CRAIG Mulholland, the head of the Rangers youth academy, has revealed the Ibrox club have been lobbying behind the scenes for Ladbrokes Premiership reserve teams to be introduced to the senior set-up in Scotland this season and described the ground-breaking move as “a no brainer”.

Gordon Smith, the former SFA chief executive and Rangers director of football, yesterday called on the SPFL to give serious consideration to incorporating top flight B teams into regionalised lower leagues if they change the current 12-10-10-10 structure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The prospect of increasing the Premiership to 14 clubs - in order to save bottom-placed Hearts from relegation and allow runaway Championship leaders Dundee United to be promoted if the 2019/20 campaign is unable to be played to a finish because of the shutdown - has been mooted outwith the SPFL.

Mulholland would like to see Scotland follow the lead of many major European football nations, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, and allow reserve teams to compete in their bottom tiers.

He is convinced the benefits for Rangers best young footballers would be enormous and confirmed he has held regular talks with Ross Wilson, the Ibrox sporting director, his counterparts at other Premiership clubs and the SFA and SPFL about the matter.

“It is a huge one for us,” he said. “We are pushing that one. For myself and Ross Wilson, it is a daily discussion.

“It is critical to the best young talent, particularly at Rangers, but actually from a Scottish football point of view, and is something that we are continually working on with a whole range of bodies to try to make happen.

“It is not something you need to prove any more, you look at the success of it in so many other countries, it is in my opinion an absolute no brainer, but I do understand the politics around getting it in.

“It is something that we need to push for. Whether it comes through this process (the shutdown and possible review of Scottish football) remains to be seen. It is something that is passionately at the front of our minds.

“Whether it comes now or in the future, we will continue to push the merits of B teams and trying to be creative with our partnerships such as Orange County out in the United States to try make sure that bridge between the academy and the first team – which is a huge mountain to get over – is done properly.

“But the ideal for us would be a B team. It's football against men at three o'clock on a Saturday, it means something.”

Many of Rangers’ most promising prospects are currently loaned out to other senior clubs – including Jamie Barjonas (Partick Thistle), Jake Hastie (Rotherham), Stephen Kelly (Ayr United), Robby McCrorie (Livingston), Ross McCrorie (Portsmouth), Josh McPake (Dundee) and Cammy Palmer (Orange County) – in order to get game time at a high level.

However, Mulholland stressed there are huge advantages by keeping them in house. “With the loan system at the moment you're entrusting somebody to impart their knowledge, their teachings, and they might not fit with the model of the young player you are trying to get,” he said.

“I think, in an ideal world, we would have a B team where we can have the benefit of what we believe is a really high-performance environment at Rangers now, but also with the benefit of the fact that they are playing competitive football against men every Saturday.

“Most importantly, the training programme and the teachings that young players receive are actually delivered by our staff on our game model using our methodology.

“The other benefit is that if they are still resident at your club rather than on loan then what it means is that if the first-team manager has an opportunity to put that kid in as a result of injury or whatever that player is still available to take that opportunity. Whereas if the kid is on loan he might miss that opportunity.”

Premiership clubs’ under-20 teams have been allowed to compete in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup since 2016 – and this season Rangers went all the way to the semi-final before losing 2-1 to Championship rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle away.

Mulholland feels the experience the likes of Nathan Patterson, McPake, Palmer and Matthew Shiels gained during their run to the last four was absolutely invaluable – and is keen to see them tested against full-time and part-time opponents in the senior league system going forward.

“The example for us is the Challenge Cup run this year where we played Berwick, Stranraer, Ballymena, Wrexham, Solihull Moors,” he said. “We obviously lost the semi-final against Inverness, which was a great game. That's been fantastic and that's what we need to replicate for our young players.

“You look at Solihull Moors. Tim Flowers (former England and Blackburn goalkeeper) was the manager. They have a massive budget in line with any small Premiership club in Scotland. There were a lot of Rangers fans turned up, there was a crowd and an atmosphere – it was perfect.

“And if you read John Robertson's comments after the semi-final when we lost 2-1, John was very open about the way we went out and played. That was a team sitting second in the Championship and had just knocked Livingston out of the Scottish Cup. So I think from our point of view, if we want to develop young Scottish talent that is a must for us.

“If you get into the Challenge Cup again next season, you could get knocked out in round one. We were lucky enough that we got six games but it could be one game and what we need is our young players at that stage getting it week after week after week.

“There are so many benefits to it. And I think we can do it in a way that maintains the integrity of the league and the senior competitions which I know is really important to the clubs in the lower divisions.”