THE road from Rangers to the bright lights and big money of the Premier League is one that must become well travelled if the Auchenhowie academy is to be considered a success.

But Craig Mulholland believes Rangers can reap the rewards of enticing top talents to make the move the other way and give them a chance to make their name in the game at Ibrox.

The journey that Billy Gilmour made when he signed for Chelsea five years ago was followed by Nathan Patterson in January as he completed a record-breaking move to Everton. Next month, Rory Wilson will join Aston Villa and become the latest Rangers kid to be tempted south of the border.

There is little that Rangers can do when their brightest prospects come onto the radar of Premier League clubs but the flow need not be one way and the rise and rise of Calvin Bassey, signed from Leicester in 2020, is the perfect case in point at present.

And Head of Academy Mulholland is well aware of the importance of doing the right business at the right time as he seeks to provide first team players for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and boost the bottom line for the Ibrox board.

"I think the sale of Nathan was important in terms of our player trading strategy," Mulholland told RangersTV when asked about the deal, worth up to £16million, that took Patterson to Goodison Park.

"I think the other part of it is that we will always have interest in our players from down south, whether that is ones who break into the first team or younger players.

"At times, we accept that those guys will move on to EPL or other leagues. But, at the same time, our own recruitment team, headed by David Stevenson, have done a fantastic job and this summer, for example, will see a lot of recruitment come the other way using the FIFA cross border model to make sure we exploit that as well.

"It used to always be that players in the academy came through and stayed with the club all the way through, that won’t always be the case now. Even in youth football, with the change in Brexit rules, change in FIFA regulations, means that the player trading piece becomes more and more important.

"Therefore, selling Nathan at that point gives everyone belief that Rangers can not only be a club that wins, and that is always what we need to be about, but actually we can go and develop talent for a return on the investment as well."

Time will tell whether there is another Gilmour or Patterson within the Ibrox ranks but the signs look promising heading into the new campaign as the likes of Leon King and Alex Lowry aim to make their mark under Van Bronckhorst's guidance.

It was an encouraging season across the Auchenhowie structure last term and Mulholland is pleased with the progress that is being made as players make their first team breakthroughs and others continue to catch the eye at home and abroad.

Mulholland said: “We did a professional development phase review at the end of the season where we reflected on the programme.

“At the end of the season, the B team played 59 matches and we know that our first team are playing over 60 matches now, so it prepared our lads for the recovery that must happen inbetween and the adjustment to their diet.

“That variety of competition was important and to get to the last 24 of the UEFA Youth League by beating the champions of Sweden and Bulgaria was exceptional for us. The game against Seville was a great experience as well and gives that ‘best v best’ challenge at their own age group.

“Equally, getting to the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup against men after defeating Dumbarton and Alloa was important as well, then the Glasgow Cup where the lads did exceptionally well.

“When you combine the Lowland League and ‘best v best’ games, the research suggests that the variety of competition stimulates learning and I think we can see that in our players.”

Rangers will embark on another Lowland League campaign in the coming months after clubs - albeit at the last minute and after several contentious weeks - gave their approval to B Teams from the Old Firm and Hearts entering the fifth tier next term.

The Ibrox Colts finished second behind champions Bonnyrigg Rose last time out and Mulholland believes the experiment was a wholly worthwhile one as Scottish football seeks to answer a key youth development question and bridge the gap between academy football and Premiership action.

Mulholland said: “We’re trying to expose our players to first-team football as early as we possibly can and the Lowland League has been outstanding in that sense.

“By the end of the season we ended up with twelve graduates that had played in the first team and that wouldn’t have happened if those B team players had been on loan.

“If you watch the interviews with Alex (Lowry), Cole [McKinnon] and Adam [Devine] after they played at Tynecastle, they all reference the Lowland League’s importance.

“The loan model is really important to us as well because players will go on different paths and journeys and we will utilise both strands, but I think that when we reflect on it now, the B team was a massive success.

“We’re one of the first teams in the UK to have a B team and that has been massive for us. There has been a lot of innovation from the people behind the scenes like Creag Robertson and Ross Wilson and it was important for us to push this with the governing bodies.

“Alex and Leon (King) are now called up to the Scotland U21 squad when they are actually U19 players. When you see that progress it is really important and I think a big part of that has been down to our involvement in the Lowland League.”