CRAIG MULHOLLAND is confident Rangers are making strides towards having one of the top youth systems in Europe as he tips the next generation of Ibrox kids for a bright future in Light Blue.

The Gers have made significant changes to the academy structure at Auchenhowie in recent years in an attempt to increase the quality of players emerging through the ranks.

A number of youngsters made the breakthrough into the first team in recent months, while 15-year-old Billy Gilmour clinched a six-figure switch to Chelsea.

And Head of Academy Mulholland hopes Rangers will soon be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the elite youth centres in the game.

He told SportTimes: “Genuinely, that is our ambition and that is what we have got to try and achieve.

“We need to realise where we are starting from and accept that it is not something that this club were renowned for, not something that Scottish football was renowned for.

“That is not easy for people because they had to accept a bit of change and criticism of what they have done before and nobody likes that.

“But in order for us to move forward, we had to make that change. We have now got the processes in place, we have got the people in place and we have got the challenges in place.

“A key part, of course, is recruiting the right players to come through the programme. When we look at the group we have at 15, 16, 17, we are really confident.

“We have seen it in the first team recently and with our players at the European Championship. We are really excited with the group that we have and we think that the environment around them is right.

“Most importantly, if you look at Rangers as a club, there is now a pathway to the first team and that didn’t always exist. As a club, we have bought into youth development.

“It is only when players have come through to the first team that we can then say we are hitting the levels of some of those clubs.”

Boss Pedro Caixinha is preparing to overhaul his Ibrox squad in the coming weeks as he gears up for his first full campaign in the Premiership and Rangers’ return to the Europa League.

But Mulholland reckons it won’t be long before more Auchenhowie kids are chapping on the door and challenging for a place in his plans.

He said: “When we set out this project two years ago, we wanted to become one of the top 15 academies in Europe.

“The only way you get that is by producing players for your first team and, the way they record it, players for other teams as well.

“Not everyone is going to play for Rangers but if we can produce young footballers that can then go and do a really good job at the top level of professional football, great. That has got to be our outcome.

“We know the board invest heavily in this Academy and that is a choice, like any board of directors at any football club makes. We need to make sure they get a return on that investment.

“We are starting to see that but we are genuinely excited about the players that can come through over the next couple of years.”