLOWING the launch, at the end of last season, of our unique games programme for our Development Squad we are now pleased to confirm the fixture list for the remainder of the first half of this season.
Rangers have been granted a year’s sabbatical by the SPFL from the U20 Development League to pursue an innovative games programme designed to address the difficulties faced by players at Rangers, and indeed in Scotland, in making the transition from Academy football to first-team football between the age of 17 and 20-years-old.
The club undertook significant research on why Scottish footballers compete exceptionally well with their European counterparts up to the age of U-17 but the performance level decreases thereafter, with approximately 37% of our best talent failing to maintain an upward trajectory in line with their European peers over a two or three-year period. The club will feedback to the SPFL and the SFA on our initiative and believe, if successful, Rangers can shape future thinking on how Scotland, as a nation, develops elite talent.
In terms of culture, playing style, contact time, ‘best v best’ challenge, etc., our Academy has changed dramatically in the last two years and we believe by thinking differently and piloting a fairly radical concept we will could make a significant impact on the quality of the player being produced.
Head of Academy Craig Mulholland said: “Our players, staff, and indeed the supporters we have spoken with are very excited by the season ahead and the challenges our players will face.
“No one knows what the outcomes will be as this is the first time an initiative such as this has been piloted. However, what I was absolutely clear on was that in order to produce a different level of player, we needed to be radical and brave enough to try something completely different.
“I am delighted that it is Rangers who are leading the way with this concept and we know other clubs are watching closely.
“We are playing some of the EPL and Europe’s best clubs and teams full of international players so we know how challenging it will be in some matches for our players but we want to create this struggle by design. Elite sportspeople succeed through challenge and struggle and we will expose our young Rangers players to exactly that.
“We are not afraid of some difficult nights. In fact, we welcome them as they will provide a fantastic learning experience. If Scottish football is afraid to expose our players to matches against the best players in other countries we will never undertake radical initiatives such as this and might not make the positive strides required to create elite players in our country.
“I do not believe the kid born in Spain, Portugal, Holland or anywhere else has any greater chance of being elite any more than the kid born in Scotland. However, we must provide our players with as good an environment, education and challenge as their counterparts receive in their own countries. This is what we are aiming to do at Rangers.
“After we overcome any initial struggle we want to see Rangers players go and win against their European opponents but not simply by defending and hanging on in the match but by dominating the ball and playing a brand of exciting progressive football which matches our clearly defined game model.
“Our opening two games against Southampton at home and Feyenoord away, which were both exciting and challenging 2-2 draws, and even the recent victories against Club Brugge in our Copa Del Agatha win demonstrates that our best players can compete against teams full of internationalists from some top nations.
“Our group will be predominantly U-18/19 with a couple of U-17’s and maybe also U-20’s involved. Over these age groups we currently have 15 international players, so it is critical we do not fail them by creating a programme which, along with their own drive and desire, allows them to maximise their potential.
“We are also seeking to develop our coaches, such as Graeme Murty, Billy Kirkwood and Colin Stewart, who will work with the group challenging them against different styles and patterns. Credit must go, however, to Creag Robertson, Greg Statt and Louise McLean, from our operations team, who have worked tirelessly to create the first set of fixtures.
“The final group we would like to play their part are our supporters because we want our youngn teams to play in front of a crowd and experience the expectation that brings. So, we hope as many as possible can get along to the home games to support the lads.”
During the month of July & August the group have already played the following teams:
Ards & Portadown (1st teams from Northern Ireland); PSV Jong (‘B’ team / U23); Wolves U23’s; Club Brugge and others at the Copa Del Agatha in Holland which we won beating Club Brugge in the final: Southampton U19’s; Dumbarton 1st team in the Irn-Bru Cup; Feyenoord 19’s.
The upcoming fixtures are as follows:
28 August to 5 September – U19 internationals
12 September – Brighton & Hove Albion (H)
16 September – Man City (A)
26 September – Leicester City (H)
1 October – Brentford (A)
10 October – Tottenham Hotspur (H)
17 October – AZ Alkmaar (A)
27 October – Liverpool (H or A – tbc)
29 October – SFA Youth Cup
2 November – Mechelen (A)
5 November to 15 November – U19 internationals
15 November – Berwick Rangers 1st team (testimonial) (A)
22 November – SFA Youth Cup
27 November – Benfica (A)
5 December – Queen of the South 1st team (A)
tbc December – Southampton (A)
16 December – Everton (A)
8 to 21 January – Spanish training camp involving 3 games against La Liga opposition
27 January – SFA Youth Cup
Details of the venues and Kick Off times for the home games will be released shortly.
This will provide approximately 28 club matches for our best players from the start of pre-season until January not counting the ‘best v best’ international fixtures many will play for their country.
Agreement has been reached in principle with the following clubs to play between February and May – Ajax, Chelsea, Inter Milan, PSG, PSV, RB Leipzig, Copenhagen and Marseille with dates just to be confirmed and agreed. Return legs will also be played against many of the teams we play in the first half of the season. We will also include further games against SPFL lower league 1st teams to challenge our players against men.