“Chaos is where we are when we don’t know where we are, and what we are doing when we don’t know what we are doing.” – Jordan B. Peterson

It’s fair to say that trailing by two goals and down to ten men against Aberdeen at Ibrox in late September 2023 was chaos. And that the performance out at Limassol the following week was chaos. There were large spells during those games when we didn’t know where we were or what we were doing.

There had been a perceptible instability at the club for the past two years (even longer to be honest). There were undeniable regular flashes of brilliance in Europe but domestically something was missing when it really mattered. Even when Gerrard’s tenure was at its peak, we never quite managed that holistic balance across all departments at club. We would occasionally hit periods where things appeared fine, or where excuses could explain away unwanted results, but we never really got to a place of stable competence and performance in all areas. For sure, 55 hit euphoric consistency in the league, but the cup exits showed a weak underbelly, an issue with mentality somewhere within the dressing room, added to a notable drop off in quality across the squad, a faltering transfer strategy, and where questionable decisions off the park still haunted us.

I had been surprised at the time with how quickly things got away from Gio and his team. How conditioning and fitness and then confidence had deserted a squad that was in the Europa League final just months before. Signs of mismanagement were showing with many senior players contracts running down and Morelos allowed to literally roll off the rails. Fans were right to question why so many of the starting eleven were the same faces that had been there 4 or 5 years earlier. That is no slight on those players, many of whom gave their best, but it pointed to an underlying dysfunction within the club.

When Beale came in, I believed he could be the right guy. He knew the club, he knew the players, you’d assume he had observed and learned under his three seasons with Gerrard and would take that experience and build forward. He was given time based largely on how bad it had been under Gio, with the Champions League reacquaintance being particularly humiliating. Beale played on this and very much told the support what we wanted to hear. I admit to tuning out slightly, trusting we were in safe hands – besides things had got so bad that they could only get better, right? The manager shifting focus from drab performances to under-performing players like Kent or Morelos may have been populist but it was not good management. Any manager reacting to the whims of the fanbase and not to his own plan or principles will only last so long. By the end of last season, we had floated into a sub-optimal limbo between Celtic and the rest, where Beale would generally get expected results and invariably lose the games that mattered.

Alongside settling for second best and watching another treble for that lot, other things jarred at the club. The squad wasn’t improving, and worse than that our assets were devaluing faster than crypto. Intolerably, the football was terrible - functional football is excused by silverware and that felt a long way off. And so, the chaos and pain of September mercifully saw the end of Beale’s reign. The board has got a lot wrong in recent years but pulling the plug reasonably early was a credible move. The league was slipping out of sight, but not quite beyond a miracle just yet. It would’ve been easy to hang on and hope things improved but no-one believed that.

I didn’t know who I wanted as manager. Some of the names in the hat had big plus points but I had acquired a pessimism through our bad choices and bad luck. The wrong choice would be drawn into the maelstrom of chaos rather than rise above it. The earlier purge of Ross Wilson and the summer reorganisation at board level were promising and a recognition that things weren’t working and maybe a reason to be more optimistic. It sounds so simple but what we needed was a manager that knew what he was doing, a clarity of vision. A leader we can all respect. A man that could get the best out of the squad and could give them some needed direction and purpose. Someone that could release Rangers’ potential and crystalize the expectation of winning every other trophy, as a minimum. A man that could bring order to where chaos had had laid down roots.

In his first four months at Rangers Phil Clement has certainly done that. A squad (and support) that looked beaten to the point of hopelessness has been given a new lease of life. Results improved. The winning streaks that eluded Gerrard, Gio and Beale are now starting to appear. That loss against Celtic is the only black mark since the beginning of December. Performances have improved significantly. I look forward to every game now and know that entertainment is guaranteed. The atmosphere at Ibrox and general mood is polar opposite from before and the bond between players and support has returned.

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It is still early days but we appear to be operating at the place where Rangers should be operating. From a tired, overly-familiar, over-worked starting eleven we now have competition for places. We are seeing rotation being used pro-actively, players rested, fringe players provided opportunities, all with instructions and roles that suit them best. The team visibly presses, attacks and defends as a single organism instead of a jumbled mess of individuals at the start of the season. There’s a fluidity in the attacking play, attacking from all angles with goals and assists being shared around. This is all achieved from simple adjustments. Taking the forward option. Variation of corners. Sharing responsibilities. Take Lawrence’ winning goal at Kilmarnock, a quick throw-in from Dessers, then a quick free-kick from Lawrence himself leads to panic in the Kilmarnock back line and the ball breaks back to Lawrence at the edge of the box - ten seconds of sharp play resulting in an invaluable three points. It’s not rocket science but we haven't played that game domestically for too long. We’re not perfect and have limited options in some areas, but Clement is getting everything out of them that we can realistically ask for. And when the manager does get it wrong, he identifies it and makes changes early. I haven't seen so many subs at half time at Rangers.

For me, the long-term aim has to be stability. To reach a place where transfer windows don’t mean wholesale changes but more the clinical improvement of the squad. And what then follows is the highest quality starting eleven possible for a club of our means, with a wider squad of players both hungry and capable enough to challenge and win those places for themselves. Clement himself has said that he doesn’t want egos but selflessness and team players, with the understanding that any dreams of individual success and glory can be more than realised through success for the team. There’s no bullshit, just a clear plan and hard work. He doesn’t scapegoat or isolate players, just makes his point and moves forward, and the players seem to appreciate and respect that. Everything is focused on the team and being a winning team. Domestically, we have been relatively poor value for money, carrying too many players that haven’t contributed enough to see us over that line. The signs are Clement is changing this.

We need to remember the name and draw of Rangers and the calibre of players we can attract here. Even though things were creaking to a shuddering halt behind the curtains we still managed to bring in the likes of Jack Butland. Granted, we also brought in others in that window which demonstrate that where we get it wrong then the club suffers. Clement gave Lammers opportunities, squeezed something out of the situation and was able to find an arrangement in January that suited both parties. Dessers has begun to turn it around. From living offside and being chronically out of condition under Beale to being a welcome presence on the pitch and posting very respectable numbers. The January arrivals of Diomande, Cortes and Silva are beginning to look like decent business after a small sample of games, not just that they represent upgrades but also bring a much-needed freshness across the squad. With every decision our manager continues to earn our trust.

Where injuries had previously left with gaping holes across the pitch, Clements squad is now adapting and finding a way. Losing Danilo in December felt like the kind of misfortune that could totally derail our title challenge but Clement never complained or moped. Again, his actions followed his own words - looking for solutions, not dwelling on problems.

One player who always gives his best is our Captain. During the death rattle of Beale's reign, I'll admit wanting the captaincy taken from him, more as a symbolic gesture than anything else. It felt like a millstone around his neck and was dragging his legacy down. Upon reflection I was wrong. It wasn’t Tav’s fault that our management, or squad, or conditioning, or tactics weren’t good enough to collect more silverware. We were very lucky to get him for £200,000 and have been lucky to have him for 8 seasons. No player should be irreplaceable at Rangers but we will struggle to ever match his value and output.

But that’s football, it’s a game of moments and you need to make the most of them. Things can change for better or worse in a matter of weeks, all you can do is put the best people in place and hope they do their best, hope that they are able to take us over that line.

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