Can Rangers Learn From the Swansea Philosophy?

It is hard to believe that it is just five years since Rangers embarked on a remarkable run to the UEFA Cup Final before losing to Zenit St Petersburg. Now the club find themselves in the bottom tier of Scottish football after suffering administration then liquidation of the holding company in 2012.

The moment Rangers were confirmed to be playing in the lower echelons of Scottish football for the foreseeable future should have been a watershed moment for the club. It should have served as an opportunity to create a lasting football and business legacy at the club. Whilst chief executive Charles Green has recently secured impressive sponsorship deals with Puma and Blackthorn, there is still a lot of work to be done on returning the club onto safe financial ground.

However, after the humiliating home defeat to Annan Athletic, a team that coincidentally only entered the Scottish league five years ago, serious questions have been raised about what style of football Rangers want to play as they make their journey back up the leagues and what the long-term strategy is amongst the management, if indeed there is a strategy at all.

A team that was in a similar position to Rangers back in 2002 were Swansea City. They were teetering on the brink of financial and footballing oblivion and only a hat-trick from James Thomas on the final day of the season stopped the club from entering the Conference. Soon after this, they were bought by a consortium of local businessman and the takeover bid also included contributions from the Swansea Supporters Trust, who now own a 20% stake in the club.

The following decade has seen a remarkable transformation for Swansea, who made their way up through the divisions and recently won the Capital One Cup. On becoming chairman in 2002, Huw Jenkins realised the club needed stability whilst looking to create a philosophy. Charles Green has mentioned that he wants to implement a wage to turnover ratio of one-third at Rangers, which sounds great on paper but surely can only be taken forward when the club stops playing players such as Ian Black £7,000 in the lower divisions.

Jenkins’ model of finance is extremely simple, but profitable for his club. He said on the eve of the League Cup final last month: ‘If you bring in £80, then don’t spend £100; that’s not hard is it?’ To many it will sound old-fashioned but, when you consider that Swansea made a profit of £14.6m in October 2012 after their first season back in the top-flight, then you have to sit up and admire the work Jenkins is carrying out. There is of course a disparity with the fact that Swansea are in the Premier League and Rangers are in Division Three in Scotland. Swansea’s turnover over from that profit was £65m, a figure higher than Rangers have ever achieved.

However, that doesn’t mean Rangers cannot be ambitious, as shown by finance director Brian Stockbridge’s recent soundbite that the club could produce a turnover of £100m. To the untrained eye, these figures seem fanciful even when the club end up back in the Champions League, where the most Rangers ever made was £64m. Perhaps Stockbridge, and Green for that matter, should focus less on soundbites and quietly go about their plans like Jenkins has done at Swansea.

Since consolidating themselves as a top-flight club, Jenkins has been in discussions with the council about plans to upgrade the club’s Liberty Stadium (he also oversaw the move to this modern ground in 2005) from its current capacity of 20,500 to 32,000 after two seasons worth of sell-outs. The fans have been the one constant at Rangers Football Club and have backed the club throughout this journey in Division Three, home and away, as well as raising £5m in the IPO Share Scheme. The business strategy should look to be creative and look at ways of boosting the Rangers brand and improving the matchday experience at Ibrox.

However, it is of course the footballing side where Swansea’s strategy can be seen to be working most clearly. Embarrassing defeats to the likes of Annan and Stirling, as well as being torn to shreds by SPL opposition in the cups, have left fans questioning what sort of training is being done at Murray Park. Some talented youngsters such as Lewis MacLeod, Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird have broken through this season and have shown varying degrees of ability. But with Ally McCoist and other coaching staff seemingly happy to continue with a ‘Do enough to win the game’ mantra, it can be argued that they are stifling the players development.

Swansea are now known the world over as a football club who play football the ‘right way’. Indeed many of their fans even joke that Barcelona sing ‘It’s just like watching Swansea’. Watching Rangers struggle to string two passes together at the moment before thumping it long hardly gets the blood pumping cheering the team on every Saturday. On one occasion this season against Motherwell, the players showed that they could be aggressive from the first whistle and pressed the SPL’s second placed team for 90 minutes, ensuring a 2-0 win. The Welsh side are doing this most weeks though, because it is the way everyone that comes to the club is taught to play. Their main objective every week is to play the ‘Swansea way’ no matter what the situation is in the game. And they’ve put a big two fingers up to those who thought they might go down this season. The club have already secured 40 points and have only lost twice at home all campaign.

In terms of the way the club was run off the pitch, Rangers have been going through turmoil for around five years now. But in terms of management, they have had stability through two legends in the form of Walter Smith and Ally McCoist. However, the philosophy has always been one of success which is fantastic but only up to a point. Swansea have had four managers in the past six years which may have caused instability at the club but Jenkins didn’t allow this to happen through careful planning of the mangers he appointed. After Roberto Martinez laid the foundations along with Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup have taken the reins for Swansea’s next steps on their journey. And the key is that they are all footballing managers with the philosophy of wanting to play football the right way. Indeed, Jenkins openly says if you aren’t going to play that way, don’t bother applying to manage Swansea.

The structure is also excellent at Swansea, with Jenkins implementing a decade ago a system which sees the first-team coach act independently of the youth team and scouting departments. This has allowed Swansea to scout fantastically whilst at the same time continue to develop the players already at the club. Laudrup has utilised his contacts in Spain brilliantly with £2m man Michu proving to be the bargain of the season, whilst Jonathan De Guzman and Chico Flores have also proved excellent acquisitions. Right now Rangers scouting seems limited to Scotland with Kilmarnock’s Cammy Bell and Dundee United’s Jon Daly top of Ally McCoist’s transfer wish list. The resources should be put in place now to ensure that young players around the ages of 18-21 are scouted from around the world and sold on at a handsome profit.

And I have serious doubts over whether anyone on the coaching staff has the tactical nous to want to play a quick passing game, but if Rangers aren’t going to do it against low-level opponents when can they do it? It might never happen, but someone like Lewis MacLeod could attract a massive transfer fee, much in the same way Joe Allen did for Swansea after being brought through the youth system.

And why the continuation of the ‘old boys act’? Many fans now ask what exactly does Ian Durrant do at the club? Surely the players could benefit from a fresh face in the coaching department who will bring new technical ideas to Murray Park.

In watching Rangers over the past 17 seasons, they have always been at one extreme or another. However, in 2013 they seem very much at a crossroads and lacking direction in terms of how they want to go forward as a football club. It’s never easy being accused of copying, but it would do Rangers no harm if they looked at Swansea’s rise through the leagues across the border.

Ewan is a Rangers season ticket holder and has followed the club since he was a youngster. He regularly writes about the club for various sites. Currently studying journalism, you can catch him on Twitter @ewanfootball

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