RangersMedia Visits Auchenhowie
In early February, Rangers, and specifically Craig Mulholland, the head of our academy, invited two representatives from all of the main supporters organisations along to gain a more detailed insight into our footballing academy.
So on the 19th of February, JCDBigBear and myself were in attendance with Craig and Greg Statt, another member of staff at the academy. We personally would like to thank Craig, Greg and all the other staff, for not only the invitation, but for the making of an enjoyable evening.
Beginning with a quote that Craig finished his presentation on:
"Some coaches talk about how many games they've won. Others are too busy developing players."
Which quite rightly summarises the presentation that was put forward to the thirty fans on Friday night.
Craig has a belief, which is easy to thrive off. Similar to Warburton, he has an addictive personality, one that by his own admission, does not like energy sappers. Craig would be the first to say his belief isn't "magic". It's simply best practice, but practice at the world's best academies in which he has studied: Sporting Lisbon to name but one. This belief took him to being offered the role of head of academy at Southampton, something which I believe is a credit to that energy he has for football.
However, one thing that was also apparent throughout his presentation was that this isn't a 'Craig Mulholland' philosophy, nor a 'Mark Warburton' philosophy. It, simply put, is the new Rangers philosophy. The main objective of that philosophy is 'To create one of the best academies in Europe, which produces players of an international standard, who can excel at the highest level in Scotland and Europe.' That will not change, no matter if he or Mark Warburton leaves.
Now the way an academy is rated is by how many of their graduates go on to play first team football in the top 33 European Leagues. Currently, Rangers are not on the list due to not being in a premier division. Nevertheless, once we can be rated, Craig has made it Rangers' aim is to get into the top 15. Unfortunately, we do not have the list Craig produced of the top 50 academies, but included were clubs smaller than our own: Southampton; Tottenham; Partizan Belgrade and Sporting Lisbon.
The philosophy being put into practice at Auchenhowie has much detail, some minor and some major. But one of the key parts to the success is simply enjoyment. Gone are the days of adults screaming at youngsters. Equally so, have the swear words. Stubble too- all the youths must be clean shaven. It is that positive and respectful culture that Craig believes is the "magic2 to creating the right environment at Auchenhowie. Changes on the staff had to be made also, playing and non, so that we had the right breed of personality. The fining policy for the youth team has been replaced with a much more meaningful punishment. If you have a disciplinary, you are kept on until 5pm and if this occurs three times, you will be dropped from the next game. Equally important to this philosophy is the academic aspect, so if any School feeds back misbehaviour it will be treated in the same manner.
Which leads me to another quote used:
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
From the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.
The attitude that positives should be overemphasised is one that simply aides the level of enjoyment.
Not only has the ideology corrected the environment, it clearly demanded a footballing change. It certainly seems that Mark and Craig enjoyed a similar thought to this change, highlighted by the footballing formation now blanketed across the whole Club. We have been lucky enough to see why this formation was chosen, but naturally Craig delved deeper into the thought process behind our 4-3-3 formation. It challenges our players, encourages the creation of triangles, defensively allows us to create high pressure, gives us calmness in possession and lastly inspires rotational movement. Sadly, Craig went through that slide quicker than I could write down all the positives, but there was, likewise with all in which he said, a genuine enthusiasm.
The link between Craig, Mark and numerous other staff members is only emphasised again by their monthly technical meetings in which they discuss improving and performing youth players. This was something which was introduced by Stuart McCall in his short Managerial career at the Club, which only affirms the notion that this is a Rangers philosophy, bought into by the whole Club.
Other important introductions since his arrival include: online profiles for every footballer in the academy, consisting of medical information, coaching sessions and individual video clips; being voted onto the SFA committee to help structure youth football; observational development studies, meaning every six months each staff member at Auchenhowie has to go to a different football, rugby or tennis academy; a new education base, where tutors come in every day to assist the players with their studies; lastly, new tutoring groups and discussions which happen on a weekly basis, including cooking lessons, media training and lessons from David Mason, and others, on what it means to be a Ranger.
The lasting impression I gained from the evening was not just the belief that change was in motion, but the realism that it is already in occurrence. This was further highlighted by the other initiatives in the place which will only promote the new philosophy. Repeatedly mentioned was that it was all about 'the bigger picture'. Going back to two teams mentioned, Spurs and Southampton, Craig compared their positions in their development leagues, 8th and 11th. That 'bigger picture' is about development for our best youth players, if it's by playing U16s in U20 games or loaning out our youths for real experience. That is the model and "magic" that he has learnt whilst at these academies.
It was summed up best by Craig, with an alteration on an old Scottish footballing cliche, 'give us a footballer, and we'll deal with their athleticism'. It's not a finished project, but it's certainly one that I hope never ends.