James Sands’ comments this morning about the players not being aware of the gulf between the Europa League and the Champions League are, frankly, deeply naïve.
Ibrox Noise regulars will know we have a lot of time for Sands, a very flexible and adaptable player who has got Rangers out of a lot of personnel holes this season with his versality and ability to cover several positions, and rather well at that.
But for the USA international to tell us he and his team mates were actually taken aback by how much harder the UCL is over the UEL is a pretty eye-opening comment, and suggests a lot of naivete among Rangers players who probably thought they’d arrived when they got to the UEL final.
Indeed, let’s look at what he said:
There’s a lot to look at here, we’ll start with the first bit:
He’s sort of right, it’s a big step up. He’s actually wrong, it’s a different planet completely.
As for going in with the very best teams/three of Europe’s best teams, not a bit of it – just Napoli were impressive. Liverpool and Ajax were extremely poor and substandard versions. Shreuder’s Ajax is nowhere near Ten Haag’s, and Liverpool without Mane are a different prospect entirely.
‘A bit of a surprise for everyone’ is the bit we’re struggling with. We think, really, he means a bit of a surprise for himself, this being his first time outside of the MLS and being pretty new to European football at its best. He clearly judged the UEL that he competed in as being fractionally inferior to the UCL, which he’d never touched, and it wasn’t till the team was actually in the group stage he began realising this wasn’t just a step up, it was a gigantic leap.
If Sands is right, and the whole squad was surprised, well, that includes experienced veterans like McGregor and Davis, plus others who have already played at this level such as Colak and Tillman, so we’re not sure Sands is speaking for everyone here.
The reality is Rangers flunked their group completely, one they could have managed to do a little better in. But if it was down to pure naivety then we’re more than a bit aggrieved at how poorly the club planned and prepared.
Is this why we didn’t reinforce particularly well? Is it because the club genuinely didn’t think the UCL was that big a jump?
Ibrox Noise preached preseason how large a leap it was, but it seems like very few listened until a few matches in.
And if Sands is to be taken literally, the club was as much in the dark as anyone else about just how much better the UCL is.