It is all coming up roses for Ross McCrorie. The Rangers teenager is fresh from signing a new four-and-a-half-year contract after blossoming into a holding midfielder in an Ibrox team threatening growth under Graeme Murty.
There is, though, no chance of the 19-year-old resting on his laurels – a fact not simply down to the Scotland under-21 international’s constant craving for self-improvement.
Only this time last year McCrorie had fears his Rangers career might be withering on the vine. Then, he could be found loaned out to Dumbarton. The move, on the back of a temporary stint with Ayr United the season before, was ostensibly to provide him experience. However, the youngster wasn’t naive and so appreciated that his move to the Championship reflected how little he figured in the plans of Ibrox manager Mark Warburton.
“There was a fear when I went to Dumbarton that I might not come back to Rangers. I’m not going to lie, I worried that I might not get a chance here after that,” he said. “But I kept working, trying to improve my game every day.
“I had to believe but there’s always a wee bit of doubt at the back of your mind – am I ever going to get a chance to play in Rangers’ first team?
“Thankfully Pedro [Caixinha] came in and gave me that opportunity. I don’t think Mark fancied me and I respected his opinion. He felt I wasn’t ready and he was probably right. So it’s worked out well in the end.”
It helped that Ian Durrant, his coach coming through the ranks at Rangers, had only just pitched up at Dumbarton after being jettisoned by Warburton the previous summer. It proved to be the catalyst for an extended run in the defensive midfield role he has nailed down under Murty, Caixinha having lauded his prospects as a centre-back.
“I got a phone call from Durranty the day before the window closed and he asked if I wanted to join him again,” McCrorie said. “It was unexpected and I wasn’t sure about another loan move. But it helped that Durranty was there. The reason I wasn’t sure was because I was so desperate to get a chance at Rangers. But looking back, I wasn’t ready. And the Dumbarton loan made me come on leaps and bounds. I was a bit disappointed about having to go back out on loan. I felt a bit left out at Rangers. I would make the odd first-team squad or get on the bench without really getting a break. But I knew I had to keep working hard in the hope I’d get a chance eventually.
“Going somewhere like Dumbarton is an eye-opener at first. But it’s a great club and they made me feel so welcome. It made me appreciate what we have at Rangers. We don’t know how lucky we are when it comes to facilities.
“In a playing sense, I learned about game management at Dumbarton. We were at the lower end of the Championship playing against teams who were better than us. Even things like seeing games out, wasting time, you learn about how to manage that.
“Durranty had seen me playing midfield for Rangers under-17s and then at Ayr so he knew I could do a job in there. He was more of an attacking midfielder so his best advice was just to get stuck in!
“In my first years with the 20s, he made me captain. So he had quite a bit of confidence in me. He helped my game, showing me different areas where I could improve. When I went out on loan to Ayr, he assured me that if I kept working hard then I’d make it. That gave me great belief.
“It was a huge confidence boost. I knew he had seen something in me when he took me aside for chats. If a coach isn’t talking to you, you know something’s wrong but Ian would speak to me every other day.”
McCrorie and Durrant shared the Dumbarton dressing room with a number of others with a Rangers background. The teenager is frank about how that impacted upon him. “Tom Lang, Callum Gallagher and Tom Walsh were all ex-Rangers at Dumbarton,” he said. “It had me thinking: ‘they’ve been at Rangers and haven’t quite made the grade, I didn’t want to be like that’ and it’s what made me push even harder. I wanted to be different from them and make the most of my chance.”
McCrorie continues to do that. He has travelled to Florida for a tournament the club will play as they enjoy warm-weather training during the winter shutdown on the back of impressing in the derby draw at Celtic Park last weekend. In years to come, he may be remembered as the one lasting success during the bizarre seven-month tenure of Caixinha.
“I don’t think he had watched me [when I was at Dumbarton before promoting me to the first-team squad in the summer], I think it was just that I came back a far better player,” McCrorie said. “The loan had helped, getting games and the sessions. I think he saw something in training. For the first time, I did pre-season with the first team and played in the games. I’m thankful to him for giving me the chance.”