Rangers have confirmed the SPFL have given them permission to withdraw from the Development League for 2017/`18 in order for the club to compete with some of the biggest names in European football as they look for ways to improve the player pathway and development programme at Auchenhowie.
With games against elite English clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton as well as continental sides such as Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Leipzig and Bayern Munich the new programme is intended to test the club’s youngsters against the best Europe has to offer as they make their first steps as professional footballers.
Speaking to Rangers’ official website. Head of Academy Craig Mulholland said: “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”