The outputs are measured in black and white, in statistics and results. The inputs are technical, physical, tactical and mental. The ambition is collective success, but the process is individual achievement.

One figure was spoken about more than any other over the course of the January transfer window. The craving for what was termed as a ‘No.9’ was almost incessant amongst supporters. For many, it was a case of all or nothing. If Rangers signed a striker, they would win the league and if they didn’t, then Philippe Clement would miss out on the Premiership title. It is, of course, not as straightforward as that.

Clement inherited three natural, recognised strikers when he was appointed as manager in October. Come Christmas, Cyriel Dessers was the only one left standing. Kemar Roofe and Danilo, a £6million acquisition in the summer, had contributed fleetingly and respective injury issues continue to keep them out of action. The arrival of Fabio Silva on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers addressed the issue but the clock ticked beyond the deadline without another centre-forward being signed. For all the consternation amongst the support, Clement was content.

For now, the burden rests on the shoulders of Silva and Dessers. In basic terms, they will be judged on goals scored. Yet Clement asks different things of each whenever they are leading the line. So, what does the ‘No.9’ role at Ibrox entail?

We asked two people who've played that role under the Belgian manager to find out. 

Isaac Kiese Thelin’s first season at Waasland-Beveren was Clement’s debut campaign as a manager in his own right. Stints as assistant and interim at Club Brugge earned the former Belgian internationalist a move that would prove to be brief. Within months, Clement had joined Genk and he delivered the Belgian Pro League title the following season.

Clement’s time in Beveren was short but sweet for Kiese Thelin. The 31-year-old is now back in his homeland with Malmo FF and he speaks warmly about his former mentor. It is telling that many of the themes of Clement’s management that his Rangers players have referenced in recent months come to the fore when Kiese Thelin recalls their time together and the Clement approach – both in terms of setting up the machine and the handling of the components – has clearly been fine-tuned over the course of his managerial career.

“I enjoyed working with him a lot, he is a great coach,” Kiese Thelin tells the Rangers Review. “As a striker, he gave me freedom to move around the pitch and the box and to find my free spaces. He was not so strict about how I needed to run. He always pushed me, always telling me to be ready for a chance whether it was in the first minute or the last minute. He gave me a lot of confidence.

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“We had me up front and then two wingers who were good one against one, who were fast and who were good with their crossing. We also had a number ten. He gave me freedom and confidence to help me to score and he gave me some tips as to where I was dangerous. He talked to the wingers so they knew where to put the ball. It was like a connection between us and that is something we worked on.”

It paid instant dividends for Kiese Thelin and Clement. The Swede scored three goals in as many games at the start of the season, the first of which also saw him provide a hat-trick of assists in a 5-1 victory over KAS Eupen.

One fixture a few weeks later stands out. Kiese Thelin scored four of the five goals that Clement’s side registered in a win at Zulte Waregem. It was an evening where everything fell into place for Kiese Thelin, one which was perhaps the most profound of his time under Clement’s tutelage.

“It was a very good game,” Kiese Thelin says. “I scored a lot of goals in the area that he had been talking about before, where he knew I would be dangerous. The wingers just put the ball there. I had that freedom but he knew where he wanted me to be to score.

“He gave me that freedom and knew what would work for my playing type. I am not a player who drops down into the midfield but if he had a striker who could do that then he would let them do it. Offensive football is about what you feel in the morning. He was not that strict tactically and that was something that I liked. As a person, as a man-manager, he is also great. He is a really good person and he talks to all the players to help them fit.”

That process of making the pieces fit into place is one that Clement has repeatedly addressed during his Ibrox reign. The puzzle, as he calls it, has been difficult to complete at times given the myriad of injury issues he has had to contend with, yet that only makes his achievements thus far even more impressive. Roles have been redefined, standards have been raised and results have followed. Clement’s track record of success was key to him being appointed at Ibrox. The title that was won with Genk was followed by two more on his return to Brugge and he has transformed Rangers from hopeful challengers into potential champions in recent months.

That has not come as a surprise to Dante Vanzeir, a name that may well be familiar to Rangers supporters after his exploits for Union Saint-Gilloise against Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side in the Champions League. Before Vanzeir made the move to Brussels, he came through the ranks at Genk, where Clement was something of a father figure. Two cruciate ligament injuries threatened to derail Vanzeir’s career, but Clement kept him on track and he scored his first professional goal in a victory at KSC Lokeren six years ago last month. The memories are fond ones.

“He likes to be very short in training, very on it,” Vanzeir says speaking to the Rangers Review. “It is practice makes perfect. He analyses how you perform in training, how you train and the results on the pitch. For me, even not playing every game, I learned a lot from working under him and just training with the team. He played a 4-3-3 formation. Later on, I learned that it was not my best formation and that I liked to play with a second striker around me.

“In that time, it helped me understand how to play in those kinds of systems and to be a little bit of a different striker, more playing between the lines, more being involved in the game. My game now is to run a lot of times in behind and being that guy who puts the pressure on the defence in that way. Under him, I learned a lot about being more involved in possession and being more of a link-up striker rather than only a guy who finishes.”

The game has now taken Vanzeir to Major League Soccer. An established Belgian youth internationalist, who made his full debut against Wales two years ago, he leads the line for New York Red Bulls. He still appreciates the formative years he spent with Clement as his mentor.

“I was not very experienced at that point so my task in the game was to enjoy it,” Vanzeir adds. “I didn’t have to care too much about tactics. We had our passing patterns and our attacking patterns and stuff like that. The minutes that I got under him, the best message from him was to enjoy the game. He told me to use my qualities as best as possible. We had a great team at that time and, for me, it was my first steps in professional football. Mentally, I got stronger in that time. He made me learn to have patience, to believe in myself as a young guy. He doesn’t care about age. When you are in form, when you are putting the work in, he will give you a chance. That is the main thing that I remember from him.”

