Exclusive - Former United States international midfielder Maurice Edu has backed James Sands to 'embrace' his new challenge at Rangers.
Sands completed an 18-month loan to the Scottish champions in January, with an option to make the deal permanent in 2023.
Edu represented Rangers for four years between 2008 and 2012 during his playing career, featuring 125 times and winning six major trophies. Looking back on his own time at the club, Edu recalled the 'family' atmosphere that came laced with huge passion and expectation.
"Rangers was a family club," Edu told 90min in an exclusive interview. "You know, once you walked through those doors, everyone welcomed you. Everyone embraced you, from your teammates, to the staff, to beyond that. The staff around the grounds and just everyone.
"It's a real club. It's bought in and connected, and so I'll always feel connected to that club. I always still cheer for them and try to catch as many games as I can."
Rangers and Celtic dominate the sporting scene in Glasgow and coming to the city from the United States, where soccer competes for fans with multiple other sports, is obviously going to be a culture shock for any American.
But Edu was struck by just how welcoming the Rangers supporters were, if not a little surprised at how much they already knew about a young, up-and-coming American.
"The people were friendly, they were great," he said. "I was surprised that they knew as much about me as they did. I was a young American player. I’d only played one year of professional football to that point.
"I was still relatively young and new in my career. but they were welcoming. I remember there were a lot of fans out there when I first arrived. It was game day and so, obviously, fans were outside the stadium. But I remember arriving at the front doors of the stadium and hopping out of the car and just seeing the fans erupt."
Sands has only played limited minutes under Giovanni van Bronckhorst so far, but he'll already be keenly aware of just how much football means to the people of Glasgow.
Edu has warned that standards are incredibly high and that Sands will face challenges completely new to him.
"I think James can expect to play in front of a passionate fan base, a fan base that really cares about their club but is honest," he said. "With that, they're critical when they need to be.
"They're going to challenge him to be the best that he can be. And that's because they want their club to be at the pinnacle, to be winning every single game. And that's a different kind of pressure that you get, that you don't always get at every club. I think every club wants to win every game, but the demands for Rangers are that they need to win literally every game."
"It's going to be a challenge for him, but I think it's one that he's going to embrace, and one that's going to push him to continue to grow as a player," Edu continued.
"James is still relatively young as well, but I think he's done some good things in his career thus far with winning the Championship before leaving NYCFC, with breaking into the national team over the summer, and the success he had with them at the Gold Cup.
"But also, when you just speak to him, he's a confident man. A confident young kid who has the right mentality, who I think is sure of the things that he's good at, knows his skill set, but with that is willing to work hard and continue to grow as a player."
One of the most important reasons for young Americans to make that European switch at a young age is learning how to handle the extra pressure, expectations, and visibility of the game across the pond.
As someone who has made that journey himself, Edu cannot speak highly enough of how Sands can use the experience to develop as a player, both on the pitch and mentally.
"It doesn't allow you to ever take your foot off the gas and you learn quickly that if you do for a second, there are players that are hungry and waiting to take your spot," Edu said of the effect playing for a giant European club has on a young player.
"So it's challenging from a physical standpoint, obviously, with the competition with your teammates to stay in the team, but then also to win games together. But then from a mentality standpoint as well, because you have to adjust with that level of pressure from fans, from your teammates, from the club.
"As soon as you walk in those doors, the bar is set high and every day you're looking to raise your standard and maintain a level that's high enough to not only stay in the team, but to contribute in a meaningful way. And so for a young player to be a part of a winning culture just shapes your mentality.
"There are no moments where you think that you can get by and let these guys carry you. You can't be a passenger in that team. I think especially for young players, if you can adopt that mentality and have that mindset early on, it just shapes you to continue to be relentless, to continue to be hungry, to continue to demand more from yourself.
"But I think when you're in that environment, it also shapes you to become a leader and you can start demanding more from your teammates as well being more vocal and assuming different positions of importance and responsibility."