Under the right conditions, under extremes of pressure and heat, the atoms of humble carbon are re-ordered into the sparkling, solidity of a coveted mineral. These conditions only occur at a few select locations on Earth. They also occur when playing for Rangers. Needless to say, instead of forming into diamonds, huge quantities of raw material remain as graphite or are folded into oceans of molten rock and are forgotten. Interestingly enough, diamonds can also be formed by asteroids strikes, similar to that which wiped out the dinosaurs.

The 2023/24 league campaign effectively ended when John Lundstram crashed back to Earth at Parkhead and fell from any grace amassed from his three seasons at Rangers. Nothing turned to diamond that day but it did send up a cloud of ash which will blacken our skies for a considerable period of time, and when the sun reappears, we should not see many of the existing team again.

It’s a sorry end for Lundstram. His Rangers highs were higher than most players have ever managed, and we were lucky enough to be there with him. But that low was lower than the majority of players will experience too. Time may heal but for those few seconds of madness I fear we will never allow him to forget that moment for the rest of his life, and that’s a real shame.

Like other key players, Lundstram has come to symbolise the ongoing lack of success at Rangers. The run to the Europa final was stardust, the following years Champions League a lump of coal. The unavoidable truth is that Celtic have secured three titles in a row and four of the last six cups during his time. That’s the yardstick for Lundstram and Tav and Goldson and our custodians. Rangers can never accept that and no core group of players should be able to survive it. An often-heard phrase is that many of these players are actively disliked, what we mean is we hate the situation we find ourselves in. When we are let down by the same people for the umpteenth time then it’s understandable that they come to embody that failure and emotion.

In terms of timing and context fifty-five may have been worth slightly more than one ordinary title, but it’s not worth two and certainly not three. The Scottish Cup final at Hampden was just another game that finished under a dark cloud. The performance may have been better and the spirit and fight more agreeable than the Lundstram game but the result wasn’t. There may even have been some mitigation but it was all too familiar. Another league gone and another cup gone.

Things felt so different a few months ago. Clement and his team had been doing all the right things and results, plus entertainment, had restored belief. Hysteria peaked as they delivered our longest winning run in years and not only resuscitated a comatose title challenge but got our noses in front with games in hand. Even the increasingly weary seethe from the stands had been replaced with energy and enthusiasm. This is a positive we can take from the season - there must be a semblance of quality and ability within the squad. This prolonged period wasn’t just an illusion and we do have players that can be built into a new team going forward.

The negative is that the latest collapse again confirms that something still is lacking within the club and this is perhaps best illustrated by the dismal run against Celtic in the past 2 years. One win in a dead rubber, standing pitifully amidst 8 (eight) defeats and two draws. Gerrard was able to more than match them head-to-head with similar resources, so something has shifted. That focus and sharpness has evaporated. We have allowed ourselves a squad that’s bloated, with too many errant and absent. Any loss to Celtic should sting the players so badly that it’s never repeated. They don’t respect you one iota and laugh at you when they win. Too many at the club are comfortable with their inadequacies. That is not and cannot be Rangers.

Whilst we cannot return to the demented wastefulness of the Murray and Bain - paying off full contracts after a few games - we’ve entertained and rewarded mediocracy and inefficiency for too long. I have no problem with club swinging and missing and trying out different players – Lawrence, Dowell, Wright etc - but if it isn’t working then we have to shake it up and move players on quicker. We have big questions to answer this summer. Who can we sell? Does Cantwell’s potential and output outweigh the drama? Can Danilo and Cortes be trusted to return from injury? Is Yilmaz robust enough to be part of a winning squad? Can we afford to keep Butland or find a workable deal for Sima? Should we sign more domestically?

Barisic, Jack and Roofe are another story where we’ve knowingly retained and relied upon damaged/unreliable players. To have a third of our squad unavailable over a season equates to tens of millions of pounds wasted. There’s being a good employer but we’ve been operating like a charity at times. That’s the difference between a title challenge and another lost season.

Similarly, we’ve seen assets run down contracts and move on for nothing. Again, potentially tens of millions walking out the front door. This is terrible business. I realise it can happen at any club but I’m not comfortable with it at Rangers, especially when the contribution of those players fell off a cliff. Overall, it suggests a lack of leadership, a lack of direction and decisiveness - inadequacy again. One league cup in two seasons indicates a strategy with a lack of imagination where perhaps the easy option has been chosen, which has too often turned out to be the wrong option.

Some of this is down to a lack of an overarching footballing strategy and intelligence, where each new management team is allowed to make the same mistakes. Arguably our last four managers have been allowed to repeat the same mistakes, e.g., trusting certain players, and have ultimately underachieved because of it.

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Worrying Trends

Whilst the dropped points at Motherwell, Ross Country and Dundee were inexcusable and 100% on us, there is a worrying thread continuing through the Old Firm games; namely, decisions going against Rangers, and especially goals being rule out.

Individually, some of these could be written off as soft or poor decisions, but factor in the benefit of unlimited replays and angles, and compound with the regularity and predictability of occurrence, without being balanced out, and they only look worse.

Of course, we’ve given away enough cheap goals from our own mistakes in these matches without also being robbed of good goals by officials but many of these incidents have been the first goals in then tight games. I mentioned mitigation for the players before, and this type of decision consistently going against you must have an impact. Gerrard had the mental fortitude to recognise it and blast straight through it - our leadership team evidently don’t. Even outside the Old Firm bubble, some of the advantages handed to Celtic in the semi-final against Aberdeen (20-Apr) were as shameless as the bad luck we’ve been dealt. In general, decisions in games across the SPFL clubs can be equally bad and inexplicable but tend to even out over time, with the exception of one club.

I’ve seen many reluctant to call it a conspiracy, but the big moments suggest one club is getting an advantage when it matters, and therefore the outcome is the same as a conspiracy. If it’s an unconscious response of officials to latent media or establishment bias then that’s where the conspiracy is and where the antidote must be targeted. This is where the board and club must sort themselves out and step up. The fight is already in the gutter so do whatever you need to do and use anything to correct it.

Willie Collum will take up the head of refereeing role shortly and we must keep him honest. He’s had some very strange performances against us over the years, a deck of spurious red cards and extreme leniency for that lot. More recently we had the VAR audio dispute at the New Year game, where the conveyed message didn’t match the chain of events – which feels much like the disallowed Sima goal at the weekend. God knows what we’ll see from Collum in the new role, I’d like to say it couldn’t get worse but we know it could.

I’ve been banging on about this for years, this is one area wholly on the board. Gio, Beale or Clement should be too busy with football to be expected to fight this battle. The club should have a strategy which is clear, irrefutable, and most importantly effective. We occasionally hear voices outwith the club pick up on the costly refereeing anomalies, but it quickly passes over. We get treated to Chris Sutton calling our players cheats and all sorts during the games. Why not make a bigger noise? Why not ask Gerrard about it? He’s knows first-hand how the refs handled some of our games during his time (double standards applied to certain players, Collum being involved when Celtic were handed the 2019 league cup with a clear offside goal). It can’t be too hard to grow a lasting narrative based on facts?

In summary, we’ve fallen short on and off the pitch: we’ve missed the target with recruitment, training, conditioning, preventing/recovering from injuries, and the general mismanagement of contracts and appointment of recent head coaches. On top of this, we appear to be put at a disadvantage from referees and are still being outmanoeuvred in many areas. There is no point talking about being best in class unless we can show we are best in class. Miserable takes aside, this is an opportunity, there are plenty of areas where real and tangible improvement is possible. Let’s make sure everything is better than this year for next season.

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