“It has given me time to find out more about him, how he works and have some really detailed conversations so we can’t wait to start the relationship. It is only around the corner so that is fantastic news for the club.”
Steven Gerrard was positive and enthusiastic when was asked about the appointment of Ross Wilson, former Southampton Director of Football Operations, as Rangers’ Sporting Director.
Wilson replaces Mark Allen as the man that Gerrard will have to trust and rely upon to deliver the club’s recruitment strategy. That strategy, and its execution, has maybe not quite been up to the standard of a forward thinking club in recent years.
Rangers fans might see the purchases of the likes of Steven Davis and Jermaine Defoe as positive moves but for this football purist they ring nothing but alarm bells. Phrases like ‘experienced’, ‘knows the club’ and ‘been around the block’ might ring out in response but these are somewhat unquantifiable. One thing we can be certain of is that these sort of transfers do not bring any sell on value and it will be a key task for Ross Wilson to change this aspect of the club’s operating model.
It’s important to not just view a transfer with the advantage of hindsight. There can be a number of reasons why a particular transfer is or is not a success but to me the process and logic that has been applied in verifying whether a player has the potential to be the right fit for a club is critical. Below is visualisation of a basic structure, which at times could be more circuitous, for talent identification and recruitment.
If these questions have been asked and answered before the trigger is pulled on recruiting an individual then who are we to say; ‘Why did they sign him?‘
Ross Wilson appears to have had quite a clear strategy over the past four years with Southampton even though the young Scot worked with four different managers during this peroid (Puel,Pellegrino,Hughes and Hasenhüttl) of varying experience and cultures. Further below is visualisation of the player age and transfer fee of those recruited which evidences the strategy.
Questions can be asked about the performances of some of those players purchased under Wilson but thare are many factors to consider about Southampton under his Stewardship such as the removal of Les Reed as Vice Chairman who was an influential figure for over eight years and would have been a good soundboard for Wilson and his principles or strategy. There is also the difficulty in replacing two colossal players in Sadio Mane and Virgil Van Dijk which is a difficult task for any club especially one the size of Southampton.
The average age of the players purchased during Wilson’s tenure was 23.6 which to me is the prime age of a player who has enough data and information available to make an informed decision on what you are buying. This also feels like an age where a player still has room to develop upon which would evidence that their strategy was to purchase players that can improve with the club. As a result Southampton would recruit thinking they would get a player that will continue to grow and in turn grow the club or a player that will continue to grow and have a sell on value which will allow you to make a profit from the player or if you believe in the blue sky – you get both.
This strategy of buying players that can grow the club and the bank balance is something that a comparison of the respective moves shows was maybe missing for Rangers under the guidance of Mark Allen.
Southampton purchased 18 players since the 2016/17 season and there are some key policies that stick out:
- 66% of the players brought in were non UK based which would suggest there was an understanding of the value that can be found in the European market as well as the need for diversity in the culture you are creating.
- 16% of the total transfers made were loan moves. This, we will see is significantly lower than at Rangers and the question is clear; Why develop other clubs players when you could be developing your own?
- 100% of transfers brought in were under the age of 30 again which shows that the age curve for Wilson is important.
Mark Allen’s transfers feel a lot more of a scattergun approach with a lack of a long term strategy. The average age of the players brought in sits at 26 on the dot and it is important to take into consideration that there are a number aged over 30 for whom the resale value is all but guranteed to be zero which for me is not a strategy Rangers should be looking to utilise.
There were also eleven players brought in on loan over the period when Allen was responsible for transfers which equates to approx 37% of the total recruitment. This feels like a potential missed opportunity for Rangers to give more minutes to their own players such as Greg Docherty, Ross McCrorie and Glenn Middleton who all have shown promise and with more match involement might have kicked on.
Diversity also seems to be an issue with Rangers only signing six non UK based players in the last two transfer windows, with three of those players being purchased from one Eastern European agent by the looks of things.
There were positives strides forward in the transfer market under Allen but the lack of an indentity or strategy is maybe why Rangers have only sold around £3million worth of players in the last four transfer windows and with rumours circulating that a failure to shift the “deadwood” is a reason to why Allen left Rangers it will be important for Steven Gerrard and Ross Wilson to assess the current state of the Rangers squad.
Using a nine grid matrix to effectively categorise each player you can plot out some of what the future at Rangers might look like. The placement of players within these grids would be reviewed on a regular basis. As an example Borna Barisic could be considered to have moved in this set up from ‘Inconsistent’ to ‘Talent Risk’ and now back to ‘Key Player’ and is a player the club will would continue to develop.
Similarly, Alfredo Morelos and James Tavernier are clearly ‘key players’ but Rangers may believe can be pushed into the ‘Consistent Star’ category.
This sort of format should allow Wilson and Gerrard to go back to the recruitment process mentioned above to identify needs and improve the squad.
Taking the above picture into consideration I would expect Rangers to really focus on two areas of the pitch.
- Allan McGregor – at 37 this is not a long term solution to the position and there are signs of regression in his underlying numbers.
- Wes Foderingham – Is currently 7 months away from his contract expiring and with his age will unlikely want to spend any more time as a no.2
- Andy Firth – Would appear to be nothing more than an additional body at the position at this point and will likely be surpassed by some of the youth prospects very quickly.
- Alfredo Morelos – Is likely to be the player that Rangers opt to cash in on and reaffirm themself as a club that can develop talent and give them grounds to start their own version of “Moneyball”
- Jermaine Defoe – The 36 year old might have an impressive goals to minutes ratio but this is highly unsustainable and seems like a player that is likely to move into the back room staff if you believe the media reports.
- Rangers have little to no depth at this position with Greg Stewart being next in line in the forward position in what would be an unatural fit.
With the January window looming it would seem that Ross Wilson will have to get to work very quickly to implement his recruitment strategy and I would expect there to be a host of players linked with the Ibrox club in an enviroment that is a pressure cooker for success. This will be Wilson’ toughest test to date as he attempts to help deliver silverware back to the Blue side of Glasgow but he could change the game for Rangers.
Hear more on the Pure Fitbaw podcast episode all about his appointment and the current squad at Rangers