Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s unflappable demeanor finally dissolved to full-time at Eindhoven, as the Rangers manager burst into joy and bounced back in ecstatic unison with his side behind the scenes.
It was a wave of emotion after the Dutchman calmly and deftly negotiated all the obstacles that stood in his way on a night of Champions League drama.
From his bold decision to exile striker Alfredo Morelos from the team, to a barrage of chances from PSV as underdogs Van Bronckhorst weathered a storm and then delivered a fatal blow.
Even the trip to the Philips Stadion turned into a farce as hordes of PSV fans blocked the Rangers team bus and made them arrive 20 minutes late.
The Scottish side’s request to UEFA to delay kick-off was denied, but they erased the chaos and delivered a composed and unwavering performance in the image of their manager.
It allowed Van Bronckhorst to be “more relaxed than last week because of the way we played”.
Antonio Colak – the striker keeping Morelos out of the squad – scored for the fifth time in six matches to settle a tight 3-2 aggregate tie and propel Rangers into the group stage for the first time in 12 years.
The importance resonated with Van Bronckhorst as Rangers completed their recovery from financial implosion and life at Scotland’s bottom tier in 2012.
“It’s a very proud moment,” he said. “I know what it means for the fans, for the club, to play at the highest level in Europe, competing with the best teams.
“We are here to compete. We want to compete with the best teams in Europe. It will be difficult but it is an experience that I will love.
“It’s almost the best time [of my career] because of the origin of the Rangers. Ten years ago we were at rock bottom and it took a lot of work, energy and time from a lot of people to rebuild the club to this level.”
‘Sensational evening for Rangers and their manager’
After surprising some of the continent’s best in the race to the Europa League final last season, Van Bronckhorst’s side have reached a new memorable high.
They also did it the hard way, overcoming a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Union St-Gilloise in the previous round before overtaking a much-loved PSV side after Ibrox’s 2-2 draw last week. Not least because the Rangers’ previous 11 trips to Europe had brought only one victory.
Preparation for their Eindhoven mission was marred by the Morelos controversy, with the Colombia international ruled out on attitude and fitness grounds.
It was a decision that could have backfired on Van Bronckhorst, but his reputation instead bolstered his reputation, says former Rangers team-mate Neil McCann.
“Van Bronckhorst as a manager is like a mirror image of the guy I played with,” McCann told Sportsound. “Very thoughtful, calm, calm, very rarely agitated.
“He wasn’t soft, could put his foot in it – and he put his foot in it with the brave decision to leave Morelos at home. Van Bronckhorst earned shining stripes to take this team to the Champions League.”
Former Ibrox striker Steven Thompson added: “It’s just a phenomenal result. It means so much to the club, to the players, to Van Bronckhorst.
“He won this competition as a player [with Barcelona] and now to take Rangers to the group stage as manager is incredibly special for him. It’s a sensational night for him and for Rangers.”
What now for Morelos? As Rangers players crowd around the TV on Thursday to check out their group stage opponents, will the Colombian be given a warm welcome?.
His future remains uncertain, with less than a year left on his contract, but Van Bronckhorst has refused to wash his hands of the player.
“Morelos also qualified for the Champions League,” he said. “I think he is also proud to see his teammates and his club qualifying for the biggest competition in the world.
“He’s still a Rangers player and I’m going to push him any way I can to get him back into shape and get the Morelos we all want.”
How Van Bronckhorst’s composure led Rangers to the big moment