“We need to win 56 as soon as possible.”
That is the clear message ambitious Michael Beale delivered to his Rangers squad after he was officially unveiled as the club’s new manager last week.
The Englishman, who had only coached at youth level or worked as an assitant before taking the reins at QPR, returned to Ibrox on November 28 as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s successor and immediately set about giving the team a fresh identity, both on and off the pitch.
Beale spoke at his first press conference about driving standards and “getting the energy” and right players back firing on all cylinders. He talked openly about the club’s traditions and is a firm believer that if you dress the part, you’ll feel the part which is why he has decided that the squad will now wear suits on matchdays rather than sporting a tracksuit before games.
Van Bronckhorst was sacked just over a fortnight ago, despite leading the club to the Europa League final and a Scottish Cup triumph last season. However, results so far this term haven’t been good enough and on the back of a disasterous Champions League group stage campaign and falling nine points behind Celtic in the Scottish Premiership title race.
If that doesn’t give Beale an indication of how difficult his job will be, nothing will. He already knows the demands of the club’s fanbase and the expectation to deliver trophies. He has a good understanding of Scottish football as well as the majority of the players. He outlined his tactical acumen during his time on Steven Gerrard’s coaching staff. His lack of experience will be a concern but while many will view the appointment as a gamble from the outside, Beale’s coaching credentials are unquestionable.
Now the former QPR boss must galvanise his new side and implement his own ideas to salvage a bruising season to date. The 42-year-old will know he faces a baptism of fire after inheriting an injury ravished squad lacking in confidence and in need of major surgery in terms of incomings and outgoings.
“It can be turned around,” Beale insisted. “But the most important thing right now is not to talk too big but to win the next game. There was a real fell good factor around the club at different times over the past 18 months and we’re sat here now and everything seems broken, but I don’t think that’s the case.
“That’s why I’m here with so much energy and desire to do well with these players and I’ve told them that - so it starts on the training pitch. When everyone’s fit, it’s a very, very strong Rangers squad. Naturally every single window you try to edge it on and see what bits are needed.
“The goalposts will move. If we keep winning games then obviously something will happen. Last year, not too late after this, I believe there was a seven-point gap in our favour. We need to start moving forward and this Christmas period will have a big part in whether we can do that or not.
“We need to win 56 as soon as possible. We need to improve our cup record, which ovciously we slightly improved last year, and we need to improve our identity on the pitch. That’s how I feel and what the group of players feel as well.”
So what are the most pressing issues for Michael Beale to fix? GlasgowWorld assesses the current picture of the club:
Kent and Morelos futures
Ten first-team players are in the final six months of their current deals, including Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos. Beale has confirmed he would like to retain their services as part of his future plans and is hopeful his relationship with them will help to move negotiations along.
It is now down to both players to decide whether they feel Ibrox is the best place to play their football long-term. Rangers will be hoping history can repeat itself after centre-back Connor Goldson opted to sign a new contract following months of negotiations and transfer interest from potential suitors.
In Kent’s case, he remains the club’s most expensive signing since 2004 at £7.5million after a successful loan spell and the Light Bues will be desperate not to miss out on a fee for the 26-year-old winger. A new contract with a release clause inserted would enable the club to make sure they recoup funds to bring in a replacement further down the line.
Beale will also believe he can get a tune out of talisman Morelos again, but only if he plays the way he is believed to be currently training. Most of his appearances have come from the bench this season amid question marks over his fitness and commitment to the cause.
Regardless of their dismal form this season, it would make little sense to allow both players, who were once two of the club’s most integral components and largest assets, to risk letting them depart at the end of the season on a free transfer. Their value will undoubtedly have dipped and Rangers made an obvious error by deciding not to cash in on the pair in the summer.
Unless Kent and Morelos dramatically decide they want to invest in Beale’s project and commit themselves to new deals, a January exit could be on the cards for both players. It has been well documented the pair were operating well below their capabilities under Giovanni van Bronckhorst and a decision surrounding their futures will be one of Beale’s first priorities to come under the spotlight.
Beale has already admitted that there is cash available to spend on new players in the upcoming January window, if the right ones become available for Rangers. However, any transfer business could depend on how the current squad react to their new boss.
Even if this season’s title has slipped through their grasp, he must ensure the club does NOT repeat the recent high-profile mistakes they’ve made in the transfer market. There’s no time to waste and the club must agree on a budget with just 23 days to go before the latest window opens.
Beale confessed: “There will be money available to recruit in January. I’ll be keen to do it if I don’t get the right vide off one or two players in the squad right now. Without mentioning names, I have to get the right vibe off certain players.
“I have to know they’re still the boy that we recruited to come in, because if they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them, and I don’t think the club does either. Have I got targets already? One or two but it’s more positional.”
Beale also has tough decisions to make regarding whether he views a number of the club’s veteran players such as Allan McGregor, Steven Davis and Scott Arfield as part of his long-term plans. The trio all extended their stay at the club by a further 12 months over the summer, while Filip Helander, Ryan Jack and Kieran Wright are free to talk to other clubs next month.
In addition, loan duo James Sands (New York City) and Malik Tillman (Bayern Munich) will have just six months to prove their worth to Beale and his coaching staff with the Ibrox club retaining an option-to-buy clause for both players. One thing is for certain, the new Gers boss won’t be afraid to overhaul the squad after doing just that without spending much money during his brief six-month stint at QPR - making seven additions, all on free transfers or loans and shipping 14 players out the door.
Addressing identity crisis
Fans grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of product on display during Van Bronckhorst’s reign. The Dutchman was the subject of huge criticism for the way he set up his team and it seemed likely his position was doomed after their Champions League campaign to forget.
A fresh approach was required and Beale is understood to have laid out a three-point plan to his players going forward which includes a desire and hunger to play in a recognisable style that will please both the team and the supporters. From there, performances and results should follow.
During Steven Gerrard’s time as manager, the football on display was slick, modern and engaging to watch. This season, Van Bronckhorst served up a tame and turgid style of play that wasn’t easy on the eye. Several players looked completely lost and unsure which direction they were heading in.
Of course, Beale will want to deliver silverware as quickly and efficiently as possible, but the most important thing at present is to try to re-establish a brand of football that can create momentum post-Christmas. At Queens Park Rangers he adopted an attacking, free-flowing philosophy by ditching a back three and switching to a 4-3-3 formation.
That stems from his time in South America teaching children how to play futsal, which uses a smaller, harder ball and places greater emphasis on control and creativity. He later spent time at Sao Paolo in Brazil and has brought that influence to his work.
It seems he is well positioned then to make a positive impact given his impressive coaching background. Viewed as the mastermind behind Gerrard’s tenure for his role on the training pitch, Beale has decided to step away from life as an assistant to go it alone as his own man.
Is he the right man for Rangers?
According to Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Beale did “all the talking,” he took “all the training session and important meetings” and the players did not view him as the support act.
Gerrard admitted himself on The Robbie Fowler podcast earlier this year: “It would take me 15 to 20 years to become as good as Michael as an on-pitch coach, delivering sessions on a daily basis. A lot of people won’t have a clue what he does on the training pitch, but what he does it really quite special.”
Beale will recognise he has taken a major risk to leave his relatively comfortable role in west London at such an early stage to take over a club the size and stature of Rangers but this is a young manager who won’t rest until he is managing at the highest level of the game. It will be interesting to see how they perform over the coming months.
Saturday’s glamour friendly against Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen will provide Beale with a platform to build from as he prepares to watch his new side in action for the first time at Ibrox. It is imperative he uses t stepping stone for what is to follow.