The ceaseless calibration of a Rangers manager’s performance is a rite of passage that – sooner rather than later, usually – is one that must be negotiated carefully by each incumbent. Pedro Caixinha’s test has arrived within five weeks of his appointment and not only because his players failed to provide a cohesive challenge to Celtic in Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden Park.
Word had emerged from disenchanted sources within the club that the manager had laid down a pre-season schedule that specified a return to training on June 1, with only a nine-day break after the end of the Scottish Premiership league campaign and that his decree had not gone down well with his squad. When invited to comment, Caixinha’s response was a threat to withdraw co-operation with the media in the event of further leaks.
“You can write what you want but if the respect passes then you’re not counting on me for anything,” he said. “I have already spoken about how much holiday time the players will have
“Our first competitive game is going to be June 29, we normally need five or six weeks pre-season and the season finishes on May 21 so it’s a question of maths. The players don’t need to complain because the plan has not been presented to them yet.
“If someone is doing my work I would appreciate they come and tell me how it’s going to be. At the moment, it’s unofficial and when it is official and when I want you to know it, you will know it from me.
“I am the manager and I am the one that plans the pre-season and the vacation. If I try to live my life by the stories in the newspapers – which I don’t read – then how am I going to live?”
It is, of course, entirely possible to be both sympathetic to Caixinha in respect of the scheduling difficulties imposed by the early advent of the Europa League qualifiers but also to observe the necessity of reporting that the issue has caused dissent within the dressing room. In that regard, Caixinha is nursing wrath towards the source of the leaks.
“If those things are coming from inside it is something I need to find out about and when I find out I will act,” he said. When it was put to Caixinha that he was visibly more agitated than on any of his previous appearance, he replied: “No. You are seeing someone that is clear, is frontal, is open – but everyone has his own limit.
“When I feel I am not being respected, I’m not going to respect. I’m polite, I’m educated but I’m a f***ing tough guy.”
On his preferred subject of football – and the imminence of another meeting with Celtic at Ibrox on Saturday – he admitted that his nocturnal routine had been disturbed by Sunday’s defeat. “I sleep like an angel before the match. If I lose or I draw the match, I don't sleep the day after.
“I just need one day to charge my batteries. After that, I am smiling again and facing what comes,” he said, although his demeanour suggested otherwise.
Whatever failings were apparent in Rangers’ performance on Sunday - the most obvious of which was the Ibrox players’ inability to get sufficiently close to their opponents to disrupt Celtic’s comfortable domination - Caixinha identified the prime difficulty as an absence of drive. Asked if he intended to alter his approach for Saturday’s fixture, he said: No change of style, no change of tactic - just change the passion.
“You are not going to win and Old Firm game by tactics. Did Celtic change their tactics? No. They played exactly the same, they played with their identity. Did we change our identity in the previous five matches? No?
“I know if they go in with that passion we will be closer to them (Celtic). That is what I am focusing on. I don't care about the day after tomorrow. I am focusing on the present.
“You know what we receive from our fans and supporters - passion. At least the one thing you should give back is the same.
“I don't care about external critics. I care about what I have inside and what I believe in, because if we had won the game, even if we had played like we had played in the first half, you would say brilliant, what a fantastic second half. I analyse it my way.”
Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, declared in searing terms that Rangers were distinctly second best – “they don’t have the legs that we’ve got or the quality” – but Caixinha did not bridle at the repetition of the condemnation.
“It’s an opinion from an opposing player who had a good game in which we allowed him to play the way he wants to play,” the manager said. “I respect all opinions.”
Brown’s successful appeal against the red card shown to him for a lunge at Ross County’s Liam Boyce means that the Hoops skipper can play against Rangers on Saturday. Caixinha needs to effect an urgent transformation of his players’ approach to the sixth meeting of these sides this season, otherwise Brown is likely to have the last word on a long and taxing week for the Ibrox boss.