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Rangers' boss Caixinha's only hope is fast start in league after Euro farce

 

By Julian Taylor

The low of Luxembourg has already spilled into ghastly ramifications for Rangers. Humiliating, avoidable and desperate were just a few of the moderate adjectives fizzing around as the Ibrox club sloped away into the unforgiving heat of the night in the Grand Duchy.

Progres Niederkorn, who finished fourth in the National Division last term, could hardly believe what happened. And neither could Rangers - particularly their increasingly unimpressive manager Pedro Caixinha.

"I cannot believe that we won 2-0 against Rangers. It's not possible. We made history and I can't believe it. It's incredible," said Progres head coach Paolo Amodio.

However, like many with only the sketchiest impressions of contemporary Scottish football - with the exception of Celtic - it can be easy to confuse big club status with a quality team.

The Light Blues, after several years of financial troubles and barrack room chaos, are miles from the latter description.

Tuesday's Stade Josy Barthel ruination is a watershed in terms of Rangers' immediate future. Over the last 25 years, the club has, on occasion, unexpectedly imploded in Europe. Branded "holidaymakers", for instance, by Grasshoppers Zurich, who beat Walter Smith's expensive outfit in 1996/97. The bleakness of Levski Sofia in 1993/94, Viktoria Zizkov in 2002/03 and Kaunas in 2008/09 also spring to mind.

Nevertheless there is something about this latest, exceptional form of degradation. The worst result in Europe for a Scottish side and, arguably, in Rangers' history as well.

While the Glasgow giants assembled for a short spell of pre-season training, their part-time Europa League opponents were despatching mail and fixing leaks. Amodio suggested after the 1-0 defeat at Ibrox in the first leg of the first round qualifier that Rangers might be surprised.

Having granted around £10m for the manager to improve a wretched squad, the Rangers board, once they shake off their collective, disbelieving fog, realise there is little option but to keep faith in under-fire Caixinha.

It may well have been the case that, despite chairman Dave King targeting the Europa League group stages, the Gers would not have progressed beyond the third qualifier, with much stronger opponents lurking. Nevertheless, the idea of a flop in Luxembourg - against an outfit yet to win a single European tie beforehand - was not even remotely under consideration by anyone at Ibrox.

With Mike Ashley's negative influence removed, a fresh retail deal in place at the club, a new Director of Football, Mark Allen, formerly of Manchester City, and a host of new players, Rangers fans eagerly anticipated an upsurge in fortunes. The bulk of hope appears, practically overnight, to have flatlined.

The trouble for Caixinha is not only the fact that Rangers were made a laughing stock but, in just four months since arriving from club football in Qatar, he has also presided over the worst home Old Firm defeat in the Light Blues' history. Any reasonable overview must reckon the Portuguese is setting unwanted records ahead of a campaign where Rangers are expected to somehow orchestrate a challenge to Celtic.

Scottish sides have endured some whopping shame abroad. Celtic under Brendan Rodgers lost to Gibraltar minnows Lincoln Red Imps last summer, but the Hoops did at least finish the job in the second leg. Gordon Strachan's first experience as Parkhead chief was a certain 5-0 defeat at Artmedia Bratislava. He, however, went on to win the title.

Like Smith at Ibrox, both Rodgers and Strachan had already earned respect in the game which offered some leeway to recover from European damage. Smooth-talking Caixinha doesn't come close. In reality, all Rangers had to do was keep defensive discipline against Progres and the tie was won.

If there is any mitigation for Caixinha, he can point out that his desired spine of marquee players, Bruno Alves, Carlos Pena and Graham Dorrans, were not available in Luxembourg. Alfredo Morelos and Eduardo Herrera may, in time, prove to be useful attackers.

This is, of course, too late for Europe. What Caixinha desperately needs is for his men to get off to a Premiership flyer. A couple of tinderbox dates loom; Neil Lennon's Hibernian visit Ibrox on August 12, then there is the first Old Firm clash in September.

Showing steel in these games is essential for the recovery process, and how Rangers fare against Celtic will determine if the big outlay in personnel has been worthy.

The lasting, unedifying image of the farce in Luxembourg City was of Caixinha practically rucking in the bushes with Rangers' travelling supporters in heated, post-match exchanges. Such incidents reflect poorly on him and also of a struggle with deepening Ibrox expectations.

In the meantime, Rangers have no alternative but to trudge on, deflated.

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