For any manager, away trips don’t come much bigger than a Champions League tie against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. And when it was Philippe Clement’s turn to travel to the Spanish capital with Club Brugge in October 2019, no stone was left unturned.

“I remember Philippe was in his office watching every single Real Madrid game he could find. I said to him at one point, ‘Look, all of their opponents do this, we will still need a little bit of luck to get a result’. But he doesn’t like unknown or unpredictable things. Philippe wants to know everything about every player so his days are very long,” says former assistant Johan van Rumst.

“We scored two goals attacking their defence in the way we’d identified, with passes behind the back of Sergio Ramos and using the speed of our striker (Emmanuel Dennis). Maybe there was a little bit of luck, but that came from Philippe having an idea. Every opponent we played against was analysed in detail, detail, detail.”

Van Rumst worked as Clement’s assistant for six years, from SK Beveren to Genk, Club Brugge and Monaco. Few can offer insight into the new Rangers manager like he can.

“He works more than other coaches. Sometimes you see managers who arrive with the team at nine and leave at two or three - he will never, never in his life do that,” Van Rumst continues.

Over a month into Clement’s spell, the Rangers Review spoke extensively with Van Rumst about his former boss. Discussing Clement’s tactical ideas, unique man-management approach, use of psychologists, why he wants to ‘brainwash’ players, what sets him apart, how he spent his time out of the game this year, why Van Rumst didn't join up at Ibrox and much more… 

Clement’s first managerial job came at SK Beveren in the summer of 2017, a small club that now sits mid-table in the Belgian second division. Beveren, where Van Rumst was already working after his retirement as a player, were well established in the Belgian Pro League top 10 before Genk came calling for Clement’s services only months later.

“We first started working together around six years ago,” Van Rumst says. “Philippe had been Michel Preud’homme’s assistant at Club Brugge when he got the offer to become head coach at SK Beveren, where I was already working.

“We’d known one another as players but this was our first time working together and it clicked. As a former defender, he had more insight regarding the back of the team and as an attacking midfielder, I knew the dynamics of the front. We were ‘yin and yang’ in that sense and it worked.

“We surprised everyone at Beveren, taking the team to sixth or seventh in the league before Genk approached Philippe. I wasn’t able to follow him directly but that summer I joined his staff for an amazing season as we became Belgian Champions. Then after joining Brugge, we won two more titles and played well in the Champions League until the Monaco offer arrived in late 2021. I know how Philippe sees football because I’ve worked so closely with him.”

During his interview process with the Rangers board, Clement was asked which of those three titles in Belgium was the most important to him personally. He explained that the second league trophy at Club Brugge stood out because, crucially, it demonstrated that he could not only win as a manager but win successively.

“Winning three league titles in a row in the Belgian Pro League was massive for him - I don’t think another Belgian coach has done that in our league,” Van Rumst confirms.

READ MORE: Meet Philippe Clement, speaking to ex-teammates, coaches and players

Clement, now 49, has managed across differing leagues, environments and circumstances six years into his career in the dugout, with experience of assuming roles mid-season. Consistent across differing job remits has been an ambition to raise expectation levels, whether at Beveren or Monaco, he wants to play ‘dominant’ football.

“Philippe always wants his teams to be dominant,” Van Rumst continues. “Even when we joined a small team like Beveren, Philippe wanted us to have the ball so that we could decide the tempo of the game - that’s always his main idea. Not having the ball just for the sake of it, but to always create spaces to attack and play offensive football.”

Dominant football is a non-negotiable in Glasgow and increasingly it not only matters if you win, but how you win. Supporters must see evidence that the approach utilised on the pitch will bring success long-term. With six wins from seven since arriving in October and a persona that’s earning buy-in, Clement’s prior experience of joining clubs during a crisis is reviving a Rangers campaign that appeared dead and buried weeks ago. Despite limited time on the training pitch, an upturn in performance has been achieved alongside results.

“Philippe wants to know everything about opponents down to the smallest of details, in order to identify where they are weak. However, each game plan comes from his main idea - having the ball and seeking to hurt the opposition.

“In Monaco, one thing Philippe added to his philosophy was the level of intensity his teams play at because that was a change from the Belgian league to the French league. That was definitely a time when his philosophy developed."

That focus on intensity is fundamental because of the Scottish Premiership’s unique nature. Giovanni van Bronckhorst performed tactical miracles in Europe but the lack of translation to domestic football, a seemingly easier task, was perplexing. It felt as though similar attention to detail and studying of each opponent led to an over-compromising style when a more inward approach was required.

Clement may want to know everything about his opponents but just as he learned quickly in France that a higher intensity was key, his early experiences in Scotland will confirm suspicions that to be successful requires a greater level of proactivity than reactivity. The intensity his team has shown so far would suggest so.

“Every coach has his football ideas, the difference with Philippe is the man-management for sure,” explains Van Rumst.

