Written by Steven Harrigan of Heart and Hand
You can feel it; that chill in the air, the darkness when you leave for work and darkness on your return home. The constant defrosting of your car in the morning and the taking down of the Christmas tree. There really is not a lot to look forward to in the month of January. Except for the January sales, of course. The thrill of trying to snag the bargain buys that will see you through the year.
Well, my friends Dave King, Mark Allan and Steven Gerrard were first in the queue this year: picking up the bargains before anyone else even had a chance to browse through the rack.
Already in at Ibrox so far this month, initially on loan deals, are former captain Steven Davis who is returning for his second spell at the club and Jermaine Defoe who is about as marquee a signing as you would expect to see these days in the Scottish Premiership. Defoe even turned down the bright lights and familiar surroundings of London for the chance to join Stevie G’s Rangers revolution. The Gers have been able to offer something no other interested club was able to: regular football and the chance to compete for trophies. In an era of inflated wages when some view footballers as nothing but out of touch, fame hungry, greedy mercenaries it is refreshing to see two players leave money on the table in order to prioritise winning.
Critics of the two deals will no doubt make attempts to point out the advanced ages of Davis and Defoe as well as the fact that both were finding their amount of game time limited at their parent clubs this season. However, these are two very able players who could have still signed for an English Premier League club had they chosen to pursue that avenue. In fact Crystal Palace, who need goals to stay up, were keen on Defoe. And that’s what Defoe has provided at every club he has been at. Goals. He has the ability to find the back of the net which is the hardest task in football. The fact that Davis and Defoe have been used sparingly up until this stage could well be a huge positive as the players will be fresher down the stretch and able to deliver at the business end of the season just as others start to tire. After all, as the saying goes, fatigue makes cowards of us all.
The question is can Rangers provide the service Defoe desires? I have no doubt that the answer is yes – he’ll get those reverse balls and passes into the channel between the post and outside of the penalty area he thrives upon. Defoe has a case to be the most natural goalscorer we have witnessed since a certain Mr McCoist. He knows where the goal is and scores all sorts of strikes from all kind of angles which is something you really can’t coach as it’s down to pure instinct.
It will be fascinating to see just how Defoe and Alfredo Morelos link up. My feeling is that they won’t start every game together. It’s worth noting no player has scored more goals coming off the bench in the English Premier League than Defoe. I’m not suggesting for a second he has come up here to play second fiddle but some smart game management may be deployed from time to time. Defoe won’t play every game and neither will Morelos – either through choice or other means. Morelos most likely missing some games due to racking up more disciplinary marks than your average NBA player scores points. That’s just his game and style; playing on the edge, constantly walking that fine line. I don’t wish him to change as it’s who he is. Rangers fans must accept it and take the great with the frustrating. A formation change in order to accommodate both players into the same line-up on occasion might lead to Morelos playing a little wider as one of a narrow front three behind Defoe, such is the Colombian international’s skillset.
There is a reason why every Rangers fan is excited to see Steven Davis back home. We are all well aware of where our deficiencies lay in the first half of the season: midfield.
Last summer, with only limited time before the Europa League qualifiers took place, Steven Gerrard had to bring numbers in. This transfer window it’s about adding quality not quantity. Davis and Defoe are exactly that. Davis knows the club so bedding in should be easy. On the field he can act as a perfect foil for Scott Arfield on the left, providing us with a comfortable and more rounded and natural balance, as well as versatility. Davis is a better all-around player than Arfield although both press similarly. I view Davis as a Stuart McCall type: able to harrass, pick a pass and be a constant goalscoring threat from deep which is something Rangers have badly lacked this season. I suspect he will take up a deep-lying playmaking role or alternatively the Daniel Candeias role on the right-hand side. Candeias has at times excelled this season. His link-up play with Tavernier been one huge positive and he will remain a vital and valuable squad player but Davis is simply an instant upgrade in talent.
One aspect that can’t be overlooked is the calming presence these two players will bring to what on the whole is a young and inexperienced squad. Defoe and Davis know what it takes to play in and win big matches which is an invaluable trait only gained through experience. Young Rangers players will learn from two exceptional senior pros being around the club.
Also joining Rangers as a result of this supermarket sweep in the January sales are Kilmarnock’s Jordan Jones and Dundee’s Glen Kamara – two players who will serve as low risk, high reward types. Although both are only due to arrive at Ibrox in the summer having signed pre-contract agreements my gut feeling is that they may well be brought in sooner rather than later. The only question in both cases would be regarding what would be required to secure the players now and would that represent value for us in the current window?
Kamara seems the more likely of the pair to secure an early move as Dundee will be open to negotiations and may be keen on receiving a Rangers player on a six-month loan deal in part exchange. Kilmarnock will resist an early move for Jones and, if they do negotiate, will hope to extract as much money as possible from Rangers as they attempt to save face with their own support who are unhappy at the winger’s choice of club. I do get why some Kilie fans feel let down, but it’s simply the way of football today. You can never win swimming against the tide.
Kamara is an interesting prospect and could potentially prove to be the best recruit of this window. Many observers feel he has played somewhat within himself this season in preparation for a move. Best deployed in either the deep-lying or slightly more advanced central midfield role Kamara is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, neat in tight spaces with an eye for a pass, and has the dynamism to get up and down the field. Every time Rangers have faced Kamara I, along with many others including the management team, have been hugely impressed by his ability to dictate the tempo of the match and his overall performance. I can’t wait to see him in a Rangers jersey and hope it’ll be sooner rather than later.
