Gary McAllister says Ryan Kent will prove critics wrong at Rangers

Assistant boss expects £7m winger to find form and help stop ten in a row

Ryan Kent celebrates a goal at Tynecastle in January but the stats didn’t really add up for him across the season. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

There was a declaration from Rangers assistant Gary McAllister the other day that he’s “not a great man for stats”. That the stats are not great for a man who ought to make them tick is an issue the Ibrox club must address in order to sustain a genuine title challenge to their ten-in-a-row-chasing rivals Celtic.

Only two players ever pitching up in Scottish football have commanded a higher transfer fee than Ryan Kent. The £7 million lavished on the winger from Liverpool last summer did not bring the expected returns as the championship challenge of Steven Gerrard’s men wilted in the early months of 2020. Kent, following his season on loan at Ibrox, could only fashion seven league goals – in fairness, though, plundering one of these in the club’s first win at Celtic Park in almost a decade.

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Most damningly, though, he produced not a single assist in 21 Premiership appearances, although he did have four assists across other competitions. For context, Celtic’s James Forrest delivered 17 in 28 league outings, while Niall McGinn at Aberdeen racked up nine in that number of Premiership games.

Kent’s patchy contribution caused disquiet among the Rangers faithful. But McAllister, who like Gerrard has known the 23-year-old attacker since his youthful days in the Liverpool academy, believes the player cannot get caught up in the numbers game. Unless those numbers relate to yards covered.

“Ryan Kent is most definitely one of our big players and criticism is part of being a big player at a big club,” said the Rangers No.2. “When results go the other way you tend to look at the star player within the group and he’s one of our blue chip players. But I’ve known Ryan for a while and even though there were times I felt the criticism was a bit unfair I didn’t see a player hiding.

“I see a hard-working guy and I remember way back when I played at Leeds United a coach said to lose yourself in hard work. That quote is flying around my head and is something I’d say to Ryan: ‘Lose yourself in hard work’ and you might just get the rub of the green, a ball might bounce nicely for you, you might get a shot at goal and a deflection. And after that Ryan Kent can go and get a nice run of performances and scoring goals.

“I know in the modern day a lot of people look at numbers – goals and assists – and that’s been thrown at him but maybe he should blank that away and lose himself in hard work. Things will fall for him after that. We see a player who is pretty robust. He doesn’t miss much training. He’s generally there to be picked for every game.

“He just needs to keep working away. There are little tactical things we want to impress upon him and there’s little areas of the pitch he can improve in and we’re just drip feeding these all the time. He’s a young man who loves the city and he’s come back looking sharp so a wee run of form or goals and he’ll be fine.”

It must be said that with 157 senior games under his belt, Kent remains relatively inexperienced. Half of these games came in loan spells of varying degrees of success with Coventry, Barnsley, SC Freiburg and Bristol City that preceded his arrival at Rangers two years ago. A different sort by reputation – Gerrard previously remarking that “he’s got a pet snake, wears baggy tracksuits and gets a tattoo every five minutes” – McAllister believes he is growing into himself as a still young man.

“I’ve known him a while having worked with him for periods as well. He is a bit left-field,” said the former Scotland international. “It’s good when you get to know someone for four or five years and can just see them maturing.

“To get a conversation with Ryan three or four years ago it would have been one-word answers. But now he’s more settled. He loves Glasgow and you’re now seeing a player who has loads of potential and can still improve, but who has become a man. And as he becomes mature, you will see more mature performances. And he’s a player that can learn from being able to communicate better and have conversations. He’s a naturally quiet young man but I can start to see him come out himself a bit. And that’s refreshing.”

The onus on Rangers in the coming 11 months isn’t downplayed by McAllister. He knows the squad must be better in their “game management” to ensure they do not drop points in matches they dominate – as they fatally did in encounters with Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Hamilton Accies across February and March. He knows that experienced performers Allan McGregor, Conor Goldson, Filip Helander, Steven Davis, Ryan Jack and Jermain Defoe must be the team’s “management group” on the training ground and the pitch. And he knows, after Liverpool claimed the English title with only one loss, the Ibrox side require to raise their winning standards in the Premiership.

“Everyone at this club has to embrace what is a massive challenge to stop a team from winning ten leagues in a row but we’re up for the battle,” McAllister said. “Historically, across the globe, most of the teams that win leagues it is that [Liverpool] sort of level you have to hit. There’s no wiggle room, there’s very little wiggle room there. We’ve got to win. You can break it all down but the easiest way to say things is: we’ve got to try to win. We will only be judged on winning. I’m sat in a room now where I can see some trophies on the wall. And we need to win one of them. Or two or three.”

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