Imagine telling Leon Balogun, when he played in the 2022 Scottish Cup Final knowing his time at Rangers was ending, that roles would be reversed two years later.

Back then a decision was made against offering the 33-year-old fresh terms. Young defender Leon King had signed a long-term deal and would go on to play significant minutes in the Champions League under Giovanni van Bronckhorst in 2022/23. To open that pathway in terms of minutes Balogun had to depart, joining Michael Beale’s QPR. And yet two seasons on, despite what logic would tell you, King has remained out of the picture at centre-back with a now 35-year-old Balogun signing on again until 2025.

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This isn’t a slight on the Nigerian defender, nor the decision in isolation. Balogun was probably Rangers’ best centre-back last season and in a summer full of change consistency is important. He’s more than capable of providing cover and competing, versatile and a personality successive managers have valued off the pitch. It is a slight on how Rangers got here, however. Years of squad-building mismanagement prolonged rather than fixed last summer, making the 2024 transfer window all the more difficult.

The contrast between 2022 and 2024, despite Balogun and King being two years older at different ends of their football career, is a microcosm of the macro. It’s why Rangers are where they are. Last week, just like last summer, they announced that five players would be leaving for free at the end of their contract. In 2023 it was Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos, Fil Helander, Scott Arfield and Allan Mcgregor. Now, John Lundstram, Ryan Jack, Borna Barisic, Jon McLaughlin and Kemar Roofe. That repetition offers a further example of lessons left unlearned with significant additions, both in terms of quality and number, to be made in the next couple of months and little in the way of a bedding-in period.

"To have five players out of contract, it's a crazy situation because you are throwing away money,” Philippe Clement commented frankly on the contract situation earlier in the year.

"They are no value any more if their contract is ended. There's a lot of work to be done in that way.”

When Dave Vos, Van Bronckhorst’s former assistant manager, spoke exclusively to the Rangers Review last month parallels between that reign and Clement’s were strikingly similar. The style of football changed but not enough work was done in 2022 to reflect that shift in the squad. Meanwhile, Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo were sold without players ready to step up and replace their impact at the start of the season in terms of minutes and quality. Ben Davies had spent two seasons without much football and John Souttar’s injury issues would take a season to resolve. As a result, when Connor Goldson pulled up injured in October against Liverpool, Rangers lacked sufficient cover and ended their Champions League group stage with King and James Sands at centre-back. The contrast in Europe before and after the summer, from the highs of Seville to a record-breaking bad group stage, supports Vos’ view that squad management eventually played catch up. 

This isn’t so much about certain managers getting their players in. When you’ve had four men in the dugout since 2021 how could that possibly resemble cohesion? Rather it’s about long-term vision and smart decisions to achieve consistency in an era of short managerial cycles. 

Two managers on from Van Bronckhorst, Clement ended the season without a winger in sight. Beale’s appointment saw a shift in the profile of players Rangers were recruiting back to width-providing full-backs, narrow attacking players and a lack of wide midfielders. Nils Koppen and Clement have to work on the basis of priorities to rebalance the misbalance this summer, cramming a trio of windows into one.

“It is a massive challenge because there is not much time,” Clement said on the task of rebuilding Rangers’ squad this summer. “That is the reality. You have qualifying games for the Champions League in August, you have five league games also so that is nine games in four weeks. You need to rebuild the squad. We have several players out of contract who will leave the building so you need to replace them without money coming inside. That is also one thing. We need to be really inventive in our transfers and doing the smart things.”

And transfers, don’t forget, are complex. According to Dr Ian Graham, Liverpool’s former head of research from 2012 to 2023 who pioneered their data-led approach across recruitment, only half are successful. Stressing there are seven general reasons why moves fail even if a club is 90 per cent sure across each factor of success.

1. Current player is better than the new player

2. The player is not as good as first thought

3. The player does not fit the style of the team

4. The player is played out of position

5. The manager does not rate the player

6. The player has fitness issues

7. The player has personal issues

“[New signings] will need also their time to adapt,” Clement added after the Scottish Cup Final. “How long? That is always difficult to predict. Some players adapt really fast, some players need more time.”

Winding back the clock to last summer and having watched Beale’s first months in the job you could be forgiven for believing that an extra attacker or ounce of quality here or there would bridge the gap. It’s forgotten that Beale produced good football and good results in his first season. The gap in April Old Firms was narrow. Then came significant change at board level while the departure of Ross Wilson left no real footballing continuity, leading to Beale assuming that mantle. A manager-led summer of recruitment looked a bad choice when Beale was sacked eight games into the season.

Rangers’ squad was rebuilt on the presumption that Beale would succeed. So where does it leave you when he does not? Sure you still have good players. Dujon Sterling is one recruit Beale deserves plenty of credit for, as is the case with Jack Butland or Abdallah Sima. But the specifics don’t fall in your favour with specific system signings like Sam Lammers or Jose Cifuentes. Depth disappeared as Clement shuffled his pack to move from a narrow 4-3-3 to a high and wide 4-2-3-1, as was the case under Van Bronckhorst. And is there any wonder why injury issues have been so dramatic with changes in playing style, training schedule and intensity occurring every 12 months?

In April 2023, after Wilson’s departure to Nottingham Forrest leaving Rangers without a sporting director, Beale gave a revealing press conference that doesn’t reflect well in hindsight.

While insisting summer transfer plans would not change he reiterated it was “myself” who finalised moves.

Beale continued: “[A sporting director] safeguards in terms of the future, replaced the old fashioned manager if you like of years gone past who does it all. It’s what suits each club there is no right or wrong… In the short term, I will oversee what happens here day in and day out.

“With me and my staff, the big thing is our network is very strong. If you add that into the recruitment team here we are searching far and wide but if the window goes how I plan it to go then you’ll be able to trace a lot of the players back to those I’ve worked with or you will be able to see the links, they will be clear.”

This is not to say that each appointment must mirror an exact style of play, but rather that there must be joined-up thinking over several years. If you adopt relatively specific game models, as seen under Beale and Gerrard, before pivoting to totally different ones under Clement and Van Bronckhorst, what will be the likely outcome? The odd players like Ryan Kent or Sima can perhaps do both, but behind them, a lack of depth catches up.

Beale would reflect on making too many changes to the Rangers squad too soon in hindsight. At his Sunderland unveiling, he added: “There were a lot of changes with people leaving (Rangers) and I got pulled in different places… I want to be the coach of the team, not the manager of the whole football club.”

Depending on who you believe about the shift of responsibilities it was clearly a misaligned balance.

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Everyone can agree that allowing 10 players to run down contracts over the space of two seasons is unsustainable, but aren't the other details just small? Well yes, but small decisions have big outcomes and football clubs are the culmination of many minor parts.

The end of the season epitomised that fact for Rangers. As their squad was battered by injuries Celtic’s grew ever stronger to the point that they travelled to the national stadium with a fully fit complement on May 25 for the Scottish Cup Final. Clement brought a half-sharp Sima off the bench, who’d played just 350 minutes since January in a No.9 role the Senegalese forward started no games in all season. It was Scott Wright who lost possession cheaply playing in an unfamiliar No.10 role. In contrast, Brendan Rodgers had a fully-fit Adam Idah to replace Kyogo and Bernardo to refresh the tired legs of Reo Hatate and it was those two who combined to score the winner.

In Rangers’ defence, it appears with the emergence of a football board and appointment of a recruitment specialist in Koppen that lessons have been learned. But the past few years have made his and Clement’s job all the more challenging in the short term.

Only long-term thinking will yield better results three or four years down the line. As Clement suggests, the tension is that such vision can't come at the expense of losses in August.