Rangers show power of unity and have nothing to fear in Europa League final | Rangers

A post-match episode in mutual appreciation as stragglers made their way along Paisley Road West shortly before 11.30pm on Thursday. RB Leipzig fan: “Great stadium.” Rangers fan: “We were the underdogs.” Leipzig fan: “Underdogs? This is Glasgow Rangers. ” Laughs, handshakes and both went on their merry way.

Anyone with an interest in football’s soul – certainly in Germany – may find it appropriate that Rangers progressed to the Europa League final at the expense of the sporting wing of an energy drinks empire. Red Bull and its wings cannot upstage Ibrox when it sings. Those who visited as part of the Leipzig contingent did appear struck by the atmosphere, which was far more intense than a week earlier at the RB Arena.

What the late-night exchange further illustrated was a sense that Rangers are still regarded as serious operators in Europe. Although various matters, mostly with a foundation in history, back up that point it remains incredible that Giovanni van Bronckhorst will lead his team into the final in Seville. That much is entirely to Rangers’ credit. They absolutely deserve to be there. Teams that failed even to reach the last four include Barcelona and Napoli. English sniffiness about the Scottish football scene should quieten for the moment given West Ham and Leicester were toiling on the very evening Rangers sent Ibrox into raptures.

The scale of Rangers’ achievement is emphasized when their personnel are assessed. The right-back James Tavernier is the Europa League’s top scorer. The goalkeeper Allan McGregor is 40. Alfredo Morelos, Van Bronckhorst’s main striker, missed both legs of the semi-final. So, too, did his backup Kemar Roofe. It is hardly being disrespectful to Scott Wright, Ryan Jack, Joe Aribo, Fashion Sakala, Borna Barisic or Connor Goldson to point out they would not trouble the starting XIs of Borussia Dortmund or Leipzig yet both those German clubs have been swatted aside by Rangers en route to the showpiece occasion on 18 May.

John Lundstram is the current darling of the faithful Ibrox and has vastly improved over this season but the fact remains this free transfer from a then Championship-bound Sheffield United, who has been shuffling between center midfield and center-back, conquered Leipzig, a team containing a striker, Christopher Nkunku, eyed by the continent’s top clubs and valued at £ 70m. Rangers are not Rag Tag Rovers but in black and white they have no business being in a European final.

Allan McGregor is 40 and has been a key player on Rangers’ run to the final. Photograph: Kirk O’Rourke / Rangers FC / Shutterstock

Rangers fans should not cry foul at such candid analysis. Instead, they must reveal in the unity – and skill – that has brought them this far. When Celtic reached the Uefa Cup final of 2003 – also in Seville – the availability of the outstanding Henrik Larsson meant they could be accused of rampaging through the competition in cheat mode. What the Glasgow clubs have in common, even 19 years apart, is a stadium backdrop that has continuously unnerved foreign opposition. The dizzying noise of Ibrox seemed to paralyze Leipzig, as it has done Braga, Red Star Belgrade and countless others in recent times.

Rangers have no cause to fear Eintracht Frankfurt. That much feels curious to state, given Scottish Premiership points shipped to Ross County and Motherwell and the League Cup semi-final tousing at the hands of Hibernian. Europe highlights Rangers’ split personality. Some of that may be tactical – Rangers can counterattack in the Europa League to a far greater extent than they generally do at home – but Van Bronckhorst’s men appear to garner an extra level of resilience when the opposition is foreign. Steven Gerrard fostered and developed this during his tenure. This team, in fact, was built by Gerrard. Yet Van Bronckhorst, by becoming the fourth manager to guide Rangers into a European final, has surpassed his predecessor. Eintracht sit 11th in the Bundesliga, nine places behind Dortmund and six adrift of Leipzig. Rangers will relish this battle.

Celtic fans will not like the comparison but it is a valid one; when they enjoyed a vast competitive advantage in Scotland after Rangers ’financial meltdown of 2012, they couldn’t make anything like the European headway their oldest foes have done now. In illustrating the most strange of times, an outcome where Celtic are the Scottish champions and Rangers claim a European trophy would leave both halves of the Old Firm perfectly content. Each would be able to enjoy Champions League group stage football, which has not been the case since the 2007-08 season. Scotland’s coefficient charge is such that two automatic entrants into the top tier of European competition as standard is within view. With the national team in a fine place under Steve Clarke, the broader picture is healthy.

Rangers will probably care little about that as they anticipate 18 May and the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium. Nor should they; there have been such struggles over the past decade that Glasgow’s blue half are entitled to savor their moment and their moment alone. This has been a run worthy of the most lavish praise. It would be folly to deny that its finest moment is yet to come.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.