The Herald - Herald Sport
Gerrard blueprint provides Beale With summer plan
Liverpool great wasted no time in wielding the axe and former assistant must follow suit by recruiting quickly
IT was the summer when the foundations were laid for an era rather than just a season. Five years on, Michael Beale has the same opportunity. The Englishman was just weeks into life at Ibrox when Steven Gerrard took Rangers to Spain for his first pre-season campaign as a manager.
Those 10 days in the sunshine saw new faces arrive and fresh ideas implemented. It was a time of change, of excitement, and regardless of what trials, tribulations and trophies would follow - one that was defining for Rangers.
Gerrard had been unveiled as boss in early May and wasted little time in making his mark on a squad that had unperformed and underachieved for too long. Gerrard had to start strongly and the picturesque La Cala resort was the base that was chosen for the beginning of the revolution.
Rangers jetted out from Glasgow with a handful of deals already signed, sealed and delivered. Moves for Scott Arfield and Allan McGregor had been all-but completed by Mark Allen, the director of football, and just had to be rubber-stamped by Gerrard upon his appointment.
The same was true for the deal involving Jamie Murphy as his loan from Brighton and Hove Albion was made permanent.
In the days before Gerrard got down to business on the training pitch, three more pieces of the jigsaw were put into place as Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic were signed and Ovie Ejaria arrived from Liverpool. Jon Flanagan joined up with the squad while they were still in Spain, and while the Press corps were moved to a quieter corner of the resort that offered stunning views over the golf courses and Andalusian countryside.
It was a signal of intent from Gerrard. Those weeks saw a changing of the guard at Ibrox as the likes of Kenny Miller, David Bates, Jason Holt and Michael O’Halloran were moved on and Gerrard assembled a squad in his name and his image.
The Anfield icon was content to share it with the wider world.
Members of the written and broadcast media were given access to the new arrivals and were invited to cast their eye over the sessions that Beale, alongside Gary McAllister, Tom Culshaw and Colin Stewart, had prepared for a period that was the starting point for the Gerrard reign.
The steep, winding path from the luxurious hotel to the grass pitches was the Murder Hill of the day. Unlike for those that Jock Wallace put through their paces on the Gullane dunes, the walk was optional and golf buggies were on hand if required.
Beale will take a different approach to pre-season but the stakes are just as high. A week-long stint at a remote training base in eastern Germany will provide Beale with the time required to mould his squad and his side into a team that simply must win the Premiership title next term.
Outside eyes will be kept to a minimum as the focus is fixed on the physical, technical and tactical work that must be undertaken. Beale only gets one shot to make the most of pre-season and he is enthused by the challenge as well as the opportunity.
Business has been done promptly thus far and the benefit of having signings in the door as early as possible cannot be underestimated as players settle into a new dressing room and start to take on board the Beale blueprint while learning about the club.
The finishing touches will naturally come later, but Beale is putting in the hours and the miles to ensure he has as many t’s crossed and i’s dotted as possible before Rangers step up their preparations for the new campaign.
Friendly fixtures at home to Newcastle United – in a match that will be a testimonial for Ibrox legend Allan McGregor – and Hamburger SV have already been confirmed. Another is likely to follow and a European away day is also on the cards and those outings will show in public what Beale has achieved behind closed doors.
Beale labelled his work in the coming weeks as the ‘biggest rebuild in years’ in the aftermath of the Old Firm defeat at Hampden last month. The reference was surely a nod back to that summer of 2018 when Gerrard made such an impression and the seeds that would lead to domestic glory and European success were sown.
That window also heralded the arrivals of Borna Barisic and Ryan
Kent. In January, Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe were added and the core of the squad that would go on to lift title 55 was in place for Gerrard.
With every deal that was done, it became clearer what Gerrard was trying to achieve. He raised the bar in terms of standards on and off the park and there was an identity to the players that he and Allen recruited as Rangers planned for the future as well as the present.
That is the art that Beale must now master himself. The acquisitions of Todd Cantwell and Nicolas Raskin were the first signs of the direction that Rangers will move in and deals for Kieran Dowell and Dujon Sterling also fit the mould.
Beale has spoken about going on a ‘journey’ with players over successive seasons. The average age of the squad will be reduced, as will the number of players that make up a group that became bloated and unfit for purpose.
By the time Beale and his players reconvene at Auchenhowie come the end of the month, another handful of moves will have been completed. Rangers will move at pace but with precision and additions at the top end of the park will become a priority sooner rather than later.
Beale has waited patiently for this moment to arrive. He couldn’t write off the second half of the season, and should have fared better during it, but he was operating with his time and energy divided between games that had to be won and the deals that had to be done.
Like in the days, weeks and months after Gerrard walked into Ibrox, there is a fresh feel around Rangers at present.
The widespread changes at boardroom and executive levels have added a dynamism and drive and Beale will reinvigorate the playing squad with younger, hungrier talents that must meet the demands of an
expectant support. The departures of four stalwarts of the side – McGregor, Arfield, Kent and Alfredo Morelos – and 55 winner Filip Helander will not be the last ones from Ibrox. Beale’s work in that regard is not finished but he is only getting started when it comes to recruiting those who will be the mainstays of his squad in the coming
years. Not every signing will be a guaranteed triumph, it should go without saying.
It took Gerrard until his third campaign to fine tune and assemble a title-winning squad, after all.
Beale doesn’t have that luxury. He has had his time to get his feet back under the desk and will be given the backing of chairman John Bennett and James Bisgrove, the new chief executive officer, to help make his dreams a reality.
It is 56 that is now the obsession at Ibrox. Five years on, Beale has another team to build and another goal to work towards.
Beale labelled his work in the coming weeks as the ‘biggest rebuild in years’ – surely a nod back to that summer of 2018 when Gerrard made such an impression