RANGERS Football Club have obtained permission from the SPFL to be excused from the Development League for season 2017/18.
The Club will instead create a ground-breaking and challenging games programme against Europe’s best young talent. The fixtures will involve matches against the top clubs in Europe and in the EPL and is designed to significantly accelerate the development of some of the countries brightest prospects.
Head of Academy, Craig Mulholland, was part of the working group which led to the creation of the SFA’s Project Brave initiative, which is designed to improve the standard of player being produced in Scotland.
Two of the key outcomes were the need for clubs to be innovative in their approach to developing young players and the issue which clearly exists of transitioning talent from the Academy to first team from ages 17 to 21.
This initiative takes a lead on both fronts and we are pleased to do so with the full backing of the SPFL and the Scottish FA, in particular their new Performance Director, Malky MacKay.
Rangers under-20s will still feature in the Scottish FA Youth Cup and SPFL Challenge Cup. However, cross-border fixtures against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton will be arranged to provide our young Scottish players with a unique and different challenge.
This ambitious programme will also incorporate games against quality youth teams from top European clubs such as Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Liepzig and Bayern Munich, plus domestic games with Scottish League 1 and League 2 first-teams to give our young talent the chance to test themselves at all levels. These games will replace the weekly Development League fixtures.
Rangers will invest heavily in this proposal and it is a further example of the significant change which has taken place within the club’s Academy over the last two years. It also demonstrates that developing players for our first team sits at the heart of the club’s business plan and is now embedded in the club’s DNA.
Craig Mulholland commented: “The first step was to acknowledge that, at Rangers, and indeed for Scotland as a country, we must produce a much higher standard of player.
“We must accept that for us to become a club renowned for producing elite talent, and for Scotland again to become a top football nation we are required to brave enough to undertake significant change from the way we have developed footballers in the past.
“In the past two years we have undertaken many new initiatives, including the introduction of a new Academy game model, a new performance culture, a schools programme giving our elite players 16 hours of contact time with Academy staff each week over a four year period, and we have invested significantly in new quality expert staff.
“There has also been a massive increase in ‘best v best’ challenge with more than 140 games cross border this season throughout the Academy and a new philosophy, redressing the balance between ‘winning v challenge’ for optimal athlete development, has been developed.
“As a consequence of these positive changes, and many others, we have some outstanding talent in our Children’s, Intermediate and Senior Academy and so the next critical stage for us in our evolution was to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit promoted by Project Brave and challenge the norm regarding the development of players aged 17 to 20. It was important that we were radical in our approach and pushed the boundaries and we believe this unique project achieves that.
“We are grateful for the support of the SPFL and the Scottish FA, who can see the potential benefits for the national game as well for Rangers given the number of young Scottish international players who will be involved in the programme.
“Our observations and research suggests that young Scottish players between the ages of 15 and 17 are every bit as talented as their peers in other European nations and we believe we must expose them to a challenge and fixtures programme which, not only matches, but exceeds, the quality of provision experienced by their peers in these countries.
“This should, as a minimum, keep their development trajectory in line with these top nations and reduce the drop off figure of 37% for our best potential talent making the transition from Scotland 17’s, where we have been successful, to the 21’s, who have not qualified for many years
“The challenge the players will receive on a weekly basis will, we believe, push their development to a level not experienced before by Scottish young players and will hopefully contribute to the creation of a much higher level of player, and indeed a different type of player, than has been produced in recent years.
“This year in the development league we decided to enter a team with an average age just under 18 playing against teams with an average age of just over 20. This created struggle and adversity for our young players in the first half of the season and the group averaged 1.2 pts per game up until February.
As the young players came through the struggle and developed coping mechanisms playing against physically more developed and experienced players, since February, they won 9 and drew 2 of their last 13 games averaging 2.2 pts per game.
“They also reached the Scottish FA Youth Cup Final playing a team with an average age of 17.5 in an under-20 competition. This environment and challenge was created by design.
“The new games programme will create a fantastic challenge for the players on a whole new level and will hopefully result in the same positive outcome where the young Scottish footballer ends up competing favourably with his top European counterparts.
“This programme will also ensure our young Scottish talent is not facing Europe’s top players for the first time when playing for Rangers first team in Europe, or for Scotland at international level.
“Our match programme will be one of the best in Europe and will be attractive and exciting for our best young players. This will act as a stimulus for them to push their own development on a daily basis.
“We will mix these cross border fixtures at U19/20 level with matches in Scotland against League One and League Two teams. Again this exposure to playing against men will be critical in the development of these player.
“We will also try to play the European matches and the games against Scottish first teams at venues and times which will generate a good crowd as the exposure to playing in front of a large Rangers support will also play an important part in accelerating their progress
“This is an exciting initiative for the Rangers Academy and I thank the Rangers Board, the SPFL and the Scottish FA for their support.
“The fact that 2017/18 is the last year of the SPFL Development League makes it the ideal time to undertake such a pilot and the evidence we gather after the pilot year, positive and negative, can be used in consultation with the SPFL and the Scottish FA to shape future games programmes in the country.
“To improve we must change and we believe this is an exceptionally positive and exciting change for Rangers and Scottish football”
Rangers Managing Director, Stewart Robertson said: “The board are excited by this initiative as we want to become market leaders in all areas of our business and we believe that this project is innovative and very forward thinking.
“As we aim to create a modern, progressive football infrastructure it is projects such as this which will hopefully provide us with a competitive edge in the area of player development, ultimately resulting in a successful winning Rangers team containing players of significant financial value.
“Developing our own players is a big part of our future at Rangers and is at the heart of our business plan for the club. There is no question that change is required to try to improve the standard of player being produced in our country and we are delighted to be leading that change. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the project in years to come.”
An interview with Craig Mulholland on Rangers tv....
We have seen for decades now that most Scottish players seem to stop developing around 17/18 so for me this is a brilliant idea.