THE journey from the youth wing to the first team area of Auchenhowie is only a few strides along the corridors but the distance belies the difficulty and the significance of the trip.

It is one that many set off on. Few complete it, and only the very best are able to handle the transition from Rangers prospect to Rangers player.

At any given time, there are examples for youngsters to follow, graduates who are the shining light, the beacon for the next crop of kids to look up to. Now, Nathan Patterson stands alone as the ultimate success story for Rangers.

For years, the walls have been adorned with pictures of former academy players and of league and cup achievements. They act as inspiration for those that can dare to dream, a reminder of what is expected of them on a daily basis and what will be demanded from them should they ever make it to the inner sanctum where Giovanni van Bronckhorst now plots Rangers’ next triumphs.

Patterson, of course, played his part in the champions’ most recent and most significant one. Title 55 last term was his first and only medal at Ibrox, but it will hold a unique place in his career regardless of what else he goes on to achieve in England and with Scotland.

Life after Patterson has now started for Van Bronckhorst, but the academy staff have been in that frame of mind ever since the right-back earned his place in Steven Gerrard’s squad and forged his own path from one end of Auchenhowie to the other.

In July 2001, Dick Advocaat and Sir David Murray opened the training complex that would bear the name of the then Rangers owner. A couple of months later, Patterson was born.

The deal that has taken the 20-year-old to Everton could eventually be worth around £16million to Rangers. That is £2million more than it cost to build what was then a state-of-the-art complex on the outskirts of Milngavie.

Thousands of players have entered through the blue gates, but only a fraction have ever gone on to establish themselves. The trip from Auchenhowie to Ibrox is, after all, the most challenging one to complete.

Having nurtured Patterson all the way, Rangers must now allow others to follow in his footsteps and the defender cannot become the exception if the champions are to flourish – both on the park and off it – in the coming years.

The system that produced Patterson is very different to the one that saw Alan Hutton, whose £9million transfer record has now been broken, or the likes of Steven Smith and Charlie Adam rise through the ranks and go on to enjoy notable careers. Many others – such as Kyle Hutton, Jamie Ness, Lewis MacLeod and Ross McCrorie – would attempt to make their own names and succeed to varying degrees at Ibrox and beyond.

For years, the youth structure was overlooked and underfunded but the investment – in people, in processes and in players – has been significant in more recent times, initially on the say so of Craig Mulholland, the Head of Academy, and now with the influence of sporting director Ross Wilson.

There can be pride at Patterson’s exploits, but one graduate is not enough and Rangers need, for football reasons as well as financial ones, another handful to emerge over the coming seasons. The rise and rise of Patterson, and the grounding that Billy Gilmour received before moving to Chelsea, show what is possible.

The Rangers squad should always have a Scottish core, players who at a minimum have a knowledge of the history and standards of the club and others who are lifelong supporters that can relate to those in the stands.

The priority for fans will always be for a winning team to be on the park, but there is a unique bond formed with those they can relate to and addressing the relative dearth of homegrown talents should be a priority going forward.

The financial case is even more significant, however. The business model today is of buying low and selling high, but the one that sees you produce your own talent and move them on is even more lucrative.

It is a process that Rangers haven’t yet mastered. Many have been spoken about as promising players over the years, but Patterson is the only one to have made the grade at Ibrox and it would be a failure of the system if others do not quickly follow his example.

Given the advancements in everything from facilities to scouting during Gerrard’s reign, and with Van Bronckhorst now able to bring his own expertise to the table, there are no excuses for Rangers when it comes to finding, recruiting and developing players.

When the strategy for the academy was being updated and implemented a few years ago, inspiration was taken from some of the finest systems across the continent. Why shouldn’t Rangers, in time, have a production line that is as heralded as those at Ajax or Benfica, for example?

Those are the levels that Rangers should aspire to reach. If that is to happen, players of Patterson’s quality must be reared on a regular basis and the manager of the day must have the courage of his convictions to trust young players to be part of his squad.

At first team level, it is all about the results and the silverware. In terms of the academy, their efforts can only be judged by the players that are developed and a setup that doesn’t promote kids of the required standard has ultimately failed in its primary objective.

There is now a joined-up thinking between all aspects of Rangers’ football operation. Title 55 was a line in the sand for the club and the support, and the sale of Patterson must now be a platform that Rangers build from to ensure a brighter future.

A thriving academy operation must become the backbone of Rangers in sporting and financial senses and there is now an increased expectation on the staff and coaches to ensure the champions have the players capable of winning domestically and competing on the continent.

Patterson’s story buys breathing space and earns kudos. At a club where the next game and next triumph is always the most important, the focus has to shift to the handful that must now emerge to take Rangers to the next level.

Auchenhowie – now 20 years old and in a new phase of its life - cannot be classed as a failure. The next few seasons will truly determine how much of a success story it is for Rangers.