THE capabilities of John Carver have become a vexed issue as Newcastle United have plunged towards the relegation zone of the English Premier League. The St James’ Park manager seemed to find himself in a minority of one last week in claiming he was “the best coach” in the much-vaunted set-up. Yet Rangers’ on-loan striker Haris Vuckic might be another willing to commend the judgments of the man he calls JC.
Vuckic admitted yesterday he was initially “sceptical” about swapping Newcastle for Ibrox when the loan offer was floated in January. “I wanted to play for the Newcastle first team but then I spoke to John Carver and he gave me advice to go and play and get 20 games before we see what happens in the summer. I can say it was good for me,” said Vuckic.
And good for Rangers too. The player isn’t just a key figure in the club’s Premiership play-off bid, as they look to seal a semi-final date with Hibernian on Sunday, when they entertain Queen of the South for the second leg of a quarter-final tie in which they hold a 2-1 lead. Vuckic is, in fact, the one product of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s connections with Rangers that Ibrox supporters will not spit blood over. With nine goals from 15 starts and two substitute appearances, he has been the most potent attacker during Stuart McCall’s two-month tenure.
Newcastle’s fortunes have nose-dived across the same period, with a draw against West Bromwich Albion last weekend halting a losing sequence that stood at eight games. It raises the possibility that Vuckic might have been given his chance by Carver if he had stayed. He has no regrets about the loan move, though. Indeed, playing his part in a promotion bid for Scotland’s top flight might now appear more appealing than the desperate scrap to avoid relegation from England’s top flight ongoing at his parent club.
“It is difficult to say [if I would have had an opportunity under Carver]. I am doing well at Rangers and Newcastle are not doing so well. I wanted a fair chance. I couldn’t get it at Newcastle and that is why I came to Rangers. Now it is easier to say I could do the same at Newcastle had I stayed there, but I am happy at Rangers and doing well.
“You could say things are more positive just now at Rangers than they are at Newcastle. They are going to do well in the last two games and I wish them all the best. I am sure with the players they have they will stay up. But I just want to focus on myself at Rangers – I want to do well for the club and I hope we can bring them back to where they belong.”
John Carver told me to go and play 20 games. I can say it was good for meHaris Vuckic
If that were to pass and Newcastle happened to lose their Premier League status then there could be potential for Vuckic to extend his stay. However, the striker accepts that right now it is impossible to know where he will be playing his football next season.
“There are all kinds of combinations which could happen but I don’t know anything about my future at the moment,” he said. “Everything can happen. When we know where both clubs are, I can decide on my future. Newcastle are the ones who are [also] going to decide – I still have to respect Newcastle because I still have a year left on my contract there.
“In the summer, I will have options and I will pick the best one for me. If that is Rangers… I have been enjoying it here, the fans like me and I like it here so that will be a good option to stay with Rangers. I don’t know if there would be a fee involved. I will know more about it in the summer.” This weekend may provide him with an enticement in the event he can help Rangers negotiate the Queens tie, then the Hibs challenge before a play-off final against one of Motherwell, Kilmarnock or Ross County. The £5 admission has encouraged the belief that a capacity 50,000 crowd will be attracted to Ibrox. Vuckic drooled at that prospect yesterday.
“The most full Ibrox has been was against Hearts [last month] when there were 42,000 there. It still wasn’t full but that was the best crowd since I’ve been here. The fans were right behind us and we dominated. That can happen again against Queen of the South and we can have even more in the stadium to get behind us. We did well in the first leg. The 2-1 win was a good result and we have a good advantage. We are confident with our crowd behind us that we can do the job.”