The players who are part of ‘the story’ at Rangers will testify to that. Dessers has spoken of the importance of Clement’s clear messages and a style of play that allowed him to score three goals in as many matches after the winter break, taking significant steps on the journey from zero to potential hero along the way. He is a rejuvenated figure, a player who now has an air of confidence in his own qualities rather than one who looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

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The difference between Clement’s side and the one that Beale assembled are clear on the eye and on paper and Rangers are a more entertaining and more effective team under the Belgian. The shift from the passive, narrow setup preferred by Beale to the ‘dominant’ approach under Clement has been metamorphic individually and collectively. Dessers and Silva have different strengths and weaknesses, but Rangers carry a threat regardless of who leads the line and Clement wants to win with style as well as substance.

“He is a guy who is straight with you, he will tell you if it is bad or good and that is what you need to know as a player on the pitch,” Vanzeir continues. “I don’t have too much contact with the Belgian players at Rangers at the moment, but I have close contact with Lewis Morgan. He follows Rangers as well and knows some players. We speak a lot about the results and the games of Rangers and I try to keep a close eye to my Belgian friends in the team. For now, it is going well and the results are good, I saw that they won a trophy as well. He is a very passionate manager. I think a club like Rangers needed a guy like him. He shows emotions in his coaching and that is important for players to feel emotion and passion in the game and that can put you through to another level, I think. The results speak for themselves at the moment.”

The technical and tactical advancements under Clement have been clear to see in performances and results. Rangers were seven points adrift of Celtic when Clement was appointed but their Premiership form – alongside a League Cup triumph and Europa League qualification – has altered the dynamic at Ibrox as the relationship between those on the pitch and those off it has been enhanced. Clement will never accept full responsibility or fulsome praise for what has been accomplished to date, partly due to an acknowledgement of what has still to come and partly through his wish to keep his players and his staff as involved and as invested as possible.

That bond played a role in Silva opting to move to Ibrox for the second half of the campaign. The Portuguese had lucrative offers from elsewhere but he bought into the project and the possibilities under Clement, who was fully aware of Silva’s attributes and presented a plan of how he would be utilised. In his own words, Silva is not a ‘really really No.9’ and he judges himself on his overall involvement – both offensively and defensively – rather than just the goals he scores.

That description of his game has alarmed some supporters and has been used as a justification for their position that Rangers were a signing short during the January window. Clement – who also added Mohamed Diomande and Oscar Cortes to his squad – has never bought into that theory, though. Kiese Thelin knows that Dessers and Silva will be well aware of what is expected of them as both seek to contribute in their own way.

“He knew what he wanted and you always felt that you could go and talk to him, whatever it was about,” Kiese Thelin says. “He is a good human, a good person. That is really important for a player and it gives you confidence. When you have that relationship, it helps a lot. That is what we had. We had some arguments also but we always worked it out. It was like a relationship that you have with anyone, sometimes it is good, and most of the time it was good, but other times you have your discussions.

"It was good because we continued to talk and we sorted it out. He is not a person who stays angry for a long time. He is very good as a person. I could make my point and he could make his point. He is not stubborn and it was not he was right and I was wrong. We sorted it out like adults. He has been a player himself so he knows how it is, he knows the emotions. He was always good at that.”

That man-management has been integral to the turnaround in the fortunes of Dessers and is already resonating strongly with Silva. Roofe has no fixed timeline to return as yet, while Clement has sought to ease expectations regarding Danilo’s status as he recovers from knee surgery. The requirement for others – such as James Tavernier, Rabbi Matondo and Todd Cantwell – to contribute in terms of goals is clear for Rangers but the spotlight is on the two men through the middle.

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Vanzeir and Dessers passed each other at Genk when the Belgian-born Nigerian internationalist moved from Heracles Almelo in the summer of 2020. Vanzeir still keeps a close eye on his fortunes, though, as well as those of compatriot Nicolas Raskin. It could yet be a season to savour for them both.

“It is good for those guys to have a Belgian manager close to them and it will help them a lot in their career and their time with Rangers,” Vanzeir continues. “I want to wish them the very best and a lot of success in their time together. Raskin is a guy I played against in the youth teams and later on in the Belgian First Division.

"I know Cyriel a bit as well. He is a guy who has a lot of qualities, he is a deadly striker in the box. Of course we don’t speak often but when I see him I will always say hello. I think Cyriel has proved it in the past as well. I know as a striker you need confidence and when you have a coach like Clement, that comes to you easier. It is easy to communicate with him and Cyriel will find that confidence that he needs. It was a rough start for him at the beginning but he is finding his way and scoring goals and it is lovely to see that the Belgians are having success in Scotland at the moment.”

The coming weeks will shape Clement’s aspirations and the next months will determine his achievements. The 49-year-old has enjoyed sustained success as a player and a manager. As he stated before the visit of Aberdeen this week, he knows what it takes to get the job done.

The Ibrox crowd and the Rangers squad have bought into Clement. That has come as no surprise to one of those who was there right at the start of the journey.

“I am so happy for him and the staff that are with him,” Kiese Thelin says. “When he left our club, everybody was sad. Everybody loved him. I think he was mixed himself because he was very close to the players so when he went to win the league, we were all pleased for him. To see what he is doing now, I am not surprised at all. I am very happy for him and I am sure he will continue to win titles and manage good clubs. I saw it early that he was a special coach with the way that he made us play. We were a smaller club but I was sure that the bigger clubs would come and take him.”