As Rangers prepare for the Europa League final on Wednesday night, Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness believes this is the club’s finest hour in their history – and wonders if winning this competition trumps the lifting of the Scottish Premiership.
Fair play Celtic, you deserve the credit. You bounced back remarkably well to win the league after being punched in the nose when Rangers won it last year.
But it’s about credibility – and people look down on the Scottish league. In terms of prestige and improving the domestic game, Rangers have done huge things for the stature of Scottish football by advancing to the Europa League final on Wednesday against Eintracht Frankfurt. However, he just won’t be liked by everyone in Scotland.
It’s really huge and it’s also a unique story. If you go back to 10 years ago, when they were kicked out of the big leagues and nearly went bankrupt completely, people got a kick out of it.
Their rise has been a long, slow journey. Then in 10 years, they are in the final of a European competition. This tells you everything you need to know about this football club. Everyone connected to the club deserves big credit for where Rangers meet on May 18.
The first time I went to watch Rangers was when I was 10. I had the chance to play for them and manage them. We achieved great things when I was there, but I watched that semi-final win over RB Leipzig and it’s the biggest achievement for the whole Rangers team since I’ve been supporting them – and beyond.
They weren’t a side that felt second class to a Bundesliga side, or nervous about playing one. They went ahead, shook the second half a bit, regrouped and ended up winning the game. They deserved to beat them on two legs.
The key was players who fit the bill. James Tavernier scores all the goals from the full-back, it’s not good but he does! John Lundstram took about six months to settle in, but he’s got it now. The tactics and changes made by Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the semi-finals were also good – and then of course there is the Ibrox atmosphere.
I was confident watching them. They played with unity, aura and organization. They looked to me like a great team from a big league, playing against another great team from a big league. They weren’t intimidated and matched them blow for blow.
Now it’s Frankfurt in the final – and it’s winnable for them: they play against another German side that Rangers shouldn’t fear after knocking out Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.
The Bundesliga is one of the biggest leagues in the world and if you take into account the budget that these two teams work with, compared to the budget that Rangers have to work with, it’s really remarkable.
When we came to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final against Barcelona in 1972, football was then on a level playing field. The difference between the big leagues and the little leagues was not that big. This time around, the way the game has evolved – with the way TV and money have entered football – for Rangers to make it to a final is beyond comprehension.
From now on, Rangers will have a lot of respect. Eintracht will arrive thinking they can win the game, but they won’t take Rangers lightly.
Whether we win or not, it will be emotional anyway. You can put your house on it for Jimmy Bell and Walter Smith to remember in it. Everyone who sees the game will see the banners of these two.
They are a truly unique football club, one of four in Britain that is more than a football club. It’s an institution and Wednesday will be an evening to savour.
Too bad I can’t be there, my daughter is getting married on the 18th – the same day! But I’m going to slip away while my wife doesn’t look at me to see a TV.
I hope they do – but even if they don’t, it’s been a remarkable run. Yet this unique football club will never back down. Never. To give. In.