If nothing else highlights how absolutely rotten Rangers’ Champions League ‘group of death’ really was, it’s where two of the previously-vaunted clubs actually ended up.
Sure, Napoli won their league (the weakest Serie A in history, incidentally) but as Ibrox Noise told you months ago, were miles away from winning the Champions League outright and would make the last 16 or MAYBE the quarter-finals at best. They were thoroughly put in their place by Champions League legends AC Milan at that stage indeed, themselves most certainly not at their best domestically these days.
Every single fan (not a single exception) we spoke to reckoned Napoli were major favourites to win the whole thing, Ibrox Noise was the only group who could see they weren’t actually that good at all. Definitely the best in our group (of a very bad bunch) but not the world class team Rangers fans wanted to peg them as.
This sounds a little bit like ‘we told you so’ and it probably is, but we were abused for months over this view, from people ‘who knew better’. So forgive us a little indulgence in this one.
But it’s the Liverpool and Ajax angle we find frustrating and irritating.
These two clubs, as we said at the start of this season, were in the worst state in their recent histories. Their league form was diabolical, and neither team was untouchable for our club.
Today? Liverpool are a crackpot side, barely scraping into the top five after a horrific campaign, while Ajax flounder in Holland, having also been gubbed out of the Europa League by the admittedly strong Union Berlin.
What are we getting at? Honestly? Rangers were a LOT better in the Champions League than we showed, and a bit of bravery from Giovanni van Bronckhorst would have seen at the very least a parachute into the Europa League.
We were only up against one decent team in Napoli, while Liverpool and Ajax were absolutely pitiful – something which has been borne out over the season.
Now, you could look at us, at Rangers, and say we’re rubbish too, and yes, we have been poor this season. But Gio’s European Rangers was a different animal, and naivete as well as cowardice prevented our club from having a fair go at that level.
Gio blamed it on being up against better players, but that’s absolute nonsense given we’ve matched ‘better’ players in the Europa League. Hindsight has shown how poor Liverpool and Ajax are.
We were also up against Calvin Bassey who has been spectacularly shocking for Ajax – we made him look like Paolo Maldini.
What’s the point we’re getting at here?
That Rangers’ shocking UCL campaign was more in our minds than our bodies – that our players could have done so much more if they’d actually believed in themselves (and the manager believed in them) rather than the cowardly defensive rubbish they produced.
No one is going to convince Ibrox Noise that Liverpool and Ajax couldn’t be beaten, and even Napoli on a good day.
This group didn’t produce a single side even close to being a UCL contender, but Rangers could have had so much more from it.
Just needed heart.