Giovanni van Bronckhorst: Why Rangers new manager is the right man at the right time
Only four times previously in their 149-year history have Rangers turned to one of their former players as the permanent manager of the club.
If Giovanni van Bronckhorst is to become a success in his new role which was confirmed on Thursday afternoon, then he will have to emulate what just one of those four other men managed to achieve.
Scot Symon holds that currently unique distinction of being a league champion with Rangers during his playing career and then returning to also take charge of a top flight title-winning squad at Ibrox.
It was something which eluded the three other legendary ex-players who went on to also serve Rangers as managers - Willie Waddell, John Greig and Ally McCoist.
Van Bronckhorst returns to Glasgow with his eyes wide open to the reality that replicating the success he enjoyed on the pitch during his three years at Rangers more than 20 years ago is a non-negotiable requirement of his managerial tenure.
There certainly won’t be any honeymoon period for the 46-year-old as he succeeds Steven Gerrard in the midst of perhaps as crucial a title race as any Rangers have been engaged in.
Inheriting a four-point lead over Celtic at the top of the Premiership table, the onus is firmly on van Bronckhorst to retain the crown in a campaign which should see the winners earn an automatic place in the group stage of next season’s Champions League.
Given the impact that would have on Rangers’ ongoing loss-making financial model, this is a managerial appointment they simply couldn’t afford to get wrong.
In opting for van Bronckhorst, they appear to have made a smart choice. It’s one which has prompted widespread approval among the Rangers support and not just because the Dutchman was so popular with them when he patrolled the midfield with purpose and panache following his £5 million move from Feyenoord in the summer of 1998.
Van Bronckhorst also has a pedigree and philosophy as a coach which suggests he should be equipped to pick up the baton from Gerrard as seamlessly as anyone could.
The style of play he favours is similar to the possession-based one impressively developed by Gerrard over his three full seasons at the helm.
During his four-year stint as Feyenoord head coach from 2015 to 2019, which delivered the Rotterdam club their first Eredivisie title in 18 years and two domestic cup triumphs, van Bronckhorst employed either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system which was regarded as both highly effective and pleasing on the eye.
Cultured and versatile as a player, just as accomplished at full-back later in a career which saw him operate at the very highest level with Arsenal and Barcelona, his natural intelligence allowed him to absorb everything he learned under a Who’s Who of managerial icons.
Speaking after stepping down as Feyenoord coach in the summer of 2019, he reflected on the value of those lessons in helping him shape his own approach to the job.
“I have been very fortunate to have played under wonderful coaches and leaders,” said van Bronckhorst.
“There’s been Dick Advocaat, Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Arsene Wenger.
“They all had their own ways and different styles, and I’ve tried hard to form my own identity and philosophies as a coach, while never forgetting the positives I took from all of them.
“Being a player is wonderful, but being a manager is totally different. You have different kinds of pressures. It never leaves you and it’s almost impossible to switch off.
“But the rewards are great, and helping to bring success to Feyenoord was an incredible feeling. I want more in the future.”
After spending last year in charge of Guangzhou City in the Chinese Super League, an experience soured by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the distance it placed between him and his family, van Bronckhorst is back in an environment which offers him that opportunity he craves to flourish as a trophy-winning manager.
Even though it is two decades since he first operated in the white-hot intensity of the Old Firm rivalry, the mentality he had to develop after arriving at Rangers as a 23-year-old player should serve him well in the transition to now being the man held accountable for keeping the balance of power in the Ibrox club’s hands.
Van Bronckhorst will have to hit the ground running as Rangers embark upon a pivotal series of fixtures, both domestically and in the Europa League, over the first months of his tenure.
While he will fully appreciate the instant need to win football matches on a regular basis, van Bronckhorst will also hope to showcase his growth as a progressive coach which he honed during a sabbatical following his departure from Feyenoord.
It saw him spend several months with the City Football Group, much of it observing at first hand the methods of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
“Those months with him in Manchester, I could see a lot of things I didn't see before, and it helped to develop me as a coach,” he said.
Initially, van Bronckhorst is likely to operate largely on the basis of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ as he takes charge of a Rangers first team squad left in a relatively healthy position by Gerrard, albeit not yet performing as slickly or consistently as they did last season.
But there is the enticing prospect for Rangers supporters that they may now have a man at the helm capable of injecting fresh ideas and vitality to their team just when they need it.