Dave Vos joined a jubilant Giovanni van Bronckhorst on the pitch at Philips Stadium, having helped mastermind a two-legged win over Dutch giants PSV and author another magical European journey.

Privately, however, the former Rangers assistant and his boss knew this could also be a blessing in disguise depending on circumstances. The squad they’d taken to Seville and past PSV was not yet ready to compete at the elite level of European football while fighting on multiple fronts domestically. No further transfer additions were made following the 1-0 win in Eindhoven and a painful group stage was on the horizon.

With an extra-heavy schedule catalysed by a mid-season World Cup, Van Bronckhorst and his team were unable to continue the feel-good European nights. In November, just six months after leading Rangers to penalty kicks in a European final, a 1-1 draw away at St Mirren sealed his fate. Antonio Colak’s goal that night in August was supposed to mark the start of another journey, not the start of the end.

“I think if the recruitment was a bit better to bring in some players who we thought were a direct possibility to sign, it would have increased our chance of being successful in the way we wanted to play,” Vos says.

“If you ask me honestly, I don’t think we would have played that differently in the Champions League. Napoli were champions of Italy that year, Liverpool were Liverpool and Ajax had won six out of six in the Champions League group stage the season before. Rangers as a football club weren’t ready to play first or second place in a Champions League group. But we were building towards that and I think with time, if we had a year longer, we could’ve developed in that direction.”

During a two-part exclusive interview with the Rangers Review speaking for the first time since Van Bronckhorst was dismissed from his post in November 2022, Vos opens up on what went right and wrong during the Dutchman’s year-long reign as manager at Ibrox from his unique vantage point.

In part one, released today, the now Ajax Jong boss talks recruitment, reasons behind a painful Champions League campaign, the summer window of 2022 not playing out as expected, the issues Van Bronckhorst’s football experienced domestically and how his tenure unravelled.

In part two, released tomorrow, Vos discusses the Road to Seville, how to beat Celtic at Hampden, why the mention of Ibrox still gives him goosebumps, the incredible highs experienced during the Dutchman’s Ibrox spell and more. Telling the inside story of those famous nights that so nearly took him and others to immortality.

It was the spring of 2021 and Giovanni van Bronckhorst was preparing for his next challenge. The former Rangers player, who also captained the Netherlands in a World Cup Final and played for Arsenal and Barcelona, had spent the previous year managing Guangzhou R&F in China and now lacked an assistant with Jean-Paul van Gastel succeeding him in Asia. As Van Bronckhorst looked ahead to his next foray into the dugout it was time to find a new lieutenant.

“It was in April or May when I had my first conversation with Gio,” Vos says. “We have the same agent and from our first conversation, we connected as human beings. We talked for four hours about game principles, how we wanted to play and the methodology behind our game model.

“We agreed that if the right move materialised we could work together but during the summer of 2021 the perfect opportunity didn’t arise for Gio, it was all quite still.

“It was just after I’d signed an extension with Ajax later that year that I heard from my agent. I was sitting with my wife, who was 36 weeks pregnant at the time, when my agent called and I thought, ‘Ok, it must be something happening with Gio’. I was told that Gio was close to a move to Rangers and wanted me to join him.”

Vos, now back at Ajax coaching the second team with ambitions of managing at the Johan Cruyff Arena in his own right one day, knew the opportunity was too good to turn down. The following days were a whirlwind, including a crash course in all things Rangers from the De Boer brothers.

“I asked Ronald and Frank De Boer and a couple of other Dutch guys who knew about Rangers and they were enthusiastic about the people, Ibrox and the philosophy of the club. I left my wife and firstborn to go to Glasgow.”

Dave Vos alongside ex-Sporting Director Ross Wilson (left) and current CEO James Bisgrove (right)

The start made by Van Bronckhorst kept Rangers firmly at the top of the Scottish Premiership heading into the winter break with eight wins from eight. There were growing pains during a shift in style mid-season from Steven Gerrard’s narrow 4-3-2-1, well-rehearsed for over three seasons, to Van Bronckhorst's more traditional interpretation of the 4-3-3 with high wingers and a shift towards man-for-man pressing.

“It was a great group of players, but it isn’t your own group. Of course, because of Gerrard and everything that happened there, it was the players he chose. We needed to work with everybody who was there,” Vos continues.

“You felt a connection from players and staff and support staff directly. The integration was really fast and we won the first eight or nine games in a row.

“That helps the process of how you want to play but we had our own details that were different from the former coaching staff. I remember that we were due to play the Old Firm on the 29th of December [before the winter break was brought forward].

“For us, in that moment we had a real flow and Celtic didn’t. There was a gap of five points or so. When I look back if we had played that game against Celtic in December we were in a much better position because of how many points we could’ve gone ahead.”

A rearranged 3-0 Old Firm defeat, which followed dropped points against Aberdeen and Ross County in the early weeks of 2022, would ultimately cost Rangers the title. Something they still, two years on, have been unable to regain. The gap inherited from Gerrard at the top of the Scottish Premiership would begin to evaporate. It was only made permissible by the Road to Seville. Two years ago last weekend Rangers were defeated by Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties in the frying pan of Europe. In part two of our conversation with Vos, the 41-year-old explains how that logic-defying run was achieved from inside the dressing room.

Rangers still ended the 2021/22 campaign with a Scottish Cup triumph and significant win in the Old Firm semi-final at Hampden, following two significant defeats against Ange Postecoglou’s side in the league. When they saw off PSV over two legs to achieve another minor miracle on the continent the optimism carried into the 2022/23 season, despite surrendering the league title, appeared vindicated. But then, in the space of a week at the start of September Rangers lost 4-0 to Ajax and Celtic. It was a four-day period Van Bronckhorst would never recover from and for many watching from the outside, the byproduct of a summer transfer window that failed to take Rangers forward. Especially given the intense schedule before a World Cup later that year and injuries starting to mount high.

