Long term planning or short term gain?

In the recent interview on Rangers TV between Ally McCoist and Jim Traynor, the following comments by Ally caught my attention:

“You’re never in a position to long-term plan… As soon as I take my eye off the next 3 or 4 weeks, then you’re in trouble.”

Contrast this with Craig Mather’s comments on being appointed Chief Executive:

“One of the areas that is hugely important to Rangers is getting the balance between bringing players and creating an ethos of youth development. Ally and I have been talking all the way through the summer about how to create the mechanism to get an 8-year-old player through to the team.”

As I understood Ally’s comments, long-term planning seemed to be mutually exclusive from the immediate future. It was impossible to focus on both. The conclusion seemed to be that winning from week-to-week was everything and we can’t afford to look beyond that.

Yet surely any management team has to deal with both areas. They have to plan for the future and ensure the development of youth team players into first-team footballers. I understand the pressures on a Rangers manager and the need to go out to win every game, but like others, I had hoped things would be different in the Third Division and, while more young players got their chance than in the SPL, with the exception of Lewis Macleod, the “youngsters” were often the first to be dropped.

We were told the team needs experience, youngsters too often choose the wrong option. Yet, was Macleod, at 18 years of age, less controlled and effective than Ian Black? Did Faure or Gasparotto, when eventually played in centre defence, look any less solid than Cribari? Did Barrie McKay run up any more blind alleys than David Templeton? Was Andy Mitchell, a belated introduction at right back, less complete a player than the 25 year old Argyriou? If anything, it was the experienced players that let Rangers down last season, through the ineffectiveness of Sandaza, the stupidity of Black, the defensive frailty of Cribari.

When Rangers won the Championship and introduced more youth players into the side, they won 4 of the remaining 5 matches, a win-rate of 80%. For the previous part of the season, the win-rate had been 67%.

The resultant reward for these promising youth players was the signing of 7 new players and potentially 3 others in Mohsni, Pandza and another goalkeeper . 3 of the 7 have been signed on 2-year contracts, presumably to guarantee Rangers' path to the Premiership.

Yet Rangers won the league by 24 points and are moving into a division that Queen of the South won by 25 points. Yes, signings were necessary, but nearly a complete team?

However, it was ever so. I first started watching Rangers regularly at the start of the 1968-69 season. Having previously signed the likes of Dave Smith, Alex Smith, Andy Penman, Orjan Persson and Alex Ferguson, they splashed out on Colin Stein and Alex MacDonald, but league success never arrived for another six years.

More recently, young players have performed well but struggled to make the breakthrough. Kyle Hutton was deemed sufficiently capable to play successive games against Manchester United, Bursaspor, and later v PSV, but was only trusted enough to start one more game in the remaining 6 months of the 2010-11 League campaign; Darren Cole was considered worthy of a Champions’ League start for his debut, but not another game all that season. The League was considered a tougher environment than Europe.

Although they are no longer to Rangers fans liking for other reasons, Jamie Ness and Rhys McCabe both performed well when they were brought into the team. Yet McCabe had spent 11 matches on the bench without a single minute on the park before starting against Hearts. Two matches later, he was controlling the midfield in the 3-2 win against Celtic.

I am a firm supporter of the belief that young talent will benefit more effectively if introduced gradually into a team rather than sitting unused on the bench or being brought on to the park with less than 10 minutes to go. I don’t know how good a player Tom Walsh is, for example, but to be introduced into the first team with 2 minutes of a match remaining, then not selected for subsequent games, hardly seems hugely motivational.

Then there’s the position of our second string goalkeeper. Scott Gallacher was not a totally naïve young goalkeeper. At 23 years old, and having previously played 36 games for Cowdenbeath and Forfar on loan, he sat, unused, on the bench for 22 matches, not brought on for experience even in games which we won 7-0, 6-2 and 5-1. And once we had won the title, 22 points clear with 5 matches remaining, did we replace Neil Alexander, a player known to be shortly out of contract and almost certainly on his way? No, and now we are said to be looking for an experienced second string, with 4 goalies already on the books.

I admit I favour giving young players – and I don’t consider 23 young - a chance, not rashly, but being allowed match time within teams of experience. I follow the adage “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. The inclusion of reasonable playing time in the first team is, to me, part of the development phase, especially while we are in the lower divisions.

I fail to see the need to re-sign the likes of Foster (we already have Mitchell, Cole, Perry, Hegarty, McAusland, Faure, Argyriou, and even Andy Little, all of whom have played right-back) and Smith, players whose reputation seems to have grown among Rangers fans since they left Ibrox – a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. Are they necessary for the success of this team? I don’t think so.

If we are to utilise the facilities at Auchenhowie, if we are to be serious about youth development, we cannot de-motivate players by never allowing them a permanent breakthrough. Is a team of experience such as Bell, Argyriou, Foster, Cribari, Smith, Templeton, Black, Law, Shiels, McCulloch and Daly significantly better than our developing talent Gallacher, Mitchell, Faure, Gasparotto, Hegarty, McKay, Hutton, Macleod, Aird, Little and Clark?


Arnold Black is a lifelong Rangers supporter, Chartered Accountant and athletics historian, who runs the athletics website www.scotstats.com

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