Fashion Sakala: Rangers' new striker ready to go to the next level under Steven Gerrard

As he prepares to swap West Flanders for the west of Scotland, Fashion Sakala is ready for a higher grade of football education at Rangers.

Fashion Sakala celebrates one of his two goals in his last match for Oostende against Mechelen last week ahead of his summer move to Rangers. (Photo by KURT DESPLENTER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The Zambian striker arrived in Europe as a raw talent but has proved himself a willing learner, his emergence at Belgian club Oostende persuading the new Scottish Premiership champions to sign him on a four year contract.

Sakala has just completed a fine personal campaign under an outstanding tutor in the shape of Oostende boss Alexander Blessin, the 47-year-old German who was named Coach of the Year at the annual Belgian Pro League awards ceremony on Monday night.

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Former RB Leipzig youth guru Blessin has not only transformed previously unfashionable Oostende over the past year, leading them to a fifth place top flight finish and narrowly missing out on European qualification, but he is credited with the major improvements witnessed in Sakala’s performance levels.

Oostende head coach Alexander Blessin with his Manager of the Year trophy at the Belgian Pro League Awards ceremony on Monday night. (Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

A fond farewell

The 24-year-old, who joined Oostende in 2018 after an unfulfilling spell at Spartak Moscow where he was restricted to B team football, signed off in style when he scored twice in his final appearance against Mechelen last week.

It took Sakala’s tally for the season to 16, the most ever achieved by an Oostende player in a top flight campaign.

"In three years here I learned a lot and became a much better player and person,” reflected Sakala.

Steven Gerrard with the William Hill Scottish Football Writers' Association Manager of the Year award. (Photo by Kirk O'Rourke).

"It has been a fantastic journey. The club believed in me and I am leaving as a top player.”

Having accelerated his development under Blessin, who is being strongly linked with the Sheffield United managerial vacancy, Sakala will now look to get to the next level under another award-winning coach.

A clean sweep

Steven Gerrard swept the board when it came to the individual plaudits on offer in Scottish football this season, being named Manager of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association, PFA Scotland and the Scottish Premiership.

For good measure, the Ibrox boss picked up another gong at the weekend when the League Managers’ Association gave him their annual Special Achievement Award in recognition of overseeing Rangers’ historic undefeated league title-winning season.

While Gerrard savours the success, his thoughts have already turned to the 2021-22 campaign with its challenges of a Premiership title defence and bid to reach the Champions League group stage.

Nigerian midfielder Nnamdi Ofoborh will arrive on a pre-contract deal from Bournemouth, while there will be other new arrivals as Gerrard looks to build from a position of strength.

But there’s no doubt that it’s the recruitment of Sakala which is the most appetising and intriguing move from the Rangers supporters’ perspective. Having tracked his progress for several months, Gerrard himself is full of anticipation about the impact the pacy left-sided forward can have on his team.

"He will make us a lot quicker, a lot more dynamic, so I'm really excited to work with him,” said Gerrard. “There is potential there on a big scale.”

It remains to be seen exactly when Sakala will join up with his new team-mates in Glasgow.

With Oostende’s European hopes gone, he was left out of their last game of the season at Standard Liege on Saturday to give him extra time off ahead of potential involvement in Zambia’s friendlies against Senegal and Sudan next month. Sakala’s football education continues apace.

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