The signings made during the Mark Warburton era are tougher to judge than any other collection of transfers in Rangers’ history. There are so many caveats and qualifiers to attach that it becomes a bit complicated.
Take, for instance, Martyn Waghorn. He was signed for £200k from Wigan and went on to become the club’s leading goalscorer in the Ladbrokes Championship.
On one hand, this alone may not make him a good signing. Aside from Hibs, Dundee United and Hearts, no other club in Scotland’s second tier in recent years would ever spend anywhere near that amount of money on one player. Obviously he was going to be good.
Then again, we saw how much of a mess Rangers made of recruitment in the three seasons prior to Warburton’s arrival. Compared to the likes of Kris Boyd, Jon Daly and Fran Sandaza, Waghorn was a smash hit.
Ok then. If you say he was a successful signing because he helped Rangers get over the hump and make it back to the Ladbrokes Premiership, what about this season? He’s struggled to command a regular spot in the starting XI, and not because the player in front of him is in such great form - (Kenny Miller has played well but Rangers often start with two strikers in their 4-3-3).
He’s far from the only player who’s Rangers career can be described in such a fashion. For the sake of this article, we’ll call this group of players ‘The Waghorns’.
There’s also ‘The Zelalems’. These are the players brought in to help Rangers get out of the Championship and who left before the top flight adventure started. Once we have these 2015 transfers out of the way, we’ll look at the exclusively top flight signings.
In addition to Waghorn, there are seven players who could fall into the ‘Great in the Championship, Average/Good in the Premiership’ category. We’ll go through them one by one, running from best to worst.
There was strong consideration to giving Foderingham his own category. As a goalkeeper, particularly in terms of shot-stopping, he’s largely excellent in Scottish football terms. Although, a few gaffes, which are automatically ‘high-profile’ due to his employment at Ibrox, haven’t helped his case, and there’s little doubt he isn’t a natural fit in Rangers’ pass-it-out from the back system. He’s got better in that regard since his opening few matches, but he still gives supporters heart palpitations from time to time.
He’s gets a lot of stick due to his failure to live up to the early promise where he scored goals for fun from right back. Defensively, he’s perceived as being very weak at the top flight level. Interestingly, though, he wins one-on-one battles with opposing attackers at a very high rate, meaning his problems come from a positional sense. Great organisation and a couple of strong centre-backs, and we could yet see Tavernier become a good top flight player for Rangers. There is no doubting his abilities going forward.
He put in some great performances in the weeks following the Joey Barton fiasco, and there was a time when he looked the only Rangers player capable of getting into an Old Firm starting XI select. Those days now feel like the distant past as his displays have slipped increasingly as the season has gone on. He’s not been helped by Warburton continually using him at the base of the midfield, though. It’s a role he never looked particularly comfortable carrying out even in the second tier.
Better than Halliday in the Championship, and while he’s probably been more consistent than Halliday in the Premiership overall, his lack of a cutting edge has been a massive problem as Rangers have struggled to find goals from midfield. At least Halliday can say he’s helped Rangers win some games this season. Holt has been decent but rarely makes an impact on the scoreline.
The undoubted high point of his season was a dominating display in the win over Hamilton Accies the week before Christmas. Other than that he’s rarely looked close to the player that took the Championship by storm.
He’s arguably been underused this season as Warburton just didn’t seem to trust him, at least not with an extended run in the starting XI. He gave a real lift to the squad after his arrival midway through the last campaign, until a season-ending injury against Peterhead in the Challenge Cup final, and has played a decisive role in a couple of victories this term.
7/10 in the Championship and 6/10 in the Premiership. Injuries have been an issue.
The ex-Wigan centre-back was better than Wilson at Championship level, but his lack of concentration has just killed Rangers at times in the top flight. Look no further than his slip in the 1-1 draw at St Johnstone, or the opening goal in the recent 4-1 loss to Hearts.
Gedion Zelalem, Nathan Oduwa, Dominic Ball and Billy King.
King and Oduwa could be classified as misses as neither really set the heather alight. However, they were loanees brought in to add a little spark to a small squad and each of them had their moments. Calling them duds would be too churlish.
Zelalem and Ball were solid first team players, though it’s hard to imagine either would have improved Rangers’ fortunes this term.
The one player who doesn’t fit into either category and, at £500,000, was the most expensive of the lot. O’Halloran was signed halfway through the Championship season but failed to gain a regular place in the starting XI, and it’s a situation that’s continued into this term.
Warburton fell in love with the player after he tore Rangers up for toilet paper during St Johnstone’s League Cup win at Ibrox. That was because Rangers played with a high line that O’Halloran exploited. Few opponents have played like that against Rangers and the ones who have - Celtic, Hearts, Aberdeen - O’Halloran has been strangely absent for the most part.
THE PREMIERSHIP STARS
This is the biggest problem with judging the above list of players. They weren’t supposed to be leading the charge against the best of the Scottish Premiership. They were expected to play their part by filling out the rest of the starting XI and wider squad. Unfortunately for them and Rangers, very few, if any, of the 11 additions last summer were able to play up to the expectations placed on them. Therefore, it’s been left up to last season’s squad to carry most of the load. Seeing as Rangers are in third, only behind Aberdeen on goal difference, they’ve actually done a decent job of it.
THE PREMIERSHIP HITS
Clint Hill, Josh Windass, Lee Hodson
This may be a little kind on Windass, who’s struggled for consistency due to his injury problems. The reason he lands alongside Hill, who’s been Rangers’ best defender this campaign, is because he (surprisingly) leads the league in assists per 90 minutes, and does hold the talent to change a game in an instant. If he can stay fit and a new manager can tap into his potential, Rangers could have a star on their hands, and they badly need one.
Meanwhile, Hodson was signed as a back-up full-back and he’s filled in admirably whenever given the chance.
THE INJURED MISSES
Jordan Rossiter, Niko Kranjcar
We’ve placed asterisks on these two as both have shown flashes when fit. That does not mean Warburton deserves a pass on the two midfielders. Kranjcar saw his playing time significantly reduce over previous seasons prior to joining Rangers, while Rossiter came with a history of injury problems. They were gambles and they backfired.
Matt Crooks, Joey Barton, Matt Gilks, Joe Dodoo, Joe Garner, Maciej Gostomski
The Barton transfer speaks for itself, which given the player involved may literally be true. Adding Gilks to this group is maybe a little harsh, but judging by his swift exit in January it would indicate he was expected to do more to challenge Foderingham for the No.1 jersey. And while Gilks played every League Cup game, he never came close to dislodging his team-mate full-time. Similarly, Gostomski was a back-up keeper who may or may not have actually existed.
Joe Garner adds something to the squad but took up far too much of the budget at £1.8m to be considered any sort of success, while Dodoo contributed a win over Thistle with a well-taken double and very little else. Crooks was injured for the most part, looked out of his depth in a start at Tynecastle, and then went back to England on loan in January.
Emerson Hyndman, Jon Toral, Jak Alnwick, David Bates, Jordan Thompson
Toral doesn’t look particularly convincing but it’s too early to judge, especially as he struggled for a place at Granada in the first half of this campaign and may not be match fit. Hyndman looks a player but, like Toral, it’s too soon to decide for certain. Alnwick is yet to play and the other two were Development League signings.
THE MY GOD, WHY?
My God, why?