His tenure may have ended in acrimony and the sack, but Pedro Caixinha’s passion for Rangers remains undimmed. 

‚ÄúOnce Rangers,¬†you are always Rangers,‚ÄĚ the animated Portuguese¬†exclaims.¬†‚ÄúYou will remain a Rangers fan no matter what.‚Ä̬†

The 51-year-old has been away from Ibrox for nearly four years since his 229 day spell was ended amid a bruising League cup semi-final defeat to Motherwell, capricious league results and a dressing room riven by internal factions. 

He watched his old team in the flesh for the first time since his departure as they progressed to the last 16 of the 19/20 Europa League against Braga and was suitably impressed by both the team’s obvious identity and the way Steven Gerrard and his management team has reshaped the side. 

‚ÄúThey have done great. I was at the game in¬†Braga¬†so I was looking to see the main ideas Steven was implementing on the team,‚ÄĚ he said.¬†

“I tried to look and analyse the first match and see how they would reproduce it in the second game. 

“I saw that they played exactly the same way.  

“They played more according to their style, their idea, rather than the opponent. 

‚ÄúIt was¬†very nice¬†to observe.¬†I think they¬†did a great,¬†great job. As they did to get the league.‚Ä̬†

The Ibrox club’s ascent to the pinnacle of Scottish football has been spectacular, an unbeaten season and four victories over rivals Celtic cementing their dominance. It’s a situation that seems light years from the problems of 2017 when he was trying to bridge the gap with not just a Brendan Rodgers inspired city rival but also Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen who had become an established second force. 

‚ÄúIn that moment you¬†need to look to Celtic because Scottish football is about the Old Firm,‚ÄĚ he admitted. ‚ÄúBut I would remind you that Aberdeen was far away from Rangers also.¬†

‚ÄúThe first step was Aberdeen. We wanted to take their place because this would mean we are on our way in the right direction.‚Ä̬†

At the time, the notion that Rangers would have to slug it out with Aberdeen was a painful medicine that few had the appetite to swallow ‚Äď but it was accurate.¬†

And yet the cold facts remain that by the time of his dismissal after 10 games of the 2017/18 season, his side were already struggling five points behind the Dons in fourth place. 

Caixinha’s was a spell that will go on to live in infamy as the shortest managerial reign in the club’s history, beating Frenchman Paul Le Guen to the dubious distinction. 

And like the former Lyon manager’s reign, the root of the disfunction that engulfed the club was a clash of cultures. 

Tactics 

The Pedro Caixinha story starts with a methodology. 

An academic coach with an MA in Sports Science from the university of Lisbon, he retired at just 28 to move into coaching. 

A long spell as assistant to José Peseiro at clubs like Sporting and Panathinaikos allowed him to build the knowledge required to break out on his own at Portuguese sides União de Leiria and Nacional. 

He moved to Mexico in 2013 and won three major pieces of silverware at Santos Laguna during a two-year spell before being lured to the riches of Qatar by Al Gharafa. 

Over these spells Caixinha built his unique training program with ideas from academia and experiences at the sharp end of coaching. 

A big influence was Vitor Frade, the Oporto academic who is the father of the tactical periodisation methodology attributed to many Portuguese coaches including Caixinha and most famously, Jose Mourinho. 

An extremely complex and detailed theory, it looks to ensure that training replicates the key scenarios that players face in a game.

Rangers Review: Caixinha on the training pitchCaixinha on the training pitch

And while the coaching concept lies at the heart of Caixinha’s ideas about how football should be trained, he is keen to stress he’s not a rigid advocate in the purest way. 

“I’m a person who likes to have the knowledge. I’m always looking at what different coaches do and what different methodologies can add to your idea because you are trying to get better day by day. 

“That’s the main idea. I’m not a reproducer. I’m not a guy who catches an idea and tries to copy it. 

“I want to understand and then add something. 

“So if you ask me if I’m a follower of tactical periodisation itself? No. I’m not. 

‚ÄúI‚Äôm someone that really believes in the main concepts you can take from it which go directly to the¬†behaviors¬†of the team.‚Ä̬†

So what is his philosophy?  

Caixinha is delighted to expound his theories. He walks me through his concepts for training in a head-spinning 14 minute monologue that takes in everything from concerted attacking aggression in the opening stages of each 45 minutes to the increasing importance of scoring first in modern football.  

It’s both impressive and challenging at the same time.  

A tactical layman can only fully grasp little fragments, but there are many interesting points raised. 

Perhaps sensing the question that’s coming, he jumps in ahead of me. 

‚ÄúYou may ask me:¬†‚Äėwhy didn‚Äôt you do all that at Rangers?‚Äô¬†

“There is one simple answer which is the most important thing, which is the players need to be convinced. 

‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt impose, but when we presented¬†and worked¬†this¬†methodology¬†they were not ready to receive it.‚Ä̬†

An example is coming but a quick lesson first. 

Tactical Periodisation names each day’s training around its distance to the next game.  

If a match is on¬†Wednesday¬†then Monday would be ‚Äď2 and Tuesday would be ‚Äď1, going all the way back to the¬†previous¬†day off.¬†

He continues: “You have long weeks or short weeks. Nowadays, due to the number of games you are going to have more short weeks than longer ones.  

“From -5 to -1 is difficult to get, the competitive density is too high. So it’s more likely to be -3 or -4 to -1. 

“When you are using this methodology and one match is on Saturday and the other match is on Sunday, they were not understanding how to fill this regime. 

“It’s very simple, it’s about the relation between stimulation and adaptation.  

“What you want to create from day one is the right stimulus to get the right adaptations. But you need to follow the plan on a regular basis.  

“They couldn’t understand why they might have two days off because in this methodology you don’t have -6 because it might overload your players and that’s the last thing you want to happen to them. 

‚ÄúSo¬†we¬†finished¬†the Wednesday off¬†that they were having in the British weekly planning.‚Ä̬†

A pained look falls over Caixinha’s face, his memories triggering frustration even several years later. 

‚ÄúIt was difficult,‚ÄĚ he sighs.¬†‚ÄúTo work only in the direction of the way we wanted¬†to play and the way we are going to¬†face¬†one¬†specific opponent who will face us differently¬†on a weekly basis¬†-¬†they weren‚Äôt understanding it.‚Ä̬†

Scottish football can be a notoriously thrawn environment, and there’s a trail of fallen foreign coaches who arrived with big ideas but were quickly thwarted by belligerent local refusniks. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Caixinha feels his methods would have been accepted more readily by our cousins south of the border. 

“This is the way we see the game and work the game but unfortunately in Scotland we didn’t have the time or the chance to explain this to the people.  

‚ÄúI think that if you compare England to Scotland with regard to openness, I think they are much more open to¬†these sort of different approaches¬†and at least give the benefit of the doubt¬†rather than just being critical and not understanding it.‚Ä̬†

Kenny 

One player who could be described as unconvinced was Kenny Miller. 

A striker of industry, pace and no little ruthlessness in front of goal in his heyday, he was now 37 and moving into the dwindling twighlight of his career. 

After three spells at Ibrox he knew better than anyone the pressures and standards associated with being successful in Govan and it seemed at first he had found common cause with his new manager. 

Arriving in March meant Caixinha had time to assess the squad and he soon handed the veteran a new deal, impressed with his qualities. 

But things would turn¬†sour¬†and Miller hasn't been readily complimentary¬†of Caixinha¬†in the years since, criticising¬†his pre-season preparation and¬†branding his appointment ‚Äústrange‚ÄĚ while questioning the way the manager handled him¬†personally.¬†¬†

Caixinha admits he was impressed by the veteran initially but claims that tensions between them ultimately led to dressing room unrest.

He said: “I would say to you that some players in the squad need to be like an extension of the technical staff and one of those players was definitely Kenny Miller.

‚ÄúHe deserved a new contract in the first season we arrived. And we gave him a new contract but we told him, ‚Äėlook, you completely deserve this new deal, I am very happy to give it to you but now I want to count on you in a different way because we are not going to have the same squad and it will be much more competitive, so I need you to be able to play or not to play.‚Äô¬†¬†

By the end Caixinha says the friction was causing divisions between Scottish players, British players and foreign players. 

He claimed: “When you came in for breakfast they sat separated in these groups. 

“We tried a lot of things to unite the dressing room but it was really difficult.

“And when you choose guys that need to be part of you and make this sort of connection in this league, maybe they had different goals in that moment. 

“That’s what really happened and that’s what really shocked me. 

“I’m not going to hide from my responsibilities, not at all, but I want others to also assume theirs. 

“Let me tell you, Kenny, when I met with him in one single room just man to man, he was not the man I expected. 

Rangers Review: Miller and CaixinhaMiller and Caixinha

“Because he was the only player that I needed to go on top of. The only one. 

“And now he comes on interviews and he says this and says that, he can say whatever, but when we were man to man he could not say nothing to me.  

“This is the situation. Of course, I committed mistakes and I accept my responsibility but others that were expected to be important in the project stepped aside at the first moment. 

“I’m not a guy who thinks leadership is the guy who cries more in a training session, or goes to the media.  

“The good leader to me is the guy who is linked to the project. When the squad or dressing room needs something he is able to be a part of the technical staff. He is able to stand side by side with the manager. That’s the real leader, not having an agenda. 

‚ÄúOne guy that has a different agenda it‚Äôs totally impossible to have that¬†.‚Ä̬†

Caixinha is far more complimentary about his former captain Lee Wallace who was another key figure in the dressing room at the time and a close friend of Miller. 

He said: “Lee Wallace was a different guy. Lee was a really, really nice guy. I think he was a little bit managed by Kenny. 

“Unfortunately he got injured and he couldn’t contribute but he was a different guy.  

“He was thinking differently. For example, he was asking about the methodology and things like that. 

“And of course, Graham Dorrans, Bruno Alves and Niko Kranjcar were guys we also wanted to make a part of it. 

‚ÄúIn that moment we didn‚Äôt want to have a single captain but a strong group of individuals that said: ‚ÄėOkay, we are here, we are going to help the manager¬†and help the club. We know we are here and our opponent might be above us but we want to keep improving¬†and we just need to do it together.‚Äô‚Ä̬†

Footballers talking to sports reporters is nothing new but a constant source of frustration for Caixinha was the stream of inside information leaking from inside the Ibrox dressing room and into the media.  

He said: “Everything exploded when we see the leaks.  

“It was incredible. It is incredible when you are working inside your home and then on the day after everything is in the newspapers. 

‚ÄúYou would say something to the wall and the wall¬†had¬†ears.‚Ä̬†

Kenny Miller has strongly refuted any insinuations he was behind any dressing room leaks through his agent Dave Baldwin, who said at the time: "The problem I have is when the player is the only player dropped the day after a big rant about the club having a dressing room 'leak' and then it is not clarified why he is being left out. 

"It leaves it open to insinuation, and endless newspaper stories and social media speculation that he was possibly or clearly the leak. When¬†clearly¬†he wasn't.‚Ä̬†

Part 2 of our Pedro Caixinha exclusive where he opens up on the signing of Alfredo Morelos, Carlos Pena's personal problems and the sickening Progres defeat can be read here.