Jones is another exciting prospect but prospects are suspects until proven otherwise. He is more than capable of winning games for Kilmarnock on his own but, as with many young players and wingers, can often be inconsistent. What Jones does posses is pace to burn and directness. He is always looking to run at and take defenders on and is able to fit in anywhere along the front four which may lead to a more fluid Rangers attack at times following his arrival.
The impact of Steve Clarke’s coaching on Jones’ development into one of the best performers in the league should not be underestimated. Jones’ game has transformed since the former Chelsea player took the helm. He’s made a vast improvement in the defensive side of his game especially in terms of tracking back. Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff may have to devote similarly long hours on the training ground in order to get the maximum potential and impact from the player. Given the rebirth of Andy Haliday this season there is evidence that the current Rangers coaches are well equipped in this regard.
The January sales can become a silly season. We’ve entered that period when you might just buy a shirt that really doesn’t suit you just because it’s half price. Similarly agents and clubs are trying to link Rangers with anyone and everyone. Therefore it’s anyone’s guess as to how Rangers will actually strengthen otherwise within this window.
Ryan Kent tore Celtic apart in the last match and continues to be mooted as a player who could make his loan move to Govan permanent. Talks between the clubs have reportedly opened. This would be a highly popular move with all Rangers supporters as the player has impressed since arriving in the summer. It would be little surprise if this speculation continues on beyond January as Rangers may choose to concentrate their efforts elsewhere at present given Kent is signed on loan till the end of the season. My guess is that we will be seeing Ryan Kent in a Rangers top next season either through a transfer or another season long loan. The player is clearly enjoying his football and his development will not have gone unnoticed by his parent club which may also be useful if Rangers are negotiating with Liverpool for other loans in the future.
Charlie Adam has been rumoured as. player that could return to the club. I would welcome him as you can never have enough quality in your squad but only if it was a short term loan type deal with terms favourable to Rangers. I understand why some fans are not keen but it would be all worth it if he was to climb from the bench and make a game-altering pass or even score in a match where points were vital and the outcome very much in the balance. That’s why, especially as Rangers are in full here and now mode, you bring in proven quality and overlook the past.
That takes me nicely to another long-rumoured transfer target; Steven “Judas” Naismith. I am ready to forgive (no, not really) and forget if he can aid us in the quest for 55. He is exactly the type of player and in the very position that Rangers need. Naismith is versatile, can play anywhere along the front line including wider areas and has the work rate to offer cover defensively which would allow our full backs to overlap without the fear of being exposed and caught out. I felt in the summer we signed the wrong player from Hearts and nothing I’ve witnessed has changed my mind so far.
Rumoured targets that I believe to be less likely are Derby’s Craig Bryson and Graeme Shinnie from Aberdeen. Shinnie could be available on a pre-contract agreement but I remain to be convinced that he is anywhere near the type or level of player that would improve us. Signing him would be nice if only for the banter of taking him from Aberdeen. Bryson is unlikely as he is currently in Frank Lampard’s plans so Derby would most likely require a replacement player in first and more importantly Rangers may not be able to compete on wages as English Championship clubs can generally afford far higher than what any club in Scotland is able to offer.
The exit door at Ibrox will be a busy one I suspect this month as the gaffer frees up space in his squad for replacements. Alfredo Morelos and captain James Tavernier will continue to be linked with moves down south. Good players will always be in demand. It shows how far we have come in a short space of time – after all, it wasn’t so long ago we couldn’t give our players away. If the money is right for all parties then only then will the players go as it would make economic sense.
Other names that I suspect could find themselves looking for new clubs include Greg Docherty who, despite a great YouTube collection whilst on loan, appears to be outside the managers plans. It seems the good old eye test by scouts and the loan manager has helped shape Gerrard’s mind, I am coming to this conclusion based purely on the notion that in a time we were looking for midfield options the manager has taken the search externally. Former skipper Lee Wallace is free to go with the manager making that as clear as day before the window opened. This is now in the hands of the player whose skills have declined to such an extent he is the fourth choice left back. Eduardo Herrera has already departed on a loan and I’d expect his Mexican teammate Carlos Pena to follow suit, with interest reported from Turkey. Freeing up the wages from Pena could well be the difference in bringing in new faces.
The most surprising exits could turn out to be two players who only joined in the summer; Eros Grezda and Kyle Lafferty. Both have been underwhelming to say the very least. Despite featuring on a number of occasions neither has staked a claim for a first-team spot or put pressure on the starters. Despite Grezda costing a significant amount and having an international pedigree he has been unable to dislodge Glenn Middleton who started the season as just a young, promising prospect. Rangers may send Grezda out on loan in a last-ditch attempt to build his confidence and kick start his career again.
Jordan Rossiter’s lack of game time despite being fit recently looks like it could spell the end at Rangers for the former Liverpool youth. One will always wonder what kind of player he could have become had injuries not taken their toll. It is sad and unfortunate that it looks as if that is how he will be remembered at us. I’m sure if it is the case that his time up he goes with the full support’s thanks and best wishes.
Following on from the recent emphatic, dominant display in the Old Firm game at Ibrox the support, euphoric in victory, asked the board to show us just how seriously we are taking this title race.
I think we all got our answers pretty quick. All aboard, next stop 55!