Just days away from the beginning of season 20, manager Eddie Bono has decided to play down expectations ahead of what he expects to be a challenging and arduous journey.
While the Rangers romped in style to the IV.1 title in season 18, following the signings of several experienced players, they were unable to defend their title in season 19, managing only a second place finish. Fans began to question the manager's wisdom in signing those players as the modern game evolves into the fast-paced, high-action sport we know today.
"Really, you can't expect these sort of players to help us get promoted," one disgruntled fan grumbled. "We've got all these players hitting thirty-four, thirty-five years old this season. To be fair, they had a good run in '18 and did a job for us in '19. But I just can't see those creaking legs holding us up for another season."
This sentiment is echoed by most Rangers supporters, who obviously feel that the club needs a change in philosophy to keep up their challenge for titles. Member contentment remains buoyant, although a few poor results will undoubtedly turn them into a skeptical bunch.
Mr. Bono has a ready answer for such fans. "We are gradually phasing out the backbone of the team, the experienced players," he said, cautiously. "Make no mistake, they are still top-quality ruggers. But any Tom, Dick or Harry can see that buying older players as a long-term strategy is unsustainable, to say the least. We are investing heavily in our youth set-up at the moment but it will take time to see definitive results. Till then, we will have to rely on the old guard to push us through."
Supporters will be glad to note that the youth program is up and running, but questions remain about its success. While Heath Secrett, the youth scout, believes that the youth squad has much potential, he laments that the coaching facilities at first team level do not match the quality at youth level.
"You see a lad like Oswald Powell ," he cited as an example. "He was scouted in at 80 stars. He could make a decent forward, he's got the build and he's only 17 years old. He's got a few years of good development left. But now he's up in the first team, we haven't got the personnel to help the kid fulfill his potential. It's a damn shame."
Mr. Bono was calm when told about Mr. Secrett's outburst. "While the facilities we have here for training may not be the best, they will be upgraded very soon. We've haven't reached a point where we're in debt yet, and the new season should bring us some good revenue to boot. So tell Mr. Secrett not to worry, we'll be grooming world beaters here at Whampoa Field soon enough!"
While cash flow had been cited as a problem in season 19, Mr. Bono waved off such suggestions that it could be a challenge for him this season, somewhat uncomfortably.
"Yeah, our reserves are running a bit low, I'll admit. We're getting some new trainers in, as well as possibly looking at a training facility upgrade. Money's a little tight at the moment, but with some good management, we should do alright."
The Whampoa Rangers support certainly hopes that good management will be on display this season.