Graeme Murty doesn’t come across as your typical Rangers manager. Unlike the club’s famed managers of the past, Murty doesn’t look like your old school headmaster. He doesn’t share Mark Warburton’s cemetery-like demeanor, nor does he possess the charming grin and fork-tongued tactics of Pedro Caixinha. And as the son of a Celtic-supporting dad, he certainly doesn’t come across as “staunch” by any means.
Indeed, the caretaker-turned-manager spends most of his post-match interviews with BT Sport or Sky Sports looking as though he is about to let out a gentle giggle. Murty, with his warm smile, kind voice and relaxed demeanour, has come to represent everything Rangers have struggled to be over the past 18 months. And most importantly: he’s proved to be an effective coach.
Since taking over in late October, the inexperienced coach has won nine of his opening 14 games and, despite a few stumbles along the way, the new Rangers manager has proved successful in not only agitating both Celtic and Aberdeen, but in also striking a notable wedge between the two at the top of the Scottish Premiership table.
Although Celtic fans will shrug at the perceived significance, both of Murty’s unexpected draws against the Parkhead club in 2017 – first as a caretaker to Warburton in March and then to Caixinha in December – were rare moments of joy for the Ibrox side. While three consecutive wins over Aberdeen have gone a long way towards confirming what many Rangers fans consider to be their rightful spot above their northern rivals.
Indeed, it has been the three clashes with Aberdeen over the past two months that have quickly transformed Murty from a simple stop-gap into a potential long-term appointment at the club. The 3-0 win at Ibrox and then the 2-1 victory at Pittodrie not only narrowed the gap between the two teams from six points to level, but it also played out as a significant PR campaign for the club as well.
Throughout both games Derek McInnes was negotiating with Rangers about potentially becoming their next coach, before rejecting an offer and deciding to stay with Aberdeen. Had he done so while beating the Ibrox team on the pitch throughout the period, it would have dented Rangers on both accounts. Yet, by the time both clubs reached the winter break, most Rangers fans had quickly gotten over the prospect of hiring McInnes, while Aberdeen’s own fans began to question McInnes’ record in big games.
Suggestions that Rangers had dodged a bullet in McInnes were only compounded when Murty’s side returned from the winter break and casually disposed of Aberdeen by two clear goals. Where Rangers fans had once found themselves arguing with one another on social media over their tepid form, it was now Aberdeen fans debating whether the man craved by Rangers’ board just a few months ago still had it in him to win this revitalised battle for second place.
Although, that’s only half of what’s turned Rangers’ season around. While Murty has managed to grind out results and fly in the face of rivals, the club have surprised fans and critics alike in their ability to sign important players quickly and efficiency in the January window.
Murty has remained coy and quite modest when asked how much involvement he’s had in the club’s recruitment drive this month, but there’s no doubt that the likes of Jamie Murphy, Russell Martin, Jason Cummings, Sean Goss, Declan John and Greg Docherty have all added to the feeling that Rangers have turned a corner of late.
Indeed, Goss, Martin and Murphy have been deemed good enough to go straight in to Murty’s squad, while Cummings has played an important role from the bench in replacing star striker Alfredo Morelos whenever he’s looked slightly jaded – as seen in his late goal against Ross County on Sunday.
Whether the likes of Cummings and Martin sign permanent deals with the club remains to be seen, but the capture of both John and Docherty – two young players who have already shown their capacity to thrive at Premiership level – suggests some sorely lacking long-term thinking has finally returned to the club. Rangers may still be some distance behind Celtic, but for many fans they’re now back on track and that at least means something.
Rangers and Murty haven’t just dug out a few bargains in the January window. They’ve effectively managed to rebuild the best part of their entire starting XI and with Aberdeen already playing catch up it’s easy to understand why the interim coach and his merry band of new signings feel as though momentum is well and truly on their side.
Murty has got the Ibrox club back up and running, and second place is now surely theirs for the taking.