“I think you are right,” Vos says when asked if he felt more could’ve been done in that summer window to strengthen the squad - especially after Champions League football was secured.

Vos (left) with coach Roy Makaay and Giovanni van Bronckhorst (right) in pre-season 2022

“The next season for me, the outcome of the transfer window wasn’t what we had hoped for. If we had won in Seville we’d have gone directly into the Champions League group stage as a pot one team. That would’ve meant something for the group but also in terms of getting new players in.

“Now we had to deal with the Champions League. We had a big run to reach the group stage. Everyone knew that USG were really good and PSV are a really strong opponent. The fact that we managed to get into the group stage was unbelievable. At that moment Gio and I said together ‘Ok, this could be something great to play in the Champions League’ - but in the end, we struggled.

“If you looked at the financial situation of the club, the whole squad was bought for around £18m - we played the Champions League and Europa League final with that squad.”

Calvin Bassey, who Van Bronckhorst inherited as a backup left-back, was sold to Ajax for north of £20million in the summer of 2022 following his meteoric rise as a centre-back in that Europa League campaign. Joe Aribo, who scored in the final, also departed for Southampton. Vos holds those two players as key examples of figures who weren’t replaced in time for that tumultuous start to the season, both in terms of quality and durability.

“Calvin Bassey played a massive part in everything we did,” he emphasises. “If you want to press up high all over the pitch like we did, Calvin had a central role. It was only possible to play like we did because of him.

“We wanted Ian Maatsen really badly who is now in the Champions League Final with Dortmund. We wanted a couple of those players who you know can fit into the style of football you want to play.

“Overall our squad lacked depth and struggled with injuries. I think Leon King was a great talent with real potential. But in a season of 60 games, at his age, you’d expect Leon to maybe play 20 games alongside somebody with experience to develop him. We were relying too heavily on Leon [due to injuries] and that was unfair on him.”

Vos’ tone is tinged with no malice but simply regret. As aforementioned Rangers’ Champions League group was unforgiving, their injury list seismic and schedule relentless. The former assistant insists that the team still intended to approach games in the same manner as the season before during all those memorable European victories but lacked the athleticism and depth to do so. No game epitomised his point like the 7-1 defeat at home to Liverpool. Rangers took the lead and started the game well but after losing Connor Goldson to a costly injury, things quite literally fell apart. That was a microcosm of the start of the season and the unravelling of Van Bronckhorst's spell in charge. 

“Normally if you play in the Champions League you have a week off between games but because of the World Cup our games were every midweek,” Vos explains.

Van Bronckhorst and Vos watch on during Ajax 4-0 Rangers

“Players like Connor [Goldson] were used to playing 60 games. Joe Aribo had played something like 66 matches the season before. When players like Joe and Calvin [Bassey] left us it was really important to get new players in. Tom Lawrence’s injury was really, really significant for us in that sense.

“We saw the intensity and quality of the Champions League was too early for the team we had. We still wanted to do the same things and I think at Ibrox we played really well against Napoli, the first half against Liverpool was unbelievable. In parts of the game we did really well but if you see the level of the opponent it is the small details that are so important.

“Someone like John Souttar, for example, was another player we signed but was injured. If you compare the injuries we had with the level we needed to play at directly… it was really difficult. With all the injuries that happened, it was too much for us.”

‘Injury’ and ‘Rangers’ have proven synonymous words since the winter of 2021. Whether that’s down to constant change in the style, training patterns, staff or otherwise Vos and Van Bronckhorst, much like Philippe Clement in the present day, were rarely blessed with a full complement of players.

And yet, domestically, Van Bronckhorst’s football was never able to energise and excite like a Thursday night. How was it that in the same fortnight in February 2022, Rangers defeated Borussia Dortmund 6-4 on aggregate while also dropping points against Motherwell and Dundee United? That would be Van Bronckhorst's undoing. He would be sacked seven points behind in the league just a year on from his arrival.

“There is a big difference domestically playing every time against a low block,” Vos reasons.

“We missed Tom [Lawrence]. The games against PSV we had [Malik] Tillman and Tom at No.10 and width coming from the wingers. The squad missed creativity on the right-wing to defeat a low block too.

“We struggled domestically in small spaces. If you play in Europe or against bigger teams, they want to play as well. The game’s intensity suited us but domestically when everyone was dropping down playing for set-pieces, counterattacks… we struggled with that.

“There’s no excuse because you need to defeat a low block and the pressure at Rangers is to win and win in style. It’s the same at Ajax and that’s why I love the club. In that phase we weren’t dominant in small spaces, we missed players to make a difference in that area.

“Given the results, pressure came on the board. I still felt really connected at that time the connection was still there with the players. Unfortunately, they made a decision and still, I think it was way too early. If you look at the results we didn’t do well in the Champions League but all those things were connected [to injuries and the summer window]. It was a privilege to be at Rangers and be part of the journey. Ibrox is something unbelievable. For me [the decision to sack Van Bronckhorst] felt too early.”

In part two of this exclusive interview, released on Tuesday morning, Vos talks the Road to Seville from his unique vantage point. Discussing an incredible run, the tactics that led Rangers to the final, the lessons learned that catalysed a 2-1 extra-time win over Celtic at Hampden on the eve of Clement’s side facing their Old Firm rivals in a Scottish Cup Final and more.