After brave battle, Rangers’ top-flight return can help Scotland prosper

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After four years in exile, Rangers returned to the top-flight of Scottish soccer on Tuesday with a win over Dumbarton in front of nearly 50,000 fans at their famous Ibrox Stadium.

Now, a new journey begins.

[ MORE: Rangers finish long trip back to the top ]

After being demoted to the fourth and lowest tier of Scottish soccer in 2012 after going into administration and then liquidation, the great Scottish club was reduced to ruins amid severe mismanagement from Craig Whyte and Charles Green who are both currently embroiled in a criminal investigation with regards to alleged fraudulent acquisition of the club in 2012.

The Rangers Football Club PLC were liquidated and a new club rose from the ashes: The Rangers Football Club Ltd.

After three promotions in the last four years, they are now back where they belong after overcoming severe financial restrictions and battling their way through the lower leagues of the Scottish pyramid. There have been plenty of mistakes made along the way and tough times off the pitch still lie ahead when it comes to finances, but this is a fresh start for Rangers. 

We are talking about a team who has more league titles (54) than any team in Scottish history and were perennially in the UEFA Champions League alongside bitter rivals Glasgow Celtic. It’s like demoting Real Madrid or Barcelona to the fourth tier of Spanish soccer, then tying one arm behind their back.

[ MORE: Van Gaal staying at United? ]

The fact that the Old Firm rivalry will return to Scottish Premiership next season is another reason for celebration, but Rangers’ return to the big time will also help the whole of Scotland.

Celtic have won the Premiership title in each of the four seasons Rangers were out of the top-flight but now they’ll have a real rival again as Aberdeen, Motherwell and Hearts have failed to provide sustained resistance. Under Mark Warburton, Rangers will be very competitive in their first season back in the top-flight and already their players are focusing on challenging for the title next season.

Anyone who has ever visited Ibrox will tell you how passionate their fanbase is and their fans will expect instant success back in the top tier of Scottish soccer.

But a word on the fans: they’ve been alongside their team all along.

PETERHEAD, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 11: A view into the stadium during the IRN-BRU Scottish Third Division match between Peterhead and Glasgow Rangers at Balmoor Stadium on August 11, 2012 in Peterhead, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Since Peterhead away in the fourth tier in 2012 in their first league game after the humiliating demotion, to last night at Ibrox against Dumbarton, Rangers’ fans have traveled the length and breadth of Scotland supporting their team. They’ve rolled into tiny coastal towns in their thousands and must be commended for the way most of them have shrugged their shoulders and got on with the punishment handed out to them by the Scottish Football Association.

[ MORE: City of Leicester to rename streets after players?

You’d rarely hear Rangers fans, players or management complain about the situation they found themselves in. Many times they’ve had financial hiccups along the way with Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley investing in the parent company who owns Rangers and plenty of other financial travails, but the fans stuck by the team and rather enjoyed traveling to Montrose, Stenhousemuir and Alloa Athletic. Their loyalty should be rewarded in the coming years.

Rangers’ return to the top-flight restores order in Scotland. With Gordon Strachan leading the Scottish national team in the right direction and Rangers back in the Premiership, a brighter future awaits.

Assuming Rangers challenge Celtic for the title next season, potentially having two teams challenging in Europe will be a great thing for Scotland. Celtic didn’t even make the UCL last season and crashed out of the Europa League at the group stage. The lack of proper competition in Scotland’s top-flight has hurt them. After losing their two UEFA Champions League spots due to poor performances in European club competitions, with a strong Celtic and Rangers — that will happen now as Celtic can’t take things for granted and Rangers will be desperate to usurp their crosstown rivals immediately — there’s a chance Scotland’s coefficient will climb and they’ll at least grab two UCL qualification spots back.

Right now they only have three Europa League spots and one UCL spot for the champions as they sit 25th in UEFA’s coefficient rankings and need to get into the top 15 to gain a second UCL spot.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - APRIL 5 : Rangers players celebrate on the pitch as Rangers beat Dumbarton 1-0 to clinch the Scottish Championship title during the match between Glasgow Rangers FC and Dumbarton FC at Ibrox Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

It will take time for Scotland to get anywhere close to replicating the heady days of Celtic and Rangers being in the Champions League together plus managers — Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Kenny Dalglish to name a few — and players starring in the Premier League and elsewhere in Europe, but Rangers’ arrival back in the top-flight should open up a new chapter for the passionate soccer nation of just over five million people.

Next season Rangers will be hoping they can continue their climb back to the summit of Scottish soccer by winning the Premiership title.

For now, they should revel in the tough climb they had up through the league’s in the last four years. After consecutive promotions from the fourth and third tiers, they’ve taken two years to get out of the second tier so maybe we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and presume they’ll be challenging for the title next season. That said, it’s Rangers. It is what we expect.

Speaking as someone who has spent time in Scotland slugging away in the lower leagues, what they’ve achieved is no mean feat. They’ve gone through three management teams, countless players and had many ups and downs as financial turmoil threatened to derail the club once again in 2014.

Captain Lee Wallace has been part of this journey throughout and he’s best equipped to explain exactly what this promotion means to Rangers.

“The fact of the matter is, we are back where we belong,” Wallace said. “Every singe player associated with Rangers, every single fan can be proud of what we have done over the last four years and we are finally there.”

Watch Live: Watford v. Arsenal

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Mesut Ozil makes his first start of the season as Arsenal visits Watford and new/old manager Quique Sanchez Flores on Sunday at Vicarage Road (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Ozil has two goals and four assists in nine appearances against Watford.

Dani Ceballos is also starting for the Gunners, who will be without Alexandre Lacazette for the next few weeks.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gerard Deulofeu heads into the Starting XI for the Hornets, who will have in-form Will Hughes on the other side of the field.


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World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

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The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

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Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

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Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.