Greats of Rangers past have taken the opportunity afforded to them by the opening of the January transfer window to have their say on the club’s recruitment and how the gap can be closed on rivals Celtic.
In recent weeks both Walter Smith and Kris Boyd have been overly simplistic in urging the Rangers board to back Mark Warburton by locating funds to help him strengthen the team with established players. Aware of the club’s recent past, Smith and Boyd are still imploring the loosening of purse strings. Although, for both, it is not so much a purse that is needed but, dare it be said, war chest.
Smith proposes Rangers speculate to accumulate, suggesting the club need to take the risk of going in to debt to reach the riches of the Champions League. Meanwhile, Boyd plucked the figure of £30 million out the air for his former side to go on a spending spree.
As fans, both are concerned about witnessing Celtic reach 10-in-a-row. Although those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so the saying goes.
The club’s aim has to be to claw away at the gap, get closer, challenge and then to return to the top table of European football. But that should not be at the expense of the future of the club. Recent history should be prevalent in any financial decisions.
It was perhaps understandable getting carried away having taken over the club, but Dave King made a rod for his own back with grandiose announcements regarding the funds that would be made available to Mark Warburton. It has only made life more difficult for him and his manager. What was needed was calls for patience and realism.
David Weir hit the right notes in today’s papers by taking a realistic approach to the issue. He matter-of-factly stated that £100 million might not be enough, before talking sensibly about how the club tackle the challenge which is in front of them.
It echoes Warburton’s words of clarity regarding the club’s predicament. Still in recovery from administration, just back in the top-flight, but with high expectations. The Rangers boss talked of the club displaying prudence and needing strong foundations, rather than recklessly spending their way out of trouble.
Fans won’t like the fact that they will trail Celtic in the short and most likely medium-terms, but they will be understanding of the situation. As long as the club are transparent and truthful about their aspirations, rather than pontificating about war chests.
What Rangers need to do is work harder, work smarter when it comes to both recruitment and player development. They need to improvise and innovate. These are the most prudent ways of bridging the gap which exists. A strategy needs to be implemented. One which doesn’t involve blowing budgets, one which doesn’t involve risks in the shape of Joey Barton. They need to pinpoint players and areas that offer low risk but high reward.
One aspect of recruitment they need to evaluate is whether the loaning of players from English Premiership sides is worthwhile to the club’s long-term development. The latest arrivals, Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman, have arrived on short-term deals from Arsenal and Bournemouth respectively.
In terms of short-term prospects, if Warburton feels that the duo can help Rangers see off Aberdeen to the runner-up position and even win the Scottish Cup then they are positive additions. Both come with burgeoning reputations. Toral, 21, arrived at Arsenal from Barcelona with a more promising standing than Hector Bellerin, albeit in a different position. Hyndman, a US international at the age of 18, was rumoured to be interesting Celtic, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund before swapping Fulham for Bournemouth in the summer.
However, last season saw the signing of two prodigious talents in Nathan Oduwa and Gedion Zelalem. Both failed to live up to the billing, only showing flashes of their qualities. They were useful squad additions but did nothing which suggested they were any better than what Rangers already had.
Any prospective loan signing has to be of meaningful quality, increasing the level and making the team more competitive. But if players are only supplementing what is already there then they are preventing younger players from game time. Rangers should be more than a conduit for the development of other clubs’ players.
Warburton has mentioned strong foundations. That’s what the club need to build. Rangers should be focussing their thoughts on young talent, with a preference to Scotland, players who can be signed and then developed at Murray Park. It can be beneficial one of two ways. On one hand Rangers build a nucleus of a squad. Players who feel a bond and connection with the club. Or they can sell and reinvest. Weir gave the examples of Andre Gray and James Tarkowski, who were developed and improved under Warburton’s watch at Brentford before sold for large fees.
There is evidence that Rangers are trying to do that through signings such as Josh Windass. It is clear that the club feel most comfortable operating in the English market, but are they truly getting value for money in what can be an expensive lake to fish?
Frank McParland holds a lot of sway in the corridors of Ibrox. He has been influential in the signings of Joey Barton and Jordan Rossiter. The surprising aspect of recruitment is Rangers’ reluctance to look overseas. At the club’s most recent AGM Warburton said that they have trusted scouts working abroad, but there has been little substance to that.
Celtic have shown that there are gems to be unearthed at vastly lower prices than you can get in England, who can come in an complement domestic players, before fetching substantial fees.
Rangers should not be spending tens of millions to revitalise their squad, trying to close the gap on a side which have used the years Rangers have been away to experiment and develop, and are now able invest without pushing the boundaries.
But that should not mean players, staff, directors and fans have to be resigned to trying to finish best of the rest. Rather than being pushed, prodded and urged to go on a frenzied spending spree, they should use what finance they have to put strategies in place, be creative and develop their own talent. Whether that is the likes of Billy Gilmour or players they have earmarked in Britain and further afield.
Mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. Rangers need a strong foundation and a prudent approach, not a strategy which led to their demise in the first place.