The 21-year-old was wheeled out as Rangers Youth Development Company made its latest donation, a £175,000 sum, to a programme for which he must be the current the poster boy. McKay may have his work cut out to continue to prosper in the Mark Warburton era as the Championship leaders pursue a deal for St Johnstone winger Michael O’Halloran. However, being a regular this season has defied all expectations.
McKay famously played when Rangers started all over again in the Third Division with a trip to Peterhead in August 2012 following liquidation earlier that summer. However, he didn’t feature at all for the Ibrox club across 2014 and the first half of last year after being loaned out to first Morton and then Raith Rovers in what seemed moves from which there would be no Rangers return. Even, at times, to the player – who has hardly missed a game since Warburton took charge in the summer and appears on the cusp of signing a new deal.
“I maybe had a wee bit of a worry when I was on loan, but at the same time I always had that belief in my own ability that I could come back and do a job here. The new gaffer came in and he gave me that chance that maybe other managers haven’t so I just need to repay him,” said McKay.
“The times on loan were tough because this is where I want to be playing my games but they really helped me become a different kind of player. I would like to think of myself as a role model for the younger ones because I have been out on loan and come back and I am a better player for doing that.”
McKay, in being asked to ponder the possible path from Peterhead to the Premiership, considers it “exciting” that he could be one of only two players – Lee Wallace is the other – to turn out for Rangers in every tier since the events of 2012. “I started the journey with the club down in the bottom division and I want to take it back to the top division but I have changed a lot since that first day. I have matured on and off the pitch and I need to keep going and keep getting better.
“I now have confidence and freedom. I have the freedom to go wherever I want and stay out as wide as I want and the confidence to be able to beat the defenders, which I was maybe a bit wary of when I was coming through.”
McKay is confident enough, indeed, not to feel threatened by the arrival of O’Halloran, who would surely be a direct rival. “It would be good whoever we bring in and it will be a quality player whoever it is that is added to the squad,” he said. “It is up to the people that are here to keep them out of the team and not make it easy for them to walk into it.”
McKay maintains a new deal for the new, more “chilled” performer he has become subsequent to his loan periods, is almost done. “Obviously I want to stay and they have offered me a deal. It is really close,” said the midfielder, who will be hoping to follow on from Jason Holt and Andy Halliday last week in pledging his long-term future to the Ibrox side. “I hope I can get it done as soon as possible and get myself tied down.”
Rangers’ youth academy has now been provided with £7 million in funding from the youth development company but academy director Craig Mulholland wants a standing for the organisation that is priceless. “We are sitting about number 30 in Europe just now in terms of where we are ranked,” he said. “That is based on how many players you produce that play in the top 30 leagues in Europe.
“We have set the target of getting into the top 15. When I first said it, people were saying ‘that is a bit ambitious, are we going to get in the top 15?’ But when you look at the clubs that are there, I am absolutely sure we can go and achieve that.”