Our Own 'Golden Generation'
- 25 February 2013
Sadly, for the past year the daily debate that is Rangers Football Club has generally had very little to do with that thing called football.
Holding companies past and present have overshadowed the record breaking club and genuine footballing matters have played second fiddle to matters of business.
So, it has come as a relief to me that more recently we have actually been taking some time to talk about happenings on the pitch rather than off it.
Much of the footballing debate, however, has stemmed from poor performances - such as that seen up at Tannadice.
Thankfully, after the initial furore and calls for the gaffer’s, head further relief was received when the debate soon turned productive and planning for the future came to the forefront.
Rangers fans want to see that the club has ‘a plan’. They are aware that because of our unique circumstances we are genuinely in a position to completely revolutionise how the club operates – particularly with regards to our youth system.
The current crop of Ibrox youngsters is stirring excitement amongst the Ibrox faithful and contrary to the simpletons ‘Defiance Myth’ - these youngsters are playing a massive part in why Ibrox is packed to the rafters every other weekend.
The performances of some of these youngster coupled with the results of years of overspending has many Rangers fans voicing their desire to see a regular influx of talent making the jump from Auchenhowie to the first team.
Fans would like the club to be in the position where our team is consistently filled with home grown talent.
But just how plausible is this in the long term? And what sort of success would it bring?
To answer these questions perhaps we only need to look at what is widely regarded as one of the best youth academies in football-that belonging to Dutch giants Ajax.
First-off, it is pertinent to comment on the sheer scale of the Ajax youth system. The academy generally consists of 160 youngsters with 10 full time coaches. It is complemented with its own doctors, dieticians, physios, medical assistants and educational teachers.
The youngsters of Ajax are schooled both on and off the pitch: off field education is held with as much if not greater importance and if educational standards start slipping youngsters will quickly find themselves missing games.
Not to mention that the youth system also has its own mini-stadium to play its games in.
It is indeed a massive operation, but no matter how much it is revered - just how successful is it in supplying Ajax with a conveyor belt of players capable of bringing success to the club?
Looking back through the last few decades it is clear that many big name superstars have been the product of this academy. Players such as Rafael van der Vart, Wesley Sneider, Maarten Steklenberg, John Heitenga and Nigel De Jong have all made the jump from the Ajax youth system to stardom in the footballing world.
Unfortunately for Ajax, they suffer from an inability to hold onto these youngsters once they are developed, which is certainly something the Ibrox faithful can sympathise with.
This has led to irregular success for Ajax. More recently, under former Ranger Frank DeBoer, Ajax have returned to the top of the Eredivisie winning the title these past two years – however these title wins came after 6 long years of playing second fiddle to the likes of PSV, AZ and FC Twente.
In fact , despite the success of the Ajax youth system the Dutch team has won only 4 out of the last 14 Eredivisie titles.
These statistics show just how difficult and perhaps simply how implausible it is to rely on a youth system to bring regular success to a football club.
And let’s face it – regular success is not only desired at Ibrox – it has been and always will be expected and demanded.
I may be painting a rather pessimistic picture but, in reality, I am entirely optimistic that we may very well be at the beginning of something truly special with regards to the youth at Ibrox. Not the beginning of a constant conveyor belt of talent but perhaps the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime ‘Golden Generation’.
In the early 1990s, Sir Alex Ferguson witnessed the beginning of Manchester United’s ‘Golden Generation’. Almost together and at once the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the two Neville brothers made the step up from the youth team to the first team and would shape the club’s future for years to come bringing both domestic dominance and European success.
Twenty years on, however, this success is something they have not yet been able to emulate. Speaking in 2011, Sir Alex was asked if this youth success from the early 90s was a one-off, eternally the optimist his reply seemed more of dream than a reality:
‘No, it’s not. It’s going to happen again. You can’t think that Manchester United could have only one cycle of players as good as that. We will always keep chasing the dream.
'We will get a bunch like that again. We have got to.’
Manchester United are still chasing that dream - but I believe in Glasgow that dream of a ‘Golden Generation’ is set to become a reality.
Due to circumstance the Auchenhowie youngsters have been given an opportunity unlike anything offered to previous generations. Players still a few years from beginning their 20s have been given the opportunity of regular first team football at Ibrox – and many seem determined to take the opportunity.
Not only do they have the chance of consistent first team football but they will gain this experience whilst making a gradual step up in quality – whilst they and Rangers make their way through the divisions.
In fact, it could be argued that starting in the third division gives these players the perfect opportunity to hone their skills and develop into fantastic footballers.
Anyone who thinks players cannot develop whilst playing in the lower leagues should perhaps try telling that to the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andreas Iniesta – who all first plied their trade in the Barcelona B team in the lower leagues of Spanish football. I don’t suggest that playing in the lower leagues of Scottish football will create the next Messi but it is all relative.
The future at Ibrox may not be an eternal spring of youth but the next 2 decades at the club could very well be shaped by the likes of Barry McKay, Lewis MacLeod, Chris Hegarty, Kal Naismith and Fraser Aird – and there are many more banging on the first team door.
These players handled correctly could very well be our ‘Golden Generation’ - and with this it is certainly an exciting time to be a Rangers fan.
You can follow Scott on Twitter: @st2oh