Fighting fit Fleck punches above his weight in attempt to fulfil potential at Rangers

JOHN FLECK was promoting the club's new DVD yesterday. Apt, really, since the Rangers attacker has experienced the career trajectory of a typical Hollywood child star.

Courtesy of boxing exercises in the gym this pre-pre-season, he is currently working hard on his comeback. At the age of 18.

Last season, Fleck was supposed to flourish; truly make good on the rich talents that in May 2008 led to him, at 16 years old, to become the youngest player to feature in the British cup final. He was then hyped to high heaven... only to fall to earth 11 months ago when concern over attitude resulted in Rangers manager Walter Smith whipping the wunderkind from the squad for the close-season tournament the Emirates Cup, staged at Arsenal.

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Although Fleck made a creditable 12 starts and 11 substitute appearances for the league and League Cup winners, his season never really took off following his London lancing. Yesterday though, he declared himself a new man. Or should that be boy. A new player, anyway, who has learned his lesson and is now ready to make the major impact long expected of him, and of which he is capable.

"I had to work a bit harder," he admitted on the subject of why he hasn't kicked on as quickly as predicted. "That was a big part of my game that was missing. But now I have it ingrained in my head that I need to work hard in training. A lot harder than I was doing.

"I was lazy in my head. I spoke to the gaffer about it and then ended up doing well in games towards the end of the season. He realises I'm still a young boy, but I know that I have to work hard. I need to show more in training and putting in more than I was at times last season."

Fleck's determination to make a different impression this pre-season is reflected in the fact he decided to work the pads and hit punchbags with his boxer cousin James to get into good condition before the rest of the Rangers squad report back to Murray Park on 3 July. "It's just a different way of getting fitter and stronger," he said. "I put a wee bit of weight on after the season, but this is a great way to keep in shape and so far I've not got injured."

Even though they will make their first signings in two years, Rangers are highly likely to be down on numbers, with Nacho Novo and DeMarcus Beasley gone and Kris Boyd, Madjid Bougherra and Danny Wilson going. Fleck said the knowledge gaps would open in the senior squad for him as a consequence of departures wasn't a factor in him signing a new deal in March.

"I always wanted to stay here and knew that if I kept working hard then I'd get a chance. It's up to me to take it. I played enough games to get a title medal last season, but it would mean more to me to play more matches next season. You feel as if you've contributed and played more of a part in things. I hope I can do that. Danny Wilson came in and did really well last season. If I was given the chance to get the same number of games under my belt as he did then I'm sure I could do just as well."

The reality is that Fleck has not. It is much more difficult for creative young players to prove productive consistently. Especially when, in the case of Fleck, he has not been given a run in his preferred position as second striker, the one between attack and midfield in a 4-4-1-1. The other difficulty for the squat, 5ft 6in forward has been other people's perceptions. Evidence that he is maturing can be found in Fleck's grown-up assessment of the sort of excitable chatter he was subjected to and which brought ridiculous comparisons with Wayne Rooney.

"I don't feel any weight of expectation. I think other people expect too much from me but I just get on with it," he said. "I'm still just 18. I just let hype pass over me. Other people talked about Scotland caps, but I let it wash over me and it didn't happen anyway.

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"I think people thought that I should be in the first-team all the time, but I was still just 16 or 17 and it was never going to happen. The gaffer knows better than anyone and he put the young boys in for a few games and then left us out. I have had experience in the Champions league and for a boy of 18 that's good. I feel I'm ready for the new season."

That's as much as Fleck can do. It would be progress.