Most managers can tell you exactly what players should be doing, but translating that onto the pitch is a different task entirely. Making players believe in what they’re being asked to do is arguably the most difficult component of a manager's job.

When you speak to former players and staff members who have worked for and alongside Clement, it’s man-management that comes up time and again. His attention to detail extends to interactions off the pitch, not just tactical details on it. An obsessive eye for detail, video sessions and people skills are tools used to focus and develop individuals.

Van Rumst only half-jokingly suggests his former boss wants to ‘brainwash’ players into the overall 'story' he seeks to create. Clement has repeatedly referenced a ‘story’ together and that speaks to the holistic picture he intends to create at Ibrox. Every detail, down to the role physios might play in conversation with a player on the treatment table, is geared towards that vision says Van Rumst.

“As a people manager Philippe is amazing,” Van Rumst continues. “Every coach has their way of playing football but crucially, Philippe can project that onto his players, brainwash them if you like!

“Philippe wants to be a father figure to his players. In the locker room he can be tough but outside of that, he always stands up for his players externally to protect them. He also relies on a captain's group (or leadership group) to help explain ideas and manage the dressing room.

“On a man-to-man basis, Philippe has a lot of energy to just talk with players in a normal way. He doesn’t care if it’s 11 o’clock in the evening! I remember when one player was having problems and Philippe invited him over for a beer and a chat, that’s the kind of man he is. Very patient with his players. It would kill him if he felt a player was not coming to work with a smile on their face.

“His approach is to know each player personally and find out things like who their favourite player is. And then, for example, if an attacker loves Didier Drogba, Philippe will use that player's match clips as a reference point for the individual during their individual development. 

“At Brugge and Monaco, we also worked with psychologists to understand each player on a deeper level. What is the best way to help players and how should we coach them individually? Do they need a more direct approach? Will they react well to being called out directly in the dressing room or is it better to be a one-on-one conversation? That allowed Philippe and his staff to tailor their approach to each individual."

Clement suggested just before the international break that the current Rangers squad have taken on his ideas better than any previous cohort. While Van Rumst offers slight caveats that the odd player might try to take advantage of this approach, he’s seen just how effective it can look close up.

Indeed, speaking yesterday at a press conference Leon Balogun commented on Clement: "He's very straightforward. He has this manner about him where you know he's just very clear. I think [the upturn in mood] it's mainly down to the way he works which is really focused on details. He's really into the details and that helps. His door is always open but he's very clear and demanding."

“He is maybe a little bit atypical as a coach because he hasn't got a big ego and is very humble," adds Van Rumst. "Philippe’s door is always open to players, on matters not relating to football too. He learned that's how he wants to act on his way to becoming a coach.

READ MORE: Inside Philippe Clement's Rangers appointment and why Rangers turned to Belgian

“He works crazy hard and sometimes football even comes before family for him."

A self-diagnosed ‘football addict’, Clement fits his public profile behind the scenes of a methodical worker. “He really is a football addict, but you have to be like that in this industry,” Van Rumst laughs in confirmation.

“Philippe has so much energy. He’d always start his work day at 7.30 until seven in the evening and even after that, if a player needs him he’ll be available. He’s a humble guy, very open and hard-working, trying to learn every day.

“Even in the evening when we were tired at 7.30pm after a long day, he’d say ‘I’m just going on a run for an hour’. I always said that the energy he has is massive! Things like talking with players which normally take energy out of you energise him. We played paddle board sometimes as staff but he was always busy with football.

“As coaches, we always had to be in the office before eight and the fine for being late was bringing in biscuits. Philippe loved to eat but now, he has lost 8 or 9 kilos so that might have changed!”

So, to the obvious question - having followed Clement across Belgium and then to France, why did Van Rumst not join the backroom staff at Ibrox?

The coach confirms that timing and family circumstances limited the prospect of a move to Rangers last month as part of Clement’s backroom staff. Even if the plan after leaving Monaco this summer was to work together in the future.

“We wanted to keep working together, of course. During the period when we didn't have a job, we were always looking at other teams so that we would know the league after arriving at a new club," he adds. "We were watching everything from English games to the German league. Every three days we’d have meetings as a group of staff to discuss what we saw and debate our ideas. It was just not a suitable time on this occasion but we’re still in contact.”

Having followed Clement to a new club at later dates before, it doesn’t seem as though this working relationship has written its final chapter. Van Rumst has watched from afar and as described throughout, sees the impact of his former boss’ ideas and ideals on this current squad.

“Everything links back to the same story and although in the beginning it can take players time to get on board, this is one of Philippe’s biggest skills.”

This past month Rangers have felt the benefit of Clement’s football vision complimented by his stand-out quality, the management of a group. According to those who know him, it seems as though what you see is what you get with Clement - a football fanatic whose latest fix has led him to Scotland.