STEVEN GERRARD insists he won’t be afraid to use Academy players – if they can prove they are better than those in front of them.

The manager – as he did last pre-season in Spain – has included a number of younger players in his squad for the club’s training camp in Portugal.

So far, the boss is pleased with how they have performed, and told RangersTV: “They have done really well. We will protect them in certain drills and we will look after them from a physical point of view because they haven’t developed as much as the men we have out here.

“But they are pushing, they have great quality and they have big futures. One of the things I wanted to do when I took over here was connect all the departments in the club, the Academy being one of them.

“The idea is to keep pushing – the Academy are aware of what we are looking for moving forward and there will be opportunities for them.

“They have to go and grab them and take them. There are a few people about who they can try and take inspiration from – Ross McCrorie made over 30 appearances last year, as did Glenn Middleton, and I would like to think, looking at me, I am not afraid to give opportunities out to them.

“But they will be training with us throughout the season in certain situations, and if they shine and prove they are as good as the people in front of them, then I won’t be scared to use them.”

Gers’ work in Portugal is geared to have the team in tip-top form for their Europa League trip to face either Prishtina of Kosovo or St Joseph’s of Gibraltar.

On that, the manager continued: “The ball is already rolling in terms of getting information on both teams who we could possibly be playing, so that has already started.

“In terms of pitch preparation, we will wait to see what we are going to be facing, otherwise we would be wasting time as we are not sure who we are going to be playing. “We will be well-drilled in terms of the information we have got on them like we were with Shkupi last year – it will be a huge game for us as European qualification is very important.”

And, when asked what the manager will be targeting this season, he added: I don’t like making predictions. I think it is very naive to make predictions, but it is key we continue to press and improve.

“I think we have taken giant strides forward from where we were 12 months ago, but the last bit is always the hardest to become winners.

“Everyone needs to be focused and everyone needs to contribute from an individual point of view. We will be better in terms of the 11 in the squad moving forward, and if everyone in the squad is as hungry and ambitious as we are as a staff and the supporters are, I’m sure we’ll be fine.

“The players are the ones who have to go out and deliver over the course of the season to try and go out and go one better than they did last year.”

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