RANGERS’ recent arrival Rob Kiernan may not have made a lasting impression on Scottish football the last time he was pitched into the environment. The experience did, though, provide him with memories to make him smile.
Following a £200,000 move from Wigan, the 24-year-old Londoner will hope there are many more as he beds in at Ibrox under Mark Warburton. Rangers’ new manager has proved a key figure in Kiernan’s career, all the way back to his days as a youth with his first club, Watford, where Warburton was academy director.
Kiernan first left Vicarage Road on a temporary basis when, at 18, he was taken to Rugby Park by the then manager, Jimmy Calderwood, in a deal that brought Scott Severin to the Ayrshire club. His first taste of the Scottish game came as a 73rd-minute substitute in a famous 1-0 home win over a Celtic side that included on-loan debutant Robbie Keane.
“That night of my debut, the manager asked if I’d played right-back before and I replied, ‘yes – lots of times.’ I’d never played there before in my life. The next thing I knew I’d [Marc-Antoine] Fortune running right at me down the wing. So I’m thinking, ‘oh my God, I’m out of my depth here’. But we managed to hold on and get a win. It was a great night.
“I ended up in Scotland because they probably just wanted to kick me out of Watford as I was knocking on the door so often, saying I wanted to go on loan and play. They were probably sick to death of me.
“I was comfortable playing at under-21 level, even when I was a bit younger than everyone else, but when you come up here and are training against the likes of Kevin Kyle, you think, ‘wow – this is a big step’. I’m glad I did it, even though I probably wasn’t ready or good enough then.”
Kiernan’s career has been a series of loans. His time last season with Birmingham City, the club he was set to sign for before opting for Rangers, proved his ninth such stint. However, his respect for Warburton has been a permanent feature of his time in the game.
“Mark had me from when I was about 16, 17 years old. I was playing centre forward at the time and we went to the Milk Cup and I played centre-back. I’ve played there ever since, so I owe him so much.
“He looked after me when I was a kid – he helped develop me. He was one of those managers who I’d look back on and think, ‘yeah – the were a big influence on me’.
“I tried to get myself to Brentford a few times when he was there, but certain things didn’t work out. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I want to do well for him. I want him to succeed and I want to be part of what he’s doing.
“He helped me in that way a manager does when he wants you to train harder, or keeps you behind to work on this or advise you on something, or supplies boots here and there that he might not do for other kids. It was nice. It was a bit of a father role.
“So, when I heard about this opportunity, it was a no-brainer for me. Everyone knows his [City trader] background and I think that shows how adaptable he is. He’s done well to move up in the game so quickly. Everyone’s history and background is different.
“I think he’s now getting judged on what he does now, though. He did very well at Brentford and I’m sure he’ll do the same here.”