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Rangers have developed a Best v Best Games Programme to challenge our Academy players and B Team coach David McCallum is confident the bespoke schedule will provide a tremendous learning experience for all involved.

There will be no Light Blues B Team in the Lowland League in 2023/24 – primarily because the club wants to develop young players without restrictions.

And McCallum believes the introduction of Best v Best fixtures plus participation in the SPFL Trust Trophy, Glasgow Cup and hopefully the UEFA Youth League are great platforms for advancing our young talent.

During a wide-ranging interview as he showed his support for The Rangers Youth Development Company, who have provided more than £10 million to the Academy, David says he is excited about the new campaign.

He explained: “There are a number of benefits to our Best v Best Programme.

“We enjoyed being part of the Lowland League set up and we appreciated the hospitality  from the clubs we visited. They always looked after us and we tried to make it work.

“But we felt the ceiling for development was blocked and we couldn’t see opportunities to go higher and test the boys against men – who are essentially full time players in higher divisions.

“We have a responsibility to our young players and we have to provide them with the best challenges more consistently.

“We want to do all we can to prepare them for a journey to the first-team so as staff (1st Team | Academy) we discussed all areas of player development (technical, tactical, physical and mental) and the data we had collected from the different levels of games we had been involved in.

“The decision to build our own programme – Best v Best – was then based on the information we had collected, and the informed opinions involved in the discussions.

“We will work in blocks of six weeks and arrange games to suit. We will travel, clubs will come to us and we will change the venues to give players a change of environment. It can’t always be the sterile environment of the Academy.

“We will play games here of course but we need to expose the players to different situations. By choosing our own opposition we can provide greater tactical challenges for the boys due to the level of players we are up against.

“Recently we played against Belgium league side OH Leuven and it was their first-team. Our young players were terrific and well in the game for more than 60 minutes – against a team that finished above Anderlecht in the league last season.

“We had 2006 aged players against 30-year-olds and it was brilliant. We had to work so hard in possession and their athleticism took over in the end but make no mistake we played well and it was a great learning experience for them.

“Their manager was really complimentary about our players, he was really respectful of what we did in the game and the style of play we tried to implement.

“We have also played Everton, Manchester City and Burnley’s 21s and that level of game is great for us. We will arrange good ones like that against other English Premiership and European teams.

“We will play Scottish teams as well as we have the SPFL Trust and Glasgow Cup tournaments so we will have a nice balance of local, UK and foreign opposition.

“There will be no age restrictions either and that is important. If we played in the Lowland League and a player made 5 appearances for our first-team then they would no longer be available to us. That was closing doors and was restrictive so our programme can provide more of a challenge, plus the chance to play alongside senior players.

“The best part of the job is seeing players like Leon King, Adam Devine, Alex Lowry, Bailey Rice and Johnly Yfeko playing in the first-team.

“We develop players but it’s not in our gift to guarantee an Academy player will get first-team football. They need to earn the chance and if the window opens up they need to be ready.

“When we send a player round there the speed of the ball is faster, the demands, intensity and pressure is higher so we have a responsibility to prepare them for that as best we can in our training.

“The games programme will also help their preparation as we will play a high level of opposition.

“Our players have to earn the right to go round there and when they do they have to be ready. Our players must come off the training pitch after giving their absolute maximum but they also need to ask, ‘What else can I do now to develop?’

“That could be working in the gym or analysis but make no mistake it is a massive step up.

“Responsibility is a key word for us and we will do all we can to push their development.

“We must maintain the players’ hunger, every day here is an opportunity for them to learn and improve.

“They are a team on a matchday but they are individuals who want first-team careers and every player develops at different speeds.

“They can’t all make it at Rangers but hopefully what we provide will allow them to have a first-team career at the highest level possible.

“I came in 8 years ago and credit goes to Craig Mulholland for working so hard and putting so many programmes in place. It is very different now from the first day I came here to now.

“Zeb Jacobs is now in place and he will put his own stamp on it.

“He will oversee all parts of the Academy journey and he has been here for 18 months or so and that will help. It’s an exciting time for him and the club.

“I love it here and working with young players on the pitch is a real buzz.

“I want fans to enjoy watching the B Team and see us winning games but that can’t be at the forefront of what we do as developers.

“Don’t get me wrong we want to win, nobody likes losing, but what we try and do is develop the players so they are ready for the first-team if called upon.

“Malky Thomson is working with me and the B Team this season and we are both excited about the Best v Best Programme.

“We had a brilliant pre-season and we planned it well in advance.

“We wanted a trip away for a number of reasons. The facilities we have here are at an unbelievable level but we wanted a trip out of the building so the players were all living in each other’s pockets and mixing well.

“It was a good trip and the fans in Northern Ireland gave us a great reception.

“There was so much interest from the supporters and they filled the stadiums in the games against Crusaders and Bangor.

“We have a responsibility to make sure the fans enjoy watching the team and they all wanted pictures with the players after the game. It’s important all players realise what the club means to supporters and the boys were all generous with their time.

“We had a lot of younger players involved with the camp and it was a great experience for them.

“We want our players to show who they are and have a bit of character. As developers of young footballers they must have standards but young players can become robots but we want them to be individuals and retain their personalities.

“There is a need for that. On and off the pitch we want players to be humble but show personality and character.

“We have a lot of experience in our Academy to help the players. Steven Smith had a high-profile playing career, Brian Gilmour was an Academy player and also played abroad and Graeme Smith had a nearly 20-year playing career too so that is all really helpful for their development.

“I have loved my time here and I really enjoy developing players. I know why I’m here, I know what I’m doing and I know what I can bring to the young players.

“It’s a great club to work at, I supported this club as a boy and I want to see the young players we work with go round to the first-team and stick there.

“We’re also extremely grateful to RYDC as their annual donations to the Academy help all staff and players here. That support is invaluable.

“More than £10 million has been provided to date and I have seen the difference it has made during my time here. An increase in staff numbers, technology, pitches, gym equipment – RYDC finance helps us in so many ways and we can’t thank RYDC and the fans enough.

“It’s massive for us and will never, ever be taken for granted.”

Players like Leon King, Nathan Patterson, Alex Lowry, Adam Devine, Billy Gilmour and more recent graduates like young debutants Bailey Rice, Zak Lovelace and Archie all develop thanks to RYDC support.

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