Giovanni van Bronckhorst revealed the quest for Champions League football helped him decide to leave Alfredo Morelos out of the Rangers squad to face PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday night.
The Gers boss omitted the Colombia striker for the second-leg tie of the play-off in Holland due to fitness levels and other concerns, including attitude.
Morelos, 26, who recently returned to the squad following a long spell on the sidelines following a thigh injury, was sent off 13 minutes after coming on as substitute in the 2-2 draw with Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday.
However, Van Bronckhorst insists it was “something that was building up” and was “a signal I had to make to Morelos and also to my team” as he spoke ahead of the game at the Philips stadium, where the game will start with the sides tied 2-2 from the first leg at Ibrox.
Rangers look to take the final step towards the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
“It is always the case that I bring players with me who are ready to play and for me that was the moment I didn’t include Morelos,” said Van Bronckhorst, who confirmed Glen Kamara was back in the squad but Kemar Roofe, Ben Davies and John Souttar remain out.
“As a person it was a hard decision.
“As a manager it was an easy one because we are here to represent our club and to get into the Champions League tomorrow evening.
“I made the decision myself. Of course we have a leader group and I always keep contact with them.
“We will wait and see what happens (going forward). The biggest factor in that is Alfredo himself.
“We will have to see how the coming days and weeks will go.
“He has to show me he wants to play for Rangers. I know he wants to play but to play for Rangers you have to have a certain level, mentally and physically he is not ready to play.”
Van Bronckhorst will go again with Antonio Colak as his main attacker in the Netherlands.
The Croatia striker has scored four goals in his last five games and has kept Morelos on the bench.
The Dutchman said: “Antonio has done really well. He has had a positive impact on the team with his performances, and of course with his goals because we need goals to win games.”
On his Instagram account, Morelos posted a cryptic message in Spanish on an image which translated to: “The best warrior is not the one who always triumphs but the one who returns without fear to battle.
Morelos captioned the post with the words “miedo a dios” which translates to “fear of God”.
PSV boss Ruud van Nistelrooy noted that Morelos had been on the bench in recent games, including the first leg at Ibrox last week, but conceded that the Colombia striker is a talent.
Van Bronckhorst’s former Netherlands team-mate said: “Morelos didn’t start and also in the games before our game we saw Morelos coming on many times and not starting.
“So in that sense we don’t think it has the biggest influence.
“The number one striker is Colak and we expect that for tomorrow’s game.
“I don’t know the decision-making around the Morelos case, I can’t comment on that but I know Giovanni is making decisions for the best interests of the club and the team.
“We know what a player Alfredo can be and what he is and what he has done for Rangers.
“He is a very good striker so in that sense, we obviously focus on ourselves but I rate him a lot as a player.”