Plenty to ponder for McCall as he looks to revive Rangers

McCall has been appointed Rangers manager until the end of the season
McCall has been appointed Rangers manager until the end of the season

By the end of his first match in charge of Rangers, Stuart McCall was talking about the need for a "massive improvement from everyone" if the team is to achieve promotion.

The extent of the task he faces will now be clear, and the likelihood is that McCall will feel that time is already against him.

The issues are plenty. McCall is only in his position until the end of the season and the targets are straightforward: finish in the play-off places and then gain promotion.

His first game in charge - a 1-1 draw with Livingston - was underwhelming. Now, McCall has a series of decisions to make, and they each have their own ramifications.

Work for long-term or short-term gain?

One of the most noticeable selections for McCall's first game in charge was a starting place for Tom Walsh. The 18-year-old had impressed as a substitute in the previous game - a 1-1 draw with Queen of the South - and having watched footage of that encounter, McCall decided to start him.

Other young players have been restricted to the periphery at Ibrox. There is always a balance to strike between blooding inexperienced players and the effect it has on the team's consistency and reliability of performance, but Rangers' form has been on a downward slump anyway.

As well as Walsh, the young right-back Ryan Sinnamon is highly rated, while Andy Murdoch has been a busy and effective presence in central midfield during his appearances of late.

Callum Gallacher scored five times in 10 games for Cowdenbeath on loan during the first half of the season, and his brief cameos last term caught the eye because of his pace and direct running. Ryan Hardie is also a talented forward with quick, skilful feet.

McCall might feel that playing too many young players could backfire, but it would re-enthuse the fans. Hearts have also benefited this season from the experience their young players gained in the previous campaign, even if they could not stave off relegation.

McCall wants to be at Rangers for longer than his short-term contract, and will have calculated that his best opportunity lies in somehow earning promotion with a team that has come to look like a lost cause.

Rangers trail second-place Hibs by seven points in the Championship
Rangers trail second-place Hibs by seven points in the Championship

It may seem counter-intuitive to introduce a batch of youngsters at such a critical time, but the side would gain from their energy and hunger, while their presence would also dispel some of the gloom that has settled upon the team despite the boardroom changes.

Personnel

As the most senior football figure at the club, McCall's expertise will be called upon. There are 12 players out of contract in the summer, and the new manager has to combine the awkward task of maximising performances just now while also planning for a future campaign that even he may not be involved in.

The former Motherwell boss has to make judgement calls every day while he assesses the best way to revive Rangers' form. The situation is challenging, because his authority will not necessarily spread to next season, but the players need to respond for their own sakes.

There are practical decisions for McCall to take, though. What is the best central defensive partnership, for instance?

Lee McCulloch, Bilel Mohsni, Darren McGregor and Marius Zaliukas have all played in the positions this season, but no individual has looked commanding enough to be considered an essential selection.

The same process can be applied at right-back, where Ricky Foster, Seb Faure and, even at times McGregor, have featured in the role but again without making it their own.

Sinnamon could gain some valuable experience over the remainder of the season, not least because it's been such a problem position.

Ian Black has not featured for several weeks in midfield and has become a scapegoat amongst the fans, while no area of the field has seemed to bring out the best in Nicky Law.

Dean Shiels has been kept on the sidelines, while no combination of front men has proved particularly effective this season.

McCall watched his side struggle in his first match in charge, a 1-1 draw with Livingston
McCall watched his side struggle in his first match in charge, a 1-1 draw with Livingston

Failing to win promotion would have commercial implications, but in terms of the football work that has to be carried out another season in the Championship would allow a more drastic rebuilding to begin, and provide three transfer windows for a more considered recruitment strategy ahead of a potential return to the Premiership.

Yet McCall needs promotion to make the strongest play for staying in the role beyond the end of the season.

Job prospects

McCall is, in effect, auditioning for the position. He will not see it that way, not least because his managerial career has been sound, with moments of credible achievement. Yet following regime change, Dave King spoke about seeking a particular skill set from a head coach, and McCall will need to prove that he can meet those criteria.

The ideal candidate is a figure who can combine individual player development with implementing a distinct playing identity and an overarching strategy which involves bringing academy graduates through and signing players who represent an investment because they will eventually deliver a profit from their sell-on fee.

Contemporary coaches are becoming commonplace, where once old school managers prevailed.

McCall's work at Motherwell in particular was impressive, but the task at Ibrox is on a different scale entirely. There is not enough time for training ground work to radically alter the style or intensity of Rangers' play, but making an impression on these aspects will always be in the manager's mind.

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