If Steven Gerrard’s exit from Rangers was quick and unexpected, the Ibrox club’s response was equally swift.
Six days after one hero departed with his reputation diminished by the manner of his parting, a Rangers favourite of old has returned, with the club’s social media channels serving up instant reminders of his success in Govan as a player.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst is fondly remembered by fans as a classy part of Dick Advocaat’s squad at the turn of the century and arrives with enough on his CV to have supporters confident that the change in the dugout needn’t necessarily mean a spell of upheaval and turmoil.
Part of that confidence comes from the fact that he knows the surroundings, the expectation and the challenges from the outset, but it’s not just his familiarity with the kit and stadium that make him a capable looking match for Gerrard.
The Englishman came in as an established leader and with credentials from his playing career that instantly commanded the respect of those in the dressing room.
In theory, van Bronckhorst should be no different. He may not have the same profile as the former Liverpool captain, but with over 100 international caps, a World Cup final appearance, title wins at Arsenal and Barcelona as well as a Champions League winners’ medal, his experience at the very top level speaks for itself.
His list of managerial accomplishments is not as long but not insignificant.
His first managerial job came at Feyenoord, not the worst level to begin at. The Rotterdam club has a rich history but hadn’t won the league since 1999 when van Bronckhorst stepped up to replace Fred Rutten.
Two cup wins would be achievement in itself but the manager broke the Ajax/PSV stranglehold on the Eredivisie title and showed he can get a team over the line when under pressure. Van Bronckhorst’s side finished just a point ahead of an Ajax team managed by Peter Bosz.
After success in the Netherlands, the next move looks to be a mis-step. An unremarkable first season in China with Ghuangzhou was followed by an early exit to return home with van Bronckhorst admitting that working in the country as Covid-19 disrupted work and everyday life had meant “a very difficult year”.
There are worse reasons for leaving a job than a wish to return to your family during a pandemic but having had a spell out of work since, the Rangers job is a relaunch for the manager.
The aim for van Bronckhorst and Rangers will be a fairly seamless transition. The team hasn’t been without problems this season after a relentless, unbeaten march to the title last season but they remain in a good place.
However, this season has seen the opposition in the Premiership shift up a level. Not just from Celtic, where Ange Postecoglou has rebuilt a side quickly and looks to have them already established as a serious title threat, but across the board with no easy games in the league.
Van Bronckhorst will largely be working with what he’s got. While every new manager gets at least a little backing in the transfer market, Rangers’ recent accounts rule out any endless funds for squad revolution. But there are no key areas in drastic need of immediate strengthening, unless Gerrard comes in January with a war chest for his favourites, in which case there would be an influx of transfer money anyway.
The style of play the team is used to won’t be alien to him, though van Bronckhorst will have his own variation on 4-3-3.
Well-versed in the Dutch school of thought on passing football, he was also a keen disciple of Arsene Wenger when he played under him at Arsenal and he took on plenty of his former manager’s methods at Feyenoord.
If he gets the team playing the way he wants, it’s almost guaranteed to be easy on the eye.
Rangers fans may enjoy his style but his time at Ibrox will have told him he has to deliver substance. Few bosses will walk into a job where the team is top of the league and though he won’t be in the dugout, he’ll see Rangers contest a cup semi-final to start with. Next up: a European night where progress to the knockout round would be guaranteed with a convincing win.
Short-term opportunity is there and an instant impact would galvanise a support that is already willing him to succeed.
Deliver long-term improvement and add more than the title he has been left to defend and van Bronckhorst could enjoy acclaim that would eclipse the applause he received as a player.
The appointment looks the perfect fit for manager and club, but Gerrard will be a tough act to follow and as van Bronckhorst settles back in at Ibrox, he’ll know from experience that expectations are high.