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


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.

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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.”

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.

Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.