GRAEME MURTY wants his Development Squad to be ready to give their very best as they gear up for a week like no other.
Starting on Wednesday, they will host Atletico Madrid at Firhill in the under-19 UEFA Youth League play-off round, with a place in the Last 16 of the competition at stake.
Then, on Sunday, they travel north to Inverness Caledonian Thistle for the semi-final of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup looking to make further history having already been the first ‘Colts’ side to make it to the last four.
Murty, and indeed all the Academy staff and players, cannot wait for the challenge, which begins on Wednesday lunchtime at Firhill against one of the most recognisable names in football.
He told RangersTV: “It is going to be a fantastic opportunity for the players to go up against a powerhouse of European football.
“They have worked extremely hard for this reward – and it is a reward – so they should enjoy it, but they need to make sure they enjoy it for the right reasons – that they are competitive and that they play their best, and from now until then, they need to maximise this time to learn, to prepare, to rest, to hydrate and to be ready when they step onto the pitch to give their best as, if they don’t, I think they will feel a little bit disappointed.
“What they have done so far this season has put them in a really, really good position.”
Gers could hardly be in better form going in to the double-header, with the recent consistency shown by the Development Squad delighting coach Murty.
“Before we went into the Celtic game,” he continued, “I think we had won 11 games in a row – and yeah, there are different games and different challenges, but, the level of understanding they are showing and the level of maturity they have shown at times is very pleasing.
“It also shows a degree of resilience and grit when they have been tested physically and when they have gone behind, they have continued to play with a maturity that I have to admit, surprised me at times.
“The Young Boys game, they could have lost focus, but they continued to do the right things and that for us as coaches and an Academy staff is a really pleasing insight into their mindset and a lot of the work which has been done prior to them reaching our squad.
“So the challenges they have had going across Europe and the fact all of our Academy age groups go across the continent and even across the world to play in tournaments – we are fortunate in that, but it is purely to prepare them for the ultimate challenge of getting in the first-team.
“If you look at our week, we have played Celtic, who are our biggest domestic rivals, we have Atletico Madrid in an international, European tournament, and then we have Inverness Caley in a cup competition – that mirrors a first-team week perfectly, so I have said to the players, ‘are you a real Rangers team?’, as that is what they are going to be required to do and ultimately what people will judge them on.”
As well as the Atletico clash being open to the public, it will also be shown live on TV – something Murty hopes adds to their development.
“That is fantastic for them,” he added. “They have to be able to go and manage their nerves, their anxieties and their pressures – and the world watching, commenting and having an opinion on your performance.
“This is something where our young players have grown and it is something that they have developed, but it is something we need to extend further. They need more opportunities to play in front of a crowd, and they need bigger crowds more often and more challenging to really get their nerves on edge as we would like them to walk out at Ibrox on the biggest of occasions and thrive and relish it.”
Wednesday’s one-off tie will be played at Firhill Stadium, kick-off 1pm, tickets are priced at £5 (£3 concession) and fans will be able to pay at the gate on the day.