Gareth McAuley was at Rangers for only a season, but knows exactly how things operate under Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff.
The 40-year-old Northern Ireland legend – who retired last year – had Ibrox as the final stop in a long career, and it was a dream to play for his boyhood club.
He’s been keeping a close eye on how this season has started, and is delighted to see the Ibrox club at the top of the Premiership and, once again, doing well in the Europa League.
McAuley knows the positive results, and the 14 clean sheets to date, haven’t happened by accident. It’s down to the hard work and preparation of Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff.
Indeed, McAuley thinks that the period of Lockdown – between the curtailment of season 2019-20 and the start of the current campaign – may well have been the launchpad for the Light Blues’ positivity since August.
The former West Brom, Leicester City and Ipswich Town central defender told The Sunday Post: “It’s been a tremendous effort for all involved, so far.
“The goalkeepers and defenders will be lapping up the clean sheets. Speaking as a defender myself, I know they’ll really be loving it.
“But, let me assure you, this has not happened by chance.
“This is all down to a structure, and the way the team’s defending starts with the strikers, goes back to the midfield and then to the defence.
“From my time with Gerrard at Ibrox, I know every player receives a clear message of what is expected of him, and that message is detailed.
“It is precise and clear. The messages might be different the following week, depending on the opposition, but the detail is still there.
“It looks as though the players would have been reading and learning during Lockdown.
“The messages from the manager and the coaching staff would have been constant. They will have been working hard.
“They might not have been at the training ground every day due to Covid-19, but they will not have stopped working. There will have been no rest.
“It’s been paying off.
”The way Rangers have started the season just shows you that you must never stop learning, and never stop trying to improve.
“The amount of clean sheets they have had is first-class.
“It’s great for any team to know that they don’t have to score three or four goals to win a game, such as the solidity at the back.
“As a result, they will all be full of confidence.”
McAuley played under many managers during his career.
Even so, the year he spent under Gerrard – in the Ibrox gaffer’s first campaign – was an education, and the Liverpool and England legend impressed him.
He said:”Steven has a presence and a stature. He’ll be growing as a manager, evolving and improving.
“Things are going well, and he’ll be looking to add trophies. That is the next stage.
“That’s what will be driving him on every single day.
“He has an unbelievable desire, and he will use that to drive on his players, his coaching staff and everybody else within the club.
“When he was a player, he always wanted to improve. He’d listen to his managers, coaches and peers.
“He’d ask questions. It was non-stop.
“He is the same as a manager, and he firmly believes that the day you stop learning is the day you will stop progressing.
“The results in Europe are another indication of what is going on at Rangers, and what the manager is striving to achieve. It’s been fantastic.
“It’s now about the next stage – and that’s about prizes.
“But, believe me, the trophies will come.”
With the back door firmly shut in most games, it’s up to the strikers to score goals at the other end.
With Alfredo Morelos, Jermain Defoe and Kemar Roofe in the squad, McAuley thinks they are well-equipped to deliver.
McAuley said: “Alfredo always seems to score goals. He scored the winner the other night against Lech Poznan to equal Ally McCoist’s European record of 21 goals.
“That is a massive achievement and credit to Alfredo.
“To be up there with an iconic figure such as Ally is great. It shows the standard he is setting.
“I’m sure Jermain has played his part. At 38, he still has plenty left in the tank, and he’ll be helping Alfredo and Kemar every day.
“To have all of them contributing goals shows the depth in the Rangers squad. It’s impressive.
“They are all capable of scoring goals, and regardless of who the manager opts to start with against Kilmarnock, he knows there will be goals there.”
McAuley is also a huge fan of Steve Davis and Connor Goldson.
The Irishman continued: “Steven has been incredible. He drove me on to play until I was 39. He kept me going.
“He is now Northern Ireland’s most-capped player, and I feel privileged to have shared so many good times with him on the international stage.
“Steven is a top operator and, even though he might not get into the opposition box as often, he still has all the experience to guide the team through the games.
“He is priceless, and I believe he can keep going for three or four more years.
“Connor Goldson has matured and developed into a real leader.
“I enjoyed working alongside him at Rangers every day, and he wants to be a top player. He has a first-class attitude.
“He has taken control of the centre of defence, and is very vocal. He organises superbly well, and is the dominant one.
“He tackles well, is good in the air and can score a goal or two – which was nice to see him do against Celtic a couple of weeks ago!”
McAuley knows that for all the good work being done just now, it all comes down to winning the title this season and stopping Celtic from doing 10 in a row.
He said: “Things are going well for Rangers right now, but there is a long way to go.
“I don’t want to make any bold predictions or speak out of turn. I don’t want to jinx anything.
“But things are looking good, and winning the league is the important one.
“It’s about taking it one game at a time and that starts at Kilmarnock.
“Rangers know the importance of winning games on the road, such as this one.
“They haven’t always managed to do that in the past two seasons, but they will have learned from those experiences.”
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