By Alex Eeles
Dutch international midfield player Ronald de Boer has had an unusually frustrating season at Rangers FC. The 33-year-old has been out of contention since September after a knee injury during a league game against Dundee United FC saw him sidelined.
He has been forced to watch from the stands as Rangers first crashed out of Europe with a disastrous home defeat against Panathinaikos FC in the UEFA Champions League and then saw their domestic hopes dwindle with a 3-0 mauling at Celtic FC which has left them eleven points adrift of top spot.
"We have not been playing particularly well so we are not feeling too positive about ourselves," he told uefa.com. "We are just not going through a good spell at the moment and
I believe that the defeat at Celtic Park has to do with the lack of confidence in the team."
For many, the root of that loss of confidence lies in that Matchday 6 defeat against Panathinaikos, and De Boer does not deny that the 3-1 reverse has had a devastating effect on Alex McLeish's side. However, the Dutchman believes that were it not for injuries, that game would have been won.
"It was very disappointing for us to lose to Panathanaikos," De Boer admitted. "I must say that in my opinion they are a poor team. We missed quite a number of big, crucial players such as Craig Moore, Mikel Arteta, myself and Shota Arveladze and if we had been in normal shape, we would have beaten them."
"Of course I wish that we were still in a European competition this season but you can't turn the clock back," he said. "There is nothing to be done about that now. It is now crucial for us to reach the Champions League next season."
Celtic already seem certain to regain the Scottish title and take an automatic place in the group stage while Rangers look likely to have to settle for second place and hope to progress to the group stages with a win in the third qualifying round. Certainly, De Boer did not expect Rangers to catch their old rivals in the league this season.
"I think the manager described the situation perfectly when he said that
Celtic can only throw it away now," he said. "It is in their hands. We must still try to win our games and hopefully Celtic will hit an awful spell - but I have to say that I don't think it will happen."
However, Rangers' spirits would surely be lifted if De Boer was to return to full fitness, and he is hopefully well on the road to recovery. "I am working with the ball now but am not yet training with the other lads," he said. "That will probably start for me next week. I'm really hoping I will be back playing in the coming weeks."
Rangers have missed his steadying presence, but De Boer insisted that his absence had not necessarily been the key to his club's current woes. "At the moment people are saying to me that if I was fit to play for the team it could make a big difference," he said. "That is unfair on the other players as no one player can make a team play 40 per cent better. It's not as simple as that: the whole team has to get its confidence back again."
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