The Premiership assignment in the Highlands, for profile, pulse-quickening and pressure, cannot hold a candle to the Champions League play-off decider against Eindhoven on Wednesday. Or even the wick of a candle when it comes to the season’s first derby dust-up, which will bring bitter rivals Celtic to Ibrox next Sunday. Yet, while Michael Beale doesn’t say in so many words that it is actually their assignment in the Netherlands – when they will seek to bring group stage football in club football’s most prestigious competition to Govan for only the second time in 12 years – that ranks lowest in importance, he firmly gives that impression. Champions League football essentially not a requirement for the overall health of the club. At least certainly when it comes to making good on the targets he and his players absolutely must hit this season.
Perhaps it is the fate that befell Giovanni van Bronckhorst last season colouring Beale’s thoughts over a crucial juncture in his Ibrox tenure. A year ago, the Dutchman accomplished what the 42-year-old will be out to do in Eindhoven this midweek. He beat PSV on their own patch following a 2-2 draw in the teams’ play off first leg to reach the game’s promised land. Only to find himself exiled from Ibrox three months later. His continental exploits in August failing to insulate him from the sack because by November Celtic had established a nine-point advantage in the title race. As it stands, the Scottish champions are three points to the good over the Ibrox adversaries who represent their only league challenger. It is sure not to be lost on Beale that in the unlikely event his recast Rangers came up entirely short in their next two top flight confrontations, that deficit could be hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles going into the September international break.
Perhaps why when asked to assess the colossal week ahead for his team, unprompted, he introduced the fact Rangers are guaranteed Europa League group stage football however their skirmish with PSV pans out.
“We just focus on this one against Ross County and the stuff in the background can wait,” he said. “What I would say is the club base the finances on being in the Europa League and the Champions League is then seen as a bonus. So the pressure, the expectation, is purely a football one and an achievement one. If the finance comes on top then great, but we are not going to have to chop and change our squad accordingly if it didn’t go our way. It is fantastic for me, the players, the fans and the staff because we can focus on trying to have a huge achievement. The most important thing for us, and it always is, is domestic competition and therefore tomorrow is vitally important.”
The need to demonstrate perseverance, and endurance, in hanging in against Peter Bosz’s men as the Dutch dominated possession – despite Rangers twice taking the lead, before finishing strongly – can help the growth of a team still in its infancy, Beale believes. Even in facing up to Malky Mackay’s side. The Rangers manager considers he is currently being tasked with effectively knitting in 11 new players. Injury returnees Kemar Roofe and Tom Lawrence placed in a similar bracket to the club’s nine summer additions since they have played as few games for him as the recent recruits.
“A lot of things go into team building,” Beale said. “It is not just having the ball and having everything your own way. In the other games [this season] pretty much we had the ball and it was whether we could find the connections, take our chances. The other night we played a team a little bit slicker than us at the moment, a little bit more secure than us and we had to find other qualities. I think PSV would have come off the pitch and thought ‘bloody hell, they have a strong will as a team’. That’s a good thing for me.
“I’d like to see us try and have a bit more quality next week over in Eindhoven, in terms of staying with the ball and creating more chances because I think the chances are there for us. But in terms of being gritty, working hard, sticking together and fighting in a game where it is not perfect for you, there were a lot of other qualities we hadn’t been able to show yet, so there were pleasing signs. I’m sure tomorrow’s game, at certain moments Ross County are going to make us defend and those qualities are going to be really important.”
Beale isn’t getting hung up on the fact that, in six competitive games, he has fielded six different frontline combinations. Whether in terms of personnel, or configurations. He sees only the benefits to be derived across the campaign of the fact that the captures of attackers Cyriel Dessers, Abdallah Sima, Danilo and Sam Lammers, as well as the renaissance of Rabbi Matondo, has provided him such lattitude. Enhanced by the availability of Roofe and Lawrence.
“I think we have had seven different goalscorers as well, which gets lost on people,” he said. “Sima’s got two, Lammers one, Matondo one, Danilo two, Dessers two, and Todd [Cantwell] is waiting for a goal to arrive as we have Kemar and Todd coming back into the squad. So we have a lot of attacking players. With nine games across the first month of the season you have to rotate, or else you end up in the position you were in with injuries after the first international break and you are playing catch up.
“We need a big squad. I think if we were successful enough to get to the League Cup final that is 14 or 15 three-game weeks. The only break is the international break. We have a three-game week now, we had a three-game week last week, and when we come back from the international break three-game week, three-game week, you are playing every three days. Naturally, suspensions and injuries are going to come through. If you don’t have a squad, the schedule can eat you. So the fact we have got a lot of different types of forwards, we have a lot of players in competition with one another, I think over the season that’s going to be important.”