W ith eight of them recruited by Pedro Caixinha across the summer window, there is an understandable expectation that fresh players will shape this season for Rangers. Yet, that possibility could extend to individuals the Portuguese coach inherited on his arrival to Glasgow in March.
In an otherwise excruciatingly mundane 1-0 win by the Ibrox side in Thursday’s Europa League first-round qualifier first leg against Progres Niederkorn that has made Tuesday’s Luxemburg return a more awkward assignment than it ought to have been, Niko Kranjcar offered the only sprinkling of pizazz. Meanwhile, the potential of Jordan Rossiter – who replaced the Croatian after 69 minutes – was talked up by Caixinha afterwards.
Kranjcar and Rossiter can be considered fresh-ish blood to the Ibrox cause. The pair were brought to the club by Mark Warburton last summer but made little contribution to an ill-starred campaign as a consequence of long-term injury. Rossiter, a 20-year-old prospect from Liverpool’s youth set-up, was lost to a calf problem in late August that ended his season – little more than a month before 81-times capped Kranjcar was ruled out for the rest of the campaign with a cruciate ligament injury.
Both Kranjcar and Rossiter were available to Caixinha for the first time in midweek then, and the Rangers coach did not seek to play down the significance of having the pair fit and fizzing. The problem for both is that good health doesn’t come easy to the pair.
Kranjcar is still in his peak years at 32. His pedigree, evidenced in England with Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth notably, means he could be an integral performer at the Ibrox club. He was the other night, with his range of passing and vision often all that separated the home side from unheralded part-timers. He was industrious when that quality has often eluded him throughout his career, though his withdrawal with 21 minutes remaining reminded that his stamina is constantly questionable.
“I’m trying to understand the time he can perform – not only one hour,” Caixinha said.“He had such a long absence after such a difficult injury so to be back at this level it really demonstrates his mentality and his quality and his desire to help the team. It’s just a question of time and he needs a little bit more time but the quality is always present. If he gives me that for one hour in every match from now until the end of the season I will be happy.”
The one moment of happiness was the result of Kranjcar’s presence of mind, his football brain. It was his quick free-kick that released Kenny Miller down the right-hand channel and allowed the striker to plunder the crucial winning goal. That followed the playmaker producing a set of probing passes, as well as passing up a glorious headed chance after bursting into the box. Caixinha also pointed to another aspect of his authority.
“When the team is playing well collectively it is important but when one player can give you the quality in certain moments of the game, you need those sort of passes. Just like at the goal,” the Rangers manager said. “It’s about seeing the game two steps ahead. Even if you saw it when we tried to start passing in the middle with one-twos, he was telling me ‘me and Kenny cannot keep going up and down the park, they are winning the second balls. Maybe it’s better for us to reverse it.’ This is the sort of relationship with the players we need to understand the games differently. It’s not just about players but coaches on the pitch.”
When it comes to Rossiter, the youngster just needs to be on the pitch. It was presented as a coup when Warburton enticed the midfielder from Anfield a year ago, but the concern was that the result of a vulnerability to injury that had held him back after making a senior debut for Liverpool at the age of 17. There is no doubting Rossiter has the talent, and Caixinha is convinced he could be a big player for him this season.
“Totally. If you have a look at him he belongs to the English group that just became world champions. That’s representative of the quality he has,” he said. “It’s ten months out and that’s a long time injured. He did a fantastic job along with Niko and Steve [Walker] our physiotherapist. He did a fantastic job with them on their own to be ready on 5 June and already having minutes and quality. We want a team that is competitive. Not just for two players competing for a position but also when they have the opportunity to get on the pitch that they do very best and enjoy playing for Rangers.”
It is early days for the Ibrox men, and too early to judge them Caixinha maintains – whether in terms of their quality or the staying power of such as Kranjcar or Rossiter. “One thing that we can never buy is time. So we are fighting against it,” he said.
“We are trying to get physicality to compete and we are just three weeks in. If you add in that one player has been absent for nine months, then it makes it even more difficult. Let’s give time. We know we have players we can count on, so we just need to understand the moment they are at now and make the best decision to have the players starting the match and also know we have players on the bench who can decide games.
“It’s the problem for the doubters, not me or Niko. I don’t care about it as long as when he is on the park he gives me everything. We have more options for that position and we can manage to have quality in one or two players over the 90 minutes performing in that position.”