THE Rangers Academy has seen another summer of dramatic change – with the results already bearing fruit on the pitch.
At a number of different levels, the Gers young stars have been performing terrifically well against a variety of opposition teams from a number of different nations.
Staffing too has been massively altered, with many current coaches changing their roles and a number of new faces added.
Meanwhile, the much-heralded games programme for the under-20s has got underway, with their latest result being the impressive 2-2 away to draw to Feyenoord last weekend.
Head of Academy Craig Mulholland is naturally thrilled with how things are progressing, and he explained some of the successes from the early part of the campaign.
“It has been a great time,” he told RangersTV.tv. “A lot of the publicity has been around the games programme, which is exciting, innovative, and we are delighted with it.
“One of the things we reflect on with that is when you look at the history and traditions of this club, we have always been the first to do things – we are pioneers. We think the games programme is going back to our old traditions the club has by being first and being pioneers and leading the way.
“I think there is a lot of other stuff across the Academy which goes unnoticed though. Stephen Wright has joined us, as have Peter Lovenkrands, Andy Little, Brian Gilmour and Todd Lumsden.
“That has been a big step forward for us and their contribution has been first-class so far and they are really settling in superbly. So there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes which people are less aware of.
“For example, the under-14s are just back from the Club NI tournament in Northern Ireland where they played their national team, Sparta Rotterdam and Swansea. They beat Swansea 7-0, beat Northern Ireland and beat Sparta Rotterdam to win the tournament, so we see a lot of exciting development there.
“The under-10s are just back from a tournament abroad and beat teams like Wolfsburg, while the under-16s were away at the Milk Cup, reached the semi-final and were unlucky not to reach the final, while at another tournament, the under-14s beat Derby, Watford, Crystal Palace and Celtic.
“So we have had a lot of good results in the early part of the season, and I know I always go on about it not being about results, but we do want our players to win – we are at Rangers so that’s normal.
“I think the performances we are getting and the talent which is being displayed has been great, and the number of ‘best v best’ challenge opportunities we have had has been outstanding, and the players are learning from that and the coaches are learning from that, so you can see everything moving in a really positive direction.”
One of the other major changes made within the football club over the summer was the appointment of Mark Allen as Director of Football.
As well as, of course, having many first-team responsibilities, the Welshman has been playing his role in the Academy, with Mulholland welcoming his input.
He continued: “Mark has been great for me having spent eight or nine years as Manchester City’s Academy director, so from my point of view, I am excited from the point of view that we can suck as much information as we can out of Mark.
“He is there to support the Academy, help the Academy and to create a pathway. A lot of the work we have been doing goes unnoticed – such as on the recruitment side.
“Not only will we restructure the recruitment side of things at first-team level, we will do it also at Academy level to make sure we are bringing in the best players.
“There is a player characteristics model which will tell us what a young Rangers player should look like, what attributes they should have to have and how it should fit into our game model.
Again, over the summer, prior to Mark coming in but with Mark’s help as well, we have done an awful lot of work on the curriculum.
“We have moved to a new tactical periodisation model, and we are really excited by that and I think we have taken that on a level. Graeme Murty has had a big part in that too.
“So there have been a lot of things behind the scenes moving in a really positive direction.”
In terms of other staffing alterations, a number of Rangers faces from the past have returned to the club to offer a variety of different strengths and experiences to the coaching pool.
“It’s interesting,” Mulholland continued. “Stephen Wright for example has been the Academy director at Fife Elite, so when he left Rangers many years ago as a coach, he has clearly developed as assistant manager at Dunfermline, as Head of Youth at Dunfermline and then Academy director at Fife Elite.
“So he brings a real understanding, a calmness and an understanding to what we are trying to achieve.
“Peter Lovenkrands is new to coaching, but he brings energy and an enthusiasm which the players love.
“Brian Gilmour, who is probably less-known to the Rangers supporters, but played here for a long time, he has real talent and we expect him to be a top coach in the future. We have just finished our new strategy document as well, and that takes us through to 2020, and a big part of that is not just developing players, it is also about developing our staff.
“We are doing things like peer mentoring, we are filming them all the time, we have our mental skills coach going on the pitch and looking at our body language and the way we behave and the way we speak to players.
“If we want to have the best players we have got to become excellent at coaching. We want people to be saying the coaching at Rangers is the best in the country and one of the best in Europe. To do that, we have put in our new Rangers performance coaching culture and our staff are developing enormously from the back of that.”