Niko Kranjcar’s ‘supreme talent’ will become a major asset

Rangers midfielder Niko Kranjcar has made a slow start to the season since joining Rangers during the summer. Picture: SNS
Rangers midfielder Niko Kranjcar has made a slow start to the season since joining Rangers during the summer. Picture: SNS
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Much of the critical focus on Rangers’ inauspicious start to the Premiership was centred on the mobility, or lack of it, of Niko Kranjcar as the Ibrox side were held 1-1 by Hamilton Accies on Saturday.

However, manager Mark Warburton has insisted the marquee signing will prove his abilities and worth to the team in the coming weeks and fully display what he describes as a “supreme talent”.

Warburton believes the 31-year-old Croatian midfielder’s absence from the cutting edge of the game in recent times is a factor while some injuries have resulted in a deterioration of his condition.

Kranjcar spent three months with the New York Cosmos in the NASL, America’s second tier, after an ill-fated spell at Dynamo Kiev which included two loan seasons with Queen’s Park Rangers.

However, the Rangers manager, who leads his side in against Peterhead tonight seeking a place in the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup, is sure he will be a major asset in the season ahead.

He said: “Niko is a player who probably for the last four or five years hasn’t really been fully challenged, I don’t think.

“At 31 years old, Niko has now got a chance to show how good he can be.

“He’s a supremely talented ball player, he does stuff in training every day that takes your breath away but he’s working tirelessly.

“He’s been out in the US and come back and I’ve watched how hard he’s worked. I’ve watched the body fat that he’s shed already and he’s still working tirelessly.

“He’s one of many players, it’s not just about Niko, that have still got more to go. It’s that stage of the season but there is no doubt he’s a really special talent, so our job is to work with him to give him the best chance to be the best he can be.

“It’s not about a specific timescale. What we have to do as a group of staff is 
challenge him. If you’re away from your main job for four or five years, you don’t come straight back in a month and come back in again.

“He’s worked hard. The obvious one is shedding body fat. It’s everything else around it, shedding body fat, the heart and lungs, the application, the concentration. “You can see he knows how good he can be but that goes for a number of players. Joey [Barton] will tell you that he’s not ready yet, Lee Hodson is not quite ready yet, [Matt] Gilks is not ready yet but they are all getting there. Our job as staff is to make sure we get there.

“It’s not a sprint. It’s not about saying Niko must be fit by 3 o’clock this coming Saturday.As long as we get him into a situation where he delivers his best over a 
consistent period of time, we’ll be okay but I can’t put a timescale on it.”

Warburton may choose to start the playmaker on the bench as he shakes up his side with Jordan Rossiter a certainty to play and Joe Dodoo liable to play up front.

Matt Gilks will also play and, in the same way that Neil Alexander operated in the second Walter Smith era, he will effectively be the goalkeeper for the cup competitions until such times as he can force out Wes Foderingham.

Gilks: “I’ve been led to believe that’s what is going to happen. It’s difficult when you have good goalies at the football club because if one is 
playing the other one is not going to get games. The cup competition gives you the chance to throw the other goalie in and give him competitive games to see what he can do.

“Getting games in friendlies is just not the same thing. This is a good way of looking at both your goalkeepers.

“From my point of view, if Wes is playing well and I can’t break in, I want to be playing football, so these cup games give me that opportunity.

“We are looking to go all the way in this cup and hopefully we can all the way to the final and I can play in a cup final. That’s what we want 
to do.”