By James Black
Rangers Academy chief Craig Mulholland has claimed that Rangers’ ambitious ‘Academy Games’ programme is designed to help the club develop “Champions League calibre” players – and believes it is the first time the club has been determined to produce quality young talent.
The Gers’ Under-20 side withdrew from the SPFL Development League this season in favour of a year-long series of fixtures against the Academy sides from across Europe as they look to produce a conveyor belt of homegrown talent.
Youth Development in Scottish football is in a state of flux ahead of the Scottish FA implementing their ‘Project Brave’ blueprint next season as the national association tries to find ways to increase the number of Scottish youngsters playing at the top level.
Mulholland believes that taking players out of their comfort zone and testing them in environments completely different to those found domestically can only help his players improve as they look to make the breakthrough at senior level.
“We were playing PSV U23s and our centre halves were facing nobody as the striker goes deep really early,” Mulholland said as quoted by the Daily Record website.
“You see our centre halves thinking, ‘what do we do?’ as it’s something they’ve never faced it in Scottish football.
“So if we’re going to produce a Champions League calibre player – and that’s what we’re trying to do – we need them to not have them playing against that level when we’re in the Champions League.
“We need to have them used to it all the way through the system.”
“If you leave it to chance, it won’t happen. You need to do it by design so at Rangers, for example, our director of football is Mark Allen who was the academy director at Manchester City for nine years.
“He believes in it. Our board believes in it and, probably for the first time at Rangers, we all believe in developing talent.”
Rangers have had a fairly poor track record of developing youngsters in recent years however Pedro Caixinha has blooded several of the Under-20’s in his senior squad since taking charge at Ibrox in March.
Ross McCrorie, Aidan Wilson, Kyle Bradley, Jamie Barjonas and Myles Beerman have all featured under Caixinha with one of their former team-mates – Billy Gilmour – joining Chelsea for £500,000 over the summer despite only turning 16 in June.
The Gers have already faced sides like PSV, Manchester City and Leicester City so far this season with games scheduled against the likes of AZ Alkmaar, Tottenham and Benfica to come before the end of 2017.
As part of the ongoing programme, a young Gers side faced Brentford on Sunday, running out 5-2 winners against the Bees’ B team thanks to a hat-trick from Ryan Hardie and goals from Barjonas and Aaron Nemane.
In other Rangers news, Charlie Nicholas believes that Caixinha will be axed by the Gers.