Rangers’ Nico Kranjcar key to Pedro Caixinha’s plans

Niko Kranjcar is back training with the Rangers team following cruciate ligament damage.  Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS
Niko Kranjcar is back training with the Rangers team following cruciate ligament damage. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Former Rangers manager Mark Warburton made many disastrous signings during his tenure at Ibrox but the current incumbent, Pedro Caixinha, insists that Niko Kranjcar should not be counted among their number.

The former Croatia playmaker had started only 17 games for Queen’s Park Rangers and New York Cosmos in the two seasons prior to his arrival in Glasgow. He was clearly not at optimum fitness when he made his first appearances for Rangers and seven of his 15 matches came from the bench.

Unfortunately for the 32-year-old, just as he was finding his feet, he suffered cruciate ligament damage during a freak training accident and has been a helpless spectator as his new club fell 39 points behind champions Celtic.

However, he is now close to concluding his rehabilitation and Caixinha insists that he will build his team around Kranjcar next season, claiming that the veteran’s vision can help him become the team’s quarter-back.

“Niko is already training with the team; he is getting his fitness levels and so is Jordan Rossiter, who started later,” he said.

“We hope that those two players, along with Lee Wallace, start 
[pre-season training] on 5 June at the same level as all the other players. They will make us stronger straight away. They give us totally different options and characteristics about how to perform in a football match.”

While former Liverpool midfielder Rossiter is a tragic tale of potential unfulfilled (thus far) due to a succession of back, calf and hamstring problems, Kranjcar has a glittering cv which includes 81 caps for his country, two Croatian championships and an unlikely FA Cup success with Portsmouth.

“I like pedigree players,” said the Portuguese. “He’s going to be a new player for us and he can play, for sure. He has quality, understanding and leadership.

“He is the type of player that the team can be controlled by, regarding the pace and tempo of the game and the style of play we want to perform. He fits totally into Scottish football.

“I like high pace and rhythm but I like to control that rhythm. We cannot play all the time at a high tempo. Having players who can [change] that is always important for a squad and Niko is definitely one of those players.

“He knows us, we know him and we both know what we want from one another. He has nothing to prove as an individual player but he is really committed and is really looking to perform at his best level for Rangers.

“Niko has a lot to give and identified Rangers as one of the biggest clubs he has ever played for. I met him at the last stage of his recovery but I can tell you what a great professional he is.

“He is the first one to arrive at training and, normally, the last one to go. He’s always available to discuss football and I like players who want to talk about training sessions and everything.

“The guys from American football used to say that the quarter-back would have these sort of conversations. In their type of football the coach and the quarter-back discuss and plan things together. It’s not quite at that level but it’s the sort of relationship I like to have with players.”

While Kranjcar’s return is welcome, Caixinha confessed he would prefer if Lee Wallace’s recovery from the torn stomach muscles which have kept him out since 1 April was delayed for another few weeks. Asked whether the 29-year-old would be available for Scotland’s World Cup qualifying tie against England at Hampden on 
10 June, he replied: “I hope not.

“We have been protecting him in order for him to be starting with us from 5 June so I definitely hope not.

“He’s not been ready to play with us for a long time and I don’t think he’s ready to play against England but it’s not dependent on me

“My idea is to have him ready on 
5 June but if Gordon [Strachan] wants to call him I cannot say anything about that.

“Lee will definitely still be our captain next season. He’s another guy that we are very close to.

“We relate to him and we want to spread his leadership to the other players.”