NOT being able to afford the latest adidas Predator, Nike Mercurial or Puma King football boots when they were growing up has done nothing to prevent the best Brazilian youngsters from reaching the very top of the world game over the years.

But you would imagine the outstanding prospects who are coming through the youth ranks at Rangers today would all be sporting the leading brands’ best gear when they are doing drills at Auchenhowie or playing in games.  

So why, then, have the Ibrox club’s kids started training in their bare feet?

Zeb Jacobs, their academy director, explained the method behind the apparent madness as he welcomed a £400,000 donation from the Rangers Youth Development Company which took their investment to over £11m since 2002.

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“We sometimes train barefoot,” said Jacobs. “We speak about being innovative as being one of our key pillars. We take learning as a starting point, not football

“What we know from a skill development perspective is that feet have millions of sensitive neurones and receptors. The amount of touches is much more sensible without boots, than with boots.

“Secondly, from an injury prediction perspective, it’s just really healthy to play and walk on your bare feet. So from a technical perspective to play and master the ball, and secondly from a movement perspective, we know from research there’s a massive benefit on learning.

Glasgow Times: “Differential learning actually means that your training is consistent. So we have a curriculum in place in terms of football behaviours and one-v-one dominance.

“But when it comes to how we train, we want to be really variable. We want outdoor, indoor, small ball, big ball, with shoes, without shoes, with socks, with music and without. With different coaches too.

“We want to be really flexible so the body can always adapt in skill acquisition perspective. And barefoot is one of the things we have added to the programme. It’s mainly before the growth spurt, maybe at 12, 13, 14, when they are really in a sensitive period. We just try to do it in a really safe way.

“We will come up with crazy ideas, but we believe we need to think outside the box. If we want to become a producing academy, what we believe we can be, then we need to make sure we keep challenging the staff in different things and make this club and academy a producing one across Scotland and Europe.”

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The number of home-grown players to force their way into the Rangers first team in recent years has disappointed supporters and has resulted in both criticism of the youth set-up at Auchenhowie and questions about whether the outlay is justified.

But Jacobs, the Belgian who was formerly head of development at Royal Antwerp in his homeland before moving to Scotland and becoming head of academy coaching at the Ibrox club back in 2021, is confident that more youngsters will get their opportunity to impress now that his compatriot Philippe Clement is in situ.

Clement, the former Genk, Club Brugge and Monaco manager, has shown throughout his career in the dugout that he is not afraid to take a chance on inexperienced youngsters. Ross McCausland, the Northern Irish winger who is just 20, has become a regular starter during his tenure. His mentor is certain he will not be the last to make the breakthrough and establish himself. 

Glasgow Times: “It’s 100 per cent in his interest,” he said. “The manager started his coaching career as a transition coach in an academy. We have a strong communication line that will benefit us in the long term and the manager’s input is big.

“The manager, director of football operations, the chairman, CEO and director of recruitment are all together. Everyone has his input and all have a different lens on the role also. But together we have really strong debates about what will help us now and in the long term.”

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Jacobs, though, is more concerned with ensuring the youth set-up at Auchenhowie is as good as it possibly can be than producing the next Jack Butland, James Tavernier or John Lundstram.

He is confident that if he and his colleagues get that right then that will be reflected in the technical ability, physicality and mentality of the players who are part of it and see many more of them follow in McCausland’s footsteps.    

 “Yes, we have KPIs (key performance indicators) about how many players we want to produce in the future,” he said. “But what is success? That every person that’s in contact with Rangers academy has a positive experience.

“Only x per cent will make it. Everyone has a different journey, different road bumps, that’s why care is so important. No matter your experience at Rangers we want it to be a positive one, we want it to be life changing.

“We take kids from all round Scotland, put them in a dressing room and we laugh together, cry together, celebrate and overcome things. I want to make this an exciting place people want to be part of and nurture development.

“If we do things right we will produce players, but it’s difficult to put in numbers. We want to have the best programme and I’m confident we will produce them.”

Jacobs continued: “We want to focus on what we can influence. I cannot influence that player x is going to be ready at this time. What I can influence is ‘can we crate the best environment? What the training programme looks like. Which people are working with which players.

“At the end, if we do this right we will produce players. It might be four one year and zero the next. But I really want to focus not on the outcome but on the process.

“We truly believe that we will produce players, 100 per cent. We’re maybe not the best producing club in the world, not there yet. But look at what we’re doing in the academy right now when it comes to process and methodology. We do so much right that the outcome will be there.”

Glasgow Times: