There was a time, not so long ago, when the appointment of a Portuguese manager at the Scottish Football institution that is Glasgow Rangers would have garnered a far greater level of interest in the Portuguese sports media – and indeed across Europe – than has been the case since Beja-born Pedro Caixinha stepped into the breach at Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium.
Times have changed, and then some. Caixinha’s appointment at Ibrox in March on a three-year deal was greeted with an outpouring of indifference in his home country for numerous reasons. Primary among these is that the Rangers of today are not the Rangers of yore.
Gone are the stellar names from the 1990s like Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup and Ronald de Boer. Now the famous light blue jersey is filled with a squad comprised of journeymen, has-beens and never-will-bes.
From household names to journeymen
Where once the Ibrox club cherry-picked England internationals from south of the Border (Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Mark Hateley, Gascoigne), their most recent acquisitions from England have included Jordan Rossiter, James Tavernier, Josh Windass and Harry Forrester. There were so many cries of ‘who?’ when this quartet turned up at Ibrox that one might have thought there was an Owl Convention taking place in Glasgow.
Consequently, Rangers’ hotchpotch first-team squad has become almost irrelevant on a domestic basis (at the time of writing Rangers trail six-in-a-row champions Celtic by 36 points, and second-placed Aberdeen by nine, with four games remaining), and it is the gap with the former club that has had a profound effect on the anticipated impact (or lack of therein) of Caixinha’s squad in terms of challenging for the Championship.
At present, any sort of silverware seems beyond Rangers. In October of last year, long before Caixinha’s arrival, Celtic put Rangers out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage, but on April 23, it was Celtic it was who inflicted Caixinha’s first defeat in beating them 2-0 in the Scottish Cup, also at the semi-final stage, in a spectacularly one-sided game.
From a thrashing to humiliation in just six days
Six days later, this time on league business, Celtic went to Ibrox and humiliated Caixinha’s side 5-1.
To suggest Caixinha has picked up a poisoned chalice in taking the Rangers job seems something of an understatement at present – they are years away from competing with their most bitter rivals, and perhaps Aberdeen also. Would that this was Caixinha’s only hurdle, but there’s more – much more.
So for the Portuguese media, there’s less interest in Caixinha’s appointment because he’s inherited a squad which is not likely to be challenging Celtic’s domestic dominance any time soon, or even finish as runners-up this season. People like to read about winners; Caixinha’s Rangers don’t fit that bill.
The underlying reason for Celtic’s domination is because Rangers are penniless, and Celtic are not. In order for Rangers to match and overtake their cross-town rivals they are going to have to spend money, €60m euro would be my estimate, all over the park – I’d venture that there isn’t a single Rangers player who would get into the Celtic squad, let alone the team – and this is money that the Ibrox outfit just don’t have, or seem likely to acquire any time soon, for a variety of reasons too extensive to list here.
Little hope of European respite
Despite only having a single European honour to their name (the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup which they won in 1972), Rangers have enjoyed a reasonably extensive (albeit only superficially successful) record in Europe, including a run to the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1992-93 and also the final of the UEFA Cup in 2008.
Rangers have not played in Europe since 2011, having not been in the top division (nor won a major trophy) following the original club’s liquidation and subsequent admission as a new entity to the fourth tier of the Scottish League the following season. Not being in the top flight nor in Europe has not only impacted finances, but also lessened the club’s attractiveness to a better standard of player.
Assuming Rangers do finish this season in third, then they will find themselves in a Europa League qualification spot for season 2017-18. Perhaps Caixinha might find some redemption there, but Rangers’ recent history in Europe suggests otherwise; in the few years preceding liquidation they had been dumped out of Europe by the likes of FBK Kaunas (who are now defunct), Malmo, Maribor and Viktoria Ziskov, as well as being hammered 4-1 at Ibrox in a Champions League group game by Romanians Unirea Urziceni, a team many people had never heard of – myself included.
An unheralded appointment
Caixinha is suffering from the same issue as many of the players within his squad – before his arrival at Rangers, many people had no idea who he was. After a modest 10-year playing career as a goalkeeper with Desportivo Beja, Penedo Gordo, Serpa, Favaios and Ourique, he began his coaching career in his late 20s as youth coach of Desportivo Beja and then led a very peripatetic existence until turning up at União Leiria as head coach in 2010. A year later, he was on the move again, this time to Nacional of Madeira, again lasting a year.
