Giovanni van Bronckhorst took charge at Rangers exactly a year ago in what has been a rollercoaster 12 months.
In his first season the Dutchman led the side to the Europa League final and Scottish Cup glory, but failed to retain the Scottish Premiership title.
He then took Rangers to the Champions League this season where they went on to record the worst group-stage campaign in history, while Celtic moved nine points clear in the 2022-23 title race after just 15 matches.
Before the World Cup break, Van Bronckhorst spoke exclusively to Sky Sports News to reflect on his first 12 months in charge at Ibrox…
What are your memories of the first day, walking through the door at Ibrox as manager?
It is a proud memory for me. It had been quite a hectic week because the week before you didn’t have any idea what your future would be. Five days later you’re on a plane towards Glasgow to sign the contract. I really, really enjoyed the first steps I took at Ibrox because on the training ground to start working with the team was a very nice moment for me because of the history I have with this beautiful club.
What did you focus on in those first few weeks to make sure you got up and running?
I saw from the semi-final against Hibs where we lost the team was really down with the result, but I could see the quality that we had back then and still have. We made sure we kept pushing the players. Technically we changed small stuff, we couldn’t change the whole set-up. I think the players were open to change and, of course, it helps when you win.
The first slip was against Aberdeen – what were your thoughts at that point?
We were due to play Aberdeen and Celtic in the last games before the winter break, then they rescheduled the break and we had to play later. At that moment we were playing our best football and we wanted to play on.
There were only one or two clubs who wanted to continue because of the way Covid was at the time we couldn’t have the stadiums full. That wasn’t our decision but, still, we returned with a draw at Aberdeen and a bad result against Celtic.
How difficult was that defeat at Celtic Park?
It was very difficult because it was a big loss for us. Also, the way we lost. It was a game that we didn’t play well at all, we started really nervous and it cost us early goals and it will always be difficult to recover from that.
What’s been the most difficult day so far?
My most difficult day was two days before Leipzig at home when we got the call at 6am to say Jimmy (Bell) had died. We had to come here and start preparing the team for one of the biggest games in the club’s history, we had a day when we were in mourning and everyone was so devastated at the news.
You could see everyone coming in with positive energy and vibrant because of the game and what was going to happen then you could see in a split second, boom, everything changed. Everyone felt the same. That’s by far the most difficult moment I’ve had as a coach and as the manager here.
How did you handle the end of the season?
Disappointment in the league then you have to juggle the Europa League final and Scottish Cup final.
In the league, the distance was there but we still had to win our games. Of course, I rotated some players because they had to be fresh for the final and of course the cup because they were two important moments for us.
To play the Europa League final and have the disappointment of not winning the final then be ready at Hampden two days later to play against Hearts was tough. We finished the season with a positive moment to win the Scottish Cup.
You’ve had some difficult days this season, particularly in Europe, have they been damaging in the bigger picture?
It’s not what we wanted to see. Physically we had to play on a much higher level than we are used to and, of course, when you play against Napoli, Liverpool and Ajax and you lose games your mental energy is also affected. It is normal because we are all human beings and when you have a setback or disappointing moment it will affect your well-being. Those are things that were hard for us and we also had to play the games in a shorter period because of the World Cup. It was very demanding.
Looking back do you think enough was done in the summer to get you going?
We lost some players who were out of contract or on loan and some players made moves. Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey both took really good next steps in their career and then we had to add new players. We did our homework, we had a list of potential new players and then that’s when it begins. Is this player available? Can we have them? Is it financially possible to get players? Every window that’s the dynamic you have, you do everything to get players in. We had seven new players in and some started really well, some need more time.
I think every time that’s the same with new players because they come from different backgrounds and different countries. In the end what we wanted was to reach the Champions League, which we did. Of course, we didn’t foresee the many problems we would have with injuries.
Does this feel like your team now?
When you look at the teamsheet there aren’t many who have come since you arrived.
Every player in the squad is my player. It doesn’t mean I have to get new players then it’s my team. That’s not my job. From the moment I stepped in that door, these are my players and I work with the players. Sometimes you go and you change things because players are out of contract or we sell them and we have to refresh the squad, but every player is my player. I don’t like new managers saying ‘this is not my squad’, this is my squad.
A number of players are out of contract in the summer. Will the changes start in January or will the rebuild begin in the summer?
I speak almost every day with Ross (Wilson) and we need to see how my squad is when the window comes closer. In every window you have to make sure you end the window stronger than you started. You can see what is possible and what we can do. We always want a better squad.
Have you enjoyed year one?
Of course I have enjoyed year one. Overall I have enjoyed every minute of the year. Just like in life you have bad moments and good moments, difficult moments and high moments. It’s been a whole year like this and I’m very blessed and grateful to be the manager of this football club.
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