It’s hard to know how to begin with this article. 12 months ago we had been well and truly humiliated in Europe by an utterly abysmal team in the first round of Europa League qualifying, and the summer work which had seen unknown Portuguese and other Hispanic players arrive were doing their best to be completely out of sorts while our Portuguese ‘manager’ Pedro Caixinha looked lost, helpless, and despite Rangers winning at Motherwell, it was becoming quickly clear this wasn’t the solution Rangers fans had dreamed of.
Indeed, a long season was expected and that’s exactly how it turned out.
Fast forward to present day, and Rangers have once again signed effectively an entire team, but the change in one man, from Caixinha/Murty to rookie boss Steven Gerrard has seen something truly unexpected happen – Rangers.
Not the ramshackle Rangers we’ve seen for six years, not the embarrassment to the shirt we’ve expected in our colours, but a real, proper Rangers which has had, the odd blip and trough aside, a quite staggering start to life under the Anfield legend.
Let’s not understate this – Rangers, going from that mess under previous managers, has produced one of the biggest achievements in the club’s long and proud history, by going through to the group stage of the Europa League the hard way – by qualifying via every round and winning our place via merit.
We have beaten an admittedly ordinary Macedonian side, a very good Croatian one, an outstanding Slovenian one and a tough as nails Russian one.
Four in a row have fallen to Rangers and in all eight legs we conceded three goals in total. That’s stunning. Simply stunning and now we rightly take our place alongside some of the best Europe has to offer.
There has been a real lack of hysteria in the press about the sheer gravity of what Gerrard achieved. Not only did we do it the hard way, with negotiation of four tough rounds, but we did it in the end with nine men, arguably against 13. And yet the press haven’t really gone to town with it. Possibly realising their Celtic chumming days are slowly coming to an end.
They, for the first time in six years, are now genuinely wary of this Rangers side. You can’t fluke your way through four qualifying rounds and Gerrard is yet to lose a match, albeit last Sunday sort of felt like it.
This Rangers is real, it is of the standard we expect our Rangers to be, and our friends in the East know it.
Ibrox Noise has been amused at the lack of recent comments from the usual green and white obsessed types who usually frequent our site. Yes, ‘Brian Connor’, I will even drop your name in – this guy has posted 20+ times daily to the site for the past 12 months (we wish we were exaggerating) – only one comment was ever approved, to invite him to cease.
Suddenly, Mr Connor has disappeared. Along with the majority of his friends.
Because all their doom-saying, all their negative comments and insults look beyond idiotic – and while we know Rangers’ journey continues, there’s something tangibly real this time.
You simply do not trip your way into a marquee European competition’s group stage without deserving it, especially going eight legs unbeaten.
Add to this the signatures of Worrall and Grezda, and things are in a good place. A very good place.
Obviously we’d cry with joy to win on Sunday – equally though anything less is not the end of the world, because we know this club under Gerrard is finally going in the right direction regardless of what happens.
But win, and finally Celtic know they have a true battle on their hands this season. A real battle with a real Rangers.
And quite honestly, that’s beyond their worst fears and our highest expectations.
Bring. It. On.