IT has been a fabulous year for the Rangers Academy on numerous different levels – but their Head, Craig Mulholland, has pointed to Ross McCrorie’s first-team breakthrough as being the biggest highlight of all.
As part of an extensive, wide-ranging review of the season which you can see now on RangersTV, Mulholland discussed what worked for his department over the course of the season, where they would like to improve, and also their plans for the new campaign.
Of course, the Academy exists to hopefully provide players fit for the first-team, therefore, the progression of McCrorie and his performances made him the biggest standout of all for Mulholland.
“The end of season review is always exciting as it allows us to reflect on what we have done over the course of a year,” he began. “When you see the amount of achievements there have been from various departments in the Academy, they have been really quite significant, and that is a consequence of hard work.
“Three years ago we set out a vision, but now we are starting to see the fruits of that vision.
We continually talk about new process, innovation, changes and all the positive actions which have taken place, and it is hard to justify that when there is not necessarily an end product for people to see.
“The highlight of the year, clearly, has been Ross [McCrorie]’s progress in the first team, but there are many, many other things such as the Games Programme and the Boclair project – it has been an incredible year for the Academy and it has been really, really exciting for every member of staff and exciting too for the club.
“This year, Ross has made the most appearances. We also have Jamie Barjonas and Ryan Hardie who have been involved, and I think that is really positive. I think Ross’ achievement in the first team is probably the biggest accolade from an Academy point of view, and it doesn’t come by chance, it comes by design.
“I mentioned on many occasions, Ross comes back two afternoons a week with our Academy sports scientist to do extra strength and conditioning work.
“After he made the mistake against Hamilton, he spoke with our mental skills coach about how he dealt with that, and all that preparation which has gone on over many years to ensure we now have that in place at the club has allowed us to produce a player like Ross in the first team.
“But Jamie, Ryan, Liam Kelly and others who have been training with the first team – we are getting more and more there and that is only going to be a conveyer belt that will continue from now on in.”
Mulholland touched on the club’s Performance School project with Boclair Academy, which sees players combine their football training at Auchenhowie with academic study at the nearby school in Bearsden.
That has been another major plus for him, who added: “I think we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of that project because we have now got 30 young Rangers players doing over 18 hours of contact time a week
“If you think back to years ago, people watching this interview will be thinking about their own childhood where they played in parks and played on the streets.
“That doesn’t exist in the country now, so we need to do is recreate that almost recreational environment in a controlled fashion and we do multisports in there, they do basketball, judo, all sorts of stuff.
“They get lots of lifestyle education but importantly most of their time is spent with a ball at their feet and if we are going to create a Rangers player who dominates the football, who can be comfortable playing at the top European level, we need to have lads that have had hours and hours and hours or repetition and practise and that is what Boclair gives us.
“It’s been a super initiative but again our kids from there are probably only hitting third year or fourth year just now, so it will be three or four years before we really see that benefit of that, but that was a massive initiative by the club.”
Academically too, whether at Boclair or elsewhere, many young Rangers players have excelled academically, which is something Mulholland and the Academy are pushing as they strive to create not only great footballers, but great people too.
He continued: “I got an email yesterday from a supporters group in Hong Kong who watched the way our young players conducted themselves in Hong Kong.
“Not the bit on the pitch where we got to the final which was great, but the bit off the pitch; how they were in the hotel, their lifestyle choices, the food, the drink, the way they speak and the way they interact.
“We have a shaking hands policy in the Academy for any visitors coming in. There is a real culture to that, so creating good people is as important to us as creating good footballers and academically we’ve had lads in here achieve five Highers while they have been professional footballers.
“So that choice that used to exist between being a footballer and doing your academic studying doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve managed to combine that and credit to our education and operations team for going and doing that.”