“It was a horrible day obviously, a terrible result.”
Michael Beale left Ibrox on Saturday with boos ringing in his ears after seeing his Rangers side slump to a dismal 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen.
It proved to be his final game as manager, with the Ibrox hierarchy judging that they had seen enough this season to conclude that a change of leadership was needed.
The dramatic day at Ibrox, which had ended with an admission that results had been nowhere near good enough, was a far cry from the match against Aberdeen nearly a year ago that heralded Beale’s appointment as Rangers boss.
On that occasion, the then-QPR manager had travelled north to take in a game, gladhanding fans in the Louden Tavern before taking his seat as a guest of the club to watch under-fire Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side win 4-1 and temporarily alleviate the pressure on the Dutchman.
Formerly a coach in Steven Gerrard’s backroom team at Rangers for three-and-a-half years before leaving for Aston Villa, Beale had already been talked up as a potential successor to Van Bronckhorst if the club made a change. His Ibrox appearance raised questions about his tact but also cemented him as the frontrunner for the job, if it became available.
It did, and Beale got it, starting 307 days in the hot seat where he failed to meet expectations that he himself had helped to build.
During the troubled start to the season that ended with his exit on Sunday, Beale often made reference to it being early for his team, as if his time in charge had just begun and it was too soon to judge.
In reality, the manager’s time in charge could be neatly split into two parts: last season when he looked ahead to his summer rebuild, and the two short months where it proved that his transfer business hadn’t worked.
In a sense, Beale enjoyed one of the longest honeymoon periods anyone in the Ibrox hot seat has been granted. He enjoyed a 14-game unbeaten run at the start of his tenure, including a 2-2 draw against Celtic. The fact that Ange Postecoglou’s relentless side continued their devastating form over the same period made no difference to the growing confidence around Ibrox.
“I inherited the gap. I didn’t create it,” Beale said at the time.
A new manager is always going to be eager to put his stamp on the side and his first two signings, Todd Cantwell and Nicolas Raskin, improved the side and only added to the encouraging talk that came from Beale.
The gap with Celtic was still notable, and defeats to their rivals ended Rangers and Beale’s hopes of a trophy, but the narrative from the Englishman was one of progress and, increasingly, promise.
“When the window opens, there’s going to be change,” he said in March. “We need to recruit three or four who are going to make a massive impact.”
Continual reference was made to incoming players and a turnover in a squad where key figures, including Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent, were set to leave.
In May, Beale pointed towards “the biggest rebuild this club has seen in a number of years”. The message was clear: though he had been in his position for a full six months by the end of the season, he expected to be judged on the side he assembled for the new campaign.
All of this activity was, of course, with one primary aim in mind: displacing Celtic at the top of the pile. Beale’s words last season didn’t just drum up expectation over transfers, but also put his success firmly in focus in relation to city rivals.
An early reference to “the other side” had raised eyebrows before being explained away as careless language but no lesson was learned and when Beale referred to Postecoglou as being “lucky” it didn’t matter what the context was, it was a comment that wasn’t likely to be forgotten.
As Rangers signed off for the season with thoughts on signings and contracts, Postecoglou was making a mocking reference to being “a lucky man” as he won the Premiership en route to a clean sweep of trophies.
There’s nothing wrong with riling up a rival, it’s just best to make sure the barb isn’t being thrown back at you when the opposition manager is celebrating a trophy win before being headhunted for a top job.
The Australian’s exit was probably welcomed by the Rangers boss, and the return of Brendan Rodgers as his replacement just added pressure on everyone at Ibrox to come back stronger after the break.
With sporting director Ross Wilson having exited Ibrox in April, and Beale repeatedly insisting that he sat down face-to-face with every potential signing before committing to any deal, there was no doubt that the Englishman enjoyed full control over who he brought into his squad.
Ten first team players left and nine came in: “They’re good quality players who come from good pedigree and good clubs”.
Jack Butland was the most recognisable name, the former England international looking a solid replacement for Allan McGregor, but the focus was on building a new attack, with Sam Lammers, Cyriel Dessers and Danilo all brought in for significant sums, and Abdallah Sima joining on loan from Brighton.
Beale and Rangers were ready to face the new season with optimism, and designs on reaching the Champions League before breaking Celtic’s stranglehold on domestic competition.
What was meant to be the dawn of a new era turned out to be the beginning of the end for Beale.
The results are there for all to see. Opening day defeat at Kilmarnock, a Champions League drubbing at the hands of PSV, a home derby defeat to a Celtic team that had suffered a defensive injury crisis, and then that final 3-1 loss at Ibrox to an Aberdeen team that’s had teething problems of their own.
Behind each scoreline was a performance that Beale conceded was sub-standard, and within each was an underwhelming contribution from at least some of the summer signings.
Jack Butland has proven to be an able and confident replacement for Allan McGregor in goal but elsewhere the new recruits haven’t enjoyed similar success. Dujon Sterling has hardly had a look in as Beale stuck with the experienced defenders he already had on the books, while 35-year-old Leon Balogun’s return a year after being deemed surplus to requirements was a quick fix to address a lack of depth at the back.
An injury-hit start has restricted Kieran Dowell to just 183 minutes so far and fellow midfielder Jose Cifuentes arrived at the end of the window and will likely settle but in ten games so far has yet to have a stand-out game.
In attack, where Sam Lammers, Cyriel Dessers and Danilo were added at great expense, and Abdallah Sima has joined on loan, the returns disappointed. Even before injury to Danilo, Kemar Roofe and Rabbi Matondo, Beale seemed unsure of his strongest set up front.
There’s only so much that talk of stats can help when the goals aren’t flowing, and Beale pointed to the underlying numbers more than once when defending his newly-assembled side. But claiming the most shots in the league when struggling it just drew attention to the quality of those shots and why his attack wasn’t making more of them.
His frustrations with results were evident but never resulted in a questioning of his own recruitment or approach. The PSV game came “too early”, and the Celtic defeat came after a decision that he felt rattled his side.
Even after his final match he pointed to previous success before addressing the game at hand, saying: “You can’t hide behind the fact that we’ve just won four games because today’s result wasn’t good enough”, and then went on to suggest the fans could have done more to back his players.
Coming in mid-season to challenge a Postecoglou Celtic team that had identity, momentum and belief was always going to be a challenge but Beale bet big on being able to deliver a similar rebuild this summer to the one the Australian masterminded in 2021.
The Englishman backed himself and enjoyed the full support of the board but found himself in a worse position than Van Bronckhorst after almost a year’s work.
This season the gap was created on Beale’s watch and not inherited. It was inevitable that the manager would pay the price.
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