It’s now been over six months since Rangers appointed the relatively unknown Pedro Caixinha as manager of the Ibrox club. Since then there have been ups and down, success and failures, revolution and evolution. Now though, one match stands as the true test of the progress the club have made since he arrived in Glasgow; Celtic at Ibrox.
There’s no doubt that massive danger lies in this weekend’s much-anticipated derby for the Portuguese, but it is in an opportunity for his side to show that, while they’ve stumbled along the way, things are heading in the right direction.
Of the many poor results that stung Rangers supporters last season, little came close to the 5-1 humbling at Ibrox the last time the Light Blues faced Brendan Rodgers’ side. It was a dark day and an ominous sign that despite changing managers, it would be exceptionally difficult for the club to get close to the Hoops in the near future. Winning this weekend would go a long way towards expunging that from supporters’ memories.
That disaster of a result must have been a wake up call for the Portuguese. There’s no knowing whether he planned for such a high turnover of players in the summer prior to that defeat, but there was certainly no mercy shown when the transfer window opened.
Six of the players who saw action that day did not survive Caixinha’s cull, part of the 11-man exodus from Ibrox over the summer. All the departing players had made first-team appearances at some point over the season. Key figures in the squad like Andy Halliday and Martyn Waghorn were sent on their way alongside some of last year’s summer prospects such as Joe Garner. It’s not the kind of genuine decimation of a squad you often see in football in such a short period of time, but it was clear Caixinha was sending a message.
With all those exits then, it was time to rebuild and almost as swiftly as 11 players went out, 11 players came in before the end of August through a variety of loan deals and larger outlays of spending. Big names like Graham Dorrans and Bruno Alves arrived to add experience from the top level of the game while the manager turned to a known market, Mexico, to bring in Eduardo Herrera and Carlos Pena.
It was a rebuilding that inspired plenty of hope, and hype, despite an early European exit.
Spending and acquisition of players doesn’t just bring hype and hope though, in modern football it primarily brings the pressure to succeed and achieve your ambitions. Brendan Rodgers even noted earlier this week that the Ibrox club had spent more than Celtic this summer, a sign that they should be challenging for the league title. While there’s element of mind games in his comments, it does raise the point that for Rangers fans, the pinnacle of Scottish football is where they expect to be.
Caixinha has arguably been under pressure since the very first moments of his appointment, but after his big squad overhaul that’s even more pronounced now. The Rangers manager would likely argue that progress has been shown – they’ve only been beaten once this season in eight domestic matches and just reached their first national semi-final – but they haven’t been tested by the team they measure themselves against.
Celtic stand ahead of them 55 games unbeaten in domestic competition and ready to deliver another harsh message. Saturday’s match is a mountain to climb for his side and at the summit there is great reward. Fail in a similar manner to April’s humiliation though and it could be a fatal blow to Caixinha’s leadership of Rangers.