It’s getting hard not to feel sympathy for Michael Beale, even if the Londoner doesn’t want to be patronized or seen as some kind of bad luck story.
After all, he’s landed the gig of his dreams and – despite obvious and justifiable concerns over his lack of experience – all early indications suggest he’s actually good enough to be Rangers manager. The problem is that Beale’s long-term job security might not be determined by the quality of his own work. On the contrary, and quite unfairly, his career prospects risk being defined by the competence of others. Or, in some cases, lack of it.
It’s a monumental misfortune, for example, that he finds himself returning to Glasgow at a time when a thaumaturge has arrived across town from halfway across the planet. And unless he finds a way to thwart Ange Postecoglou in the Scottish Cup semi-final at the end of this month, Beale will start next season with his manager’s jacket already on a weak ankle.
Unfair? You better believe it. If Beale’s job was allowed to stand on its own, Rangers might consider themselves lucky to have such an astute and shrewd tactician charting the course for the club. The progress this team has made since their appointment is actually borderline remarkable, given how unstable and utterly unreliable they had become under Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
But, in this particular part of the world, equity is a luxury rarely offered. And Saturday’s derby matchday defeat at Celtic Park left Beale in an unenviable position. He was smart enough to see it coming when he spoke throughout the week about his big plans for the transfer market and he thoroughly deserves the opportunity to build on the solid foundation he has already laid. in a short time.
But promises of a jam tomorrow won’t ease Beale’s situation should Celtic kill their season at Hampden on April 30. On the contrary, he will enter the summer with a huge dark cloud hanging over his head and with goodwill and lack of patience as Postecoglou celebrates a hat-trick across town.
Of course, it would have been very different had Rangers taken three points from Parkhead at lunchtime on Saturday. Not only would a victory have reduced the gap at the top of the table to just six points, but Beale would have set a milestone while convincing his club’s supporters that Celtic’s domestic superiority might be about to end.
Instead, they had even more reason to suspect that settling for second prizes is as good as it gets as long as Postecoglou remains in charge of its rivals. And yet, it must be recognized that Beale was not to blame for this last loss either. Not only anyway.
If others had done their job as efficiently as he did, the Rangers might have removed more than just a sore face from their neighbors’ house. Beale’s strategy was perfect. Rangers were aggressive and on their feet from the first kick of the ball, pushing Celtic into all sorts of mistakes and preventing Callum McGregor from dictating play from midfield.
This game plan gave Rangers a lot more possession than Postecoglou would have expected, but it was a lack of quality and composure when they had the ball at their feet that effectively neutralized the manager blueprint. Beale would have reasonably expected Ryan Kent and Todd Cantwell to provide some precision and goal play for his side’s forward but, for all their haste and harrassment, neither of them had the composure to make the difference.
Kent was knocked out of the game by the exceptional Alistair Johnston who barely made a mistake in his role as Celtic right-back. But Beale would have expected a lot more from his winger nonetheless while looking for Cantwell to add some composure and edge in the final third.
He also took a punt on Malik Tillman in hopes the hugely talented but infuriatingly dull American could write his signature on that fixture for the first time. But, much like Kent and Cantwell, the majority of Tillman’s best work was done while out of possession.
If Postecoglou’s mantra for Celtic is ‘We never stop’, then Tillman seems to be operating entirely at his own pace. ‘I’ll start when I’m good and ready’ seems to be the youngster’s philosophy and he will only realize his huge potential when he learns to be much less relaxed at work.
Beale could kick himself for placing so much faith in Tillman and leaving the likes of Fashion Sakala on the bench when Zambain’s blistering pace and boundless energy could have turned the tide in favor of his side. But he will also wonder why Ben Davies and John Souttar chose this game of all games to forget how to operate when a basic defense was all that was required of them.
Their schoolboy mistakes helped Celtic take a 3-1 lead and Beale must have known by then that there would be no turning back. After putting Rangers level on the stroke of half with a superb free-kick, skipper James Tavernier fired another with a header before the end, but Rangers could not recover from their own neglect.
As if all that weren’t enough, Beale could only watch in disbelief as referee Kevin Clancy ruled out an Alfredo Morelos opener that could have turned the whole match upside down – only for VAR to compound Clancy’s error despite the having the advantage of studying multiple replays in slow motion.
All in all, then, Beale has plenty of reason to feel sorry for himself now that his back has been pushed against a wall by the mistakes of so many others. But if he’s looking for fairness or even compassion, he’s in the wrong city. Lose to Hampden again in three weeks and he might wonder why he was in such a rush to get back here in the first place.
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