Rangers will pull out of the SPFL Development League for season 2017-18 after obtaining permission from the league to play against Europe's best talent instead, in the hope that it accelerates the development of their youth players.Graeme Murty's side finished sixth in the league 15 points behind eventual champions Ross County, while they lost 3-0 to Celtic in the Youth Cup Final.
The Under-20 side, who will still feature in the Youth Cup and the SPFL Challenge Cup, will play against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton while games against Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Leipzig and Bayern Munich will also be arranged to replace their fixtures in the Development League.
A statement on the official club website said that Rangers 'will invest heavily' and that 'developing players for our first team sits at the heart of the club’s business plan and is now embedded in the club’s DNA'.
Head of Academy, Craig Mulholland, commented: “The first step was to acknowledge that, at Rangers, and indeed for Scotland as a country, we must produce a much higher standard of player.
“We must accept that for us to become a club renowned for producing elite talent, and for Scotland again to become a top football nation we are required to brave enough to undertake significant change from the way we have developed footballers in the past.
“In the past two years we have undertaken many new initiatives, including the introduction of a new Academy game model, a new performance culture, a schools programme giving our elite players 16 hours of contact time with Academy staff each week over a four year period, and we have invested significantly in new quality expert staff.
“There has also been a massive increase in ‘best v best’ challenge with more than 140 games cross border this season throughout the Academy and a new philosophy, redressing the balance between ‘winning v challenge’ for optimal athlete development, has been developed.
“As a consequence of these positive changes, and many others, we have some outstanding talent in our Children’s, Intermediate and Senior Academy and so the next critical stage for us in our evolution was to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit promoted by Project Brave and challenge the norm regarding the development of players aged 17 to 20. It was important that we were radical in our approach and pushed the boundaries and we believe this unique project achieves that.
“We are grateful for the support of the SPFL and the Scottish FA, who can see the potential benefits for the national game as well for Rangers given the number of young Scottish international players who will be involved in the programme.
“Our observations and research suggests that young Scottish players between the ages of 15 and 17 are every bit as talented as their peers in other European nations and we believe we must expose them to a challenge and fixtures programme which, not only matches, but exceeds, the quality of provision experienced by their peers in these countries.
“This should, as a minimum, keep their development trajectory in line with these top nations and reduce the drop off figure of 37% for our best potential talent making the transition from Scotland 17’s, where we have been successful, to the 21’s, who have not qualified for many years
“The challenge the players will receive on a weekly basis will, we believe, push their development to a level not experienced before by Scottish young players and will hopefully contribute to the creation of a much higher level of player, and indeed a different type of player, than has been produced in recent years.
“The new games programme will create a fantastic challenge for the players on a whole new level and will hopefully result in the same positive outcome where the young Scottish footballer ends up competing favourably with his top European counterparts.
“This programme will also ensure our young Scottish talent is not facing Europe’s top players for the first time when playing for Rangers first team in Europe, or for Scotland at international level.
“Our match programme will be one of the best in Europe and will be attractive and exciting for our best young players. This will act as a stimulus for them to push their own development on a daily basis.
“This is an exciting initiative for the Rangers Academy and I thank the Rangers Board, the SPFL and the Scottish FA for their support.
“The fact that 2017/18 is the last year of the SPFL Development League makes it the ideal time to undertake such a pilot and the evidence we gather after the pilot year, positive and negative, can be used in consultation with the SPFL and the Scottish FA to shape future games programmes in the country.
“To improve we must change and we believe this is an exceptionally positive and exciting change for Rangers and Scottish football.”
Rangers Managing Director, Stewart Robertson added: “The board are excited by this initiative as we want to become market leaders in all areas of our business and we believe that this project is innovative and very forward thinking.
“As we aim to create a modern, progressive football infrastructure it is projects such as this which will hopefully provide us with a competitive edge in the area of player development, ultimately resulting in a successful winning Rangers team containing players of significant financial value.
“Developing our own players is a big part of our future at Rangers and is at the heart of our business plan for the club. There is no question that change is required to try to improve the standard of player being produced in our country and we are delighted to be leading that change. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the project in years to come.”
Rangers fans took to social media to air their views on the club's withdrawal from the Development League:
— daftpenguin (@daftpenguin) May 13, 2017
— Al (@AlistairMtchl72) May 13, 2017
— Alan May (@alan_may) May 13, 2017
— Billy Thomson (@billythomson) May 14, 2017
— Carolannjo (@carolstrach) May 14, 2017
— ollymolly1993 (@speccyt1977) May 13, 2017
Last Ditch Tackle is unashamedly passionate about Scottish football, with a heavy Celtic slant.