The deal that Rangers struck to sign Carlos Pena in the summer of 2017 clearly sets Steven Gerrard’s teeth on edge. A £2.2 million fee was paid to Mexican side Guadalajara for the midfielder, given a three-year deal on a reputed £26,000-a-week terms. Effectively, then manager Pedro Caixinha was allowed to make a £5.5m investment on a player who has given little in return. And £5.5m is precisely the figure that Gerrard gives for the money he spent on transfer fees in the summer to entirely reconstruct a squad that he undoubtedly has made much sturdier.
The Rangers manager intimated that Pena will bounce back to Ibrox on 5 January following a loan spell with Mexican team Club Necaxa, although it was reported he arrived back in Glasgow yesterday. His return signals a drain on finances which is likely to limit Gerrard’s ability to upgrade the squad to make Rangers title contenders.
Gerrard, whose team host Hamilton Accies this afternoon, spoke the other day of the “huge frustration” of inheriting a raft of players destined only to be wage-bill cloggers. Yet, it must be said from the Caixinha era he also inherited Alfredo Morelos and Daniel Candeias, two of his key performers, with deals for another two in Allan McGregor and Scott Arfield well down the line when he took office.
However, Pena has helped create a level of penury in terms of transfer dealings that Gerrard cannot do other than express his angst over, even if he avoids direct mentions.
“It’s a huge frustration for me personally if I’m honest, because some players that are not with us at the moment are earning big, big money when you compare it to the rest of the group,” he said. “That’s money I could be doing with to recycle and make this team a lot stronger and healthier, and make it compete a lot better.
“But it is what it is. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months we can wheel and deal and move people on and bring people in and be in a much better position. That’s what I want, but whether we can make it happen, I’ll have to wait and see.”
Gerrard needs to make that happen to improve the quality he sees as a requirement to bring Rangers up to the level he believes is needed to bring major silverware to the Ibrox trophy cabinet for the first time since 2011. That was what his high-profile appointment was all about and chairman Dave King praised him at the agm for bringing in 15 players in the summer, and only having one failure in that group – Umar Sadiq, who this week was packed off back to Roma only five months into a season-long long deal.
King’s appraisal might have been generous with Liverpool midfielder also now ending his loan arrangement early to return to Anfield, while such as Jon Flanagan, Kyle Lafferty, and Eros Grezda have not made the desired impacts. Connor Goldson, Arfield, Borna Barisic and Gareth McAuley have all added depth to the squad as permanent arrivals, while the same is true of Ryan Kent and Lassana Coulibaly as temporary signings. Of course, all have had injury and form ups and downs, but Gerrard was in a difficult position having to change so much so quickly.
In the lowly circumstances he found Rangers, judging him after one transfer window would be ridiculous. He can’t give a figure as to how many windows would be a fair assessment period.
“I don’t know, people will judge us now, others will wait for a few more windows,” Gerrard said. “The reality is that we had to try and make wholesale changes on a small budget. We had to try and find loans and frees. In important areas we had to try and spend some money. The facts are that, net, we have spent probably around £4.5m to £5.5m.
“I’m not sure you can do magical and wonderful things in one window with that in six months. That’s my opinion. We’ll keep working as hard as we can to improve on the training pitch. Recruitment-wise, we’ll keep trying to add and improve.”
For a club that posted £14m losses in the past year, reducing the wage bill before adding to it might seem the only route to supply Gerrard with latitude to further reshape the squad next month.
“I don’t know,” he said of that suggestion. “That’s a question you’d have to ask people above me, but it is a frustration when you know large sums of money are going out of the club and we’re not getting any contribution for it. That’s the reality and the facts of it.”