At this point (2013) we enter what has so far been the ‘golden age’ of Caixinha, where in two years at Mexican side Santos Laguna he picked up three major honours (a ‘season-opening’ title (Apertura), a ‘season-closing’ title (Clausura) and a ‘Champion of Champions’ title where the Apertura and Clausura winners play off).
Caixinha’s departure from Santos was somewhat enigmatic: “After carrying out an analysis, I've decided to separate myself from the team,” Caxinha said. “The motives are secondary.” If you can decipher this, feel free to write in.
Four months after leaving Santos, Caixinha’s next port of call was Al-Gharafa in the Qatar Stars League (QSL). Many commentators have made note of Caixinha’s Qatari sojourn, but said nothing about the league itself, presumably because they’ve never seen the product.
A league without merit
Well, at the risk of sounding like a smart arse, I used to live and work in Qatar and I am familiar with the QSL. In terms of standard, it’s extremely poor. In the main, it’s where a few players and managers from Europe go for a lot of sun, a lot of money and a little bit of football while their careers peter out alongside a team of inept locals and 3rd-raters from Africa and South America. Nothing of merit can be achieved there.
So, Caixinha’s Al-Gharafa finished ninth (from 14) last season and now he’s manager of Rangers. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it. Since when did this level of achievement become the benchmark for managing Rangers? Can I have a go next?
Caixinha certainly had nothing to lose (quite the opposite in fact) in swapping the backwater QSL for a club the size of Rangers, even if the Ibrox outfit are in a bad way on and off the pitch. Rangers are out of the cup and their season is effectively over. This is actually good news for Caixinha. The season was a write-off long before he arrived in Glasgow.
What he needs to do between now and the start of next season is create and mould the squad into one that can, if not immediately challenge Aberdeen and Celtic, at least show signs of improvement. He was handed a three-year deal, so it looks as if his employers have faith in him being able to do so.
Caixinha can forget about challenging Celtic within the next few years, maybe more. The Parkhead outfit are light years ahead of Rangers in squad quality, available transfer funds, sponsorship, merchandising, stadium, European recognition, and so on.
Money’s too tight to mention
If Caixinha is to make any headway into the chasm that exists between the two clubs then he’s going to need to get very, very creative in the transfer market, with little or no money to spend. I sincerely doubt he’s going to return to Qatar for any new players, but there are two markets in which he will have contacts and knowledge – Portugal and Mexico.
For me, Caixinha is going to have to pull numerous rabbits out of the hat from the market of his home country. A mix of youth with potential, loanees, free transfers and maybe a couple of veterans with some gas left in the tank. Then there’s the small matter of getting them to play to their potential – and these two factors will define the length and success or otherwise of Caixinha’s Ibrox tenure.
What’s the likely outcome? Well, as previously mentioned, I don’t think we’re going to have much empirical evidence available by the end of this season to give us any tangible idea. Caixinha hasn’t said much thus far and knows that the real talking begins when he finds out what sort of budget he’s going to get and what sort of team he can fashion between now and the start of the 2017-18 season.
Decaphobia – the fear of the number 10
Both Celtic and Rangers have, in their histories, won the Championship nine years in-a-row. Celtic’s obsession (and Rangers’ for that matter) is to go one better and win ten-in-a-row. They have just won their sixth championship and Rangers are desperate for Celtic not to make it 10 titles without reply. Caixinha is the latest manager brought in to try and stop this happening.
Will Caixinha be the man to stop Celtic from achieving their dream? I’ll lay my cards out early and say: no, not a chance. He’s got a poor (at best) squad which is more like an albatross around his neck, and the slimmest of chances of accessing the large amounts of money needed to get the required standard of player through the doors at Ibrox. One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and even if Caixinha had the managerial pedigree of an Alex Ferguson or a José Mourinho, there’s never a Championship-winning side in this squad.
PortuGOAL will, of course, watch how Caixinha conducts his business over the summer, and see how Rangers start next season, but in answer to the question atop this article: Caixinha may not turn out to be a puppet, but a prophet he is unlikely to be either.
Celtic have just handed Caixinha his second defeat in a week, this one an all-time victory for the Hoops at Ibrox. It suggests strongly that there is very little chance he will fulfil the duration of his three-year deal. For now, we shall just have to wait and see – I feel the ride might be quite bumpy…
by John Hunt (@johnhunt1892)