Perhaps the best news Rangers could have received arrived this week with fixture congestion rendering a winter shutdown unworkable for the forthcoming SPFL campaign. The move at least ensures there will be no repeat of the curious league collapses that have come following the return of Steven Gerrard’s men from mid-season Dubai warm weather training camps for the past two seasons. It must be said that the Rangers manager dismisses the idea that it is how the club have handled the mid-season break which is responsible for his team’s post-Christmas league slump during his tenure.
As the Ibrox club become consumed by stopping their bitterest rivals Celtic racking up a record 10th consecutive league crown, hard facts rather than dark mutterings about any camp conflicts are his focus. And, in truth, it wasn’t Dubai but the daze Alfredo Morelos seemed to be lost in which can explain Rangers’ 2020 regression. It was a slump which left them 13 points adrift of Celtic when the season was curtailed because of the Covid-19 pandemic… a mere 11 weeks after they had moved within two points of the Scottish champions with a game in hand through beating them at Celtic Park.
However, post-Christmas, their Columbian talisman failed to net a single league goal.
The 24-year-old is the player who Rangers can’t do without, but can’t count on retaining. For two years he has been linked with all manner of moves away from Scotland. His surliness and capriciousness sometimes give rise to the belief the Ibrox club would be content to cash in on their most marketable performer. Gerrard, though, cannot countenance a move that would strip his squad of a forward who has claimed 117 goals in only 137 appearances in three years. In Morelos, he has a new first-time dad whose inscrutable personality has soemtimes seemed to provide the mother and father of all headaches.
“I know first hand that having a daughter in your life does change you. Of course it does,” said Gerrard of the new arrival for the Morelos family last month. “He is absolutely delighted and everyone is pleased for him. He’s back in the city. He’s spending some time with the medics at the moment because he has a couple of issues, nothing important, but he still has to spend a bit more time with the medical lads then will be back out there training with us.
“He’s a fantastic footballer, he scores goals in big volumes and I am really looking forward to getting him match fit, up to speed and ready to play. I suppose what you want me to say is he going to be here next year, that’s the million dollar question. I want all my best players here, I’ve said it many times. For us to be successful, we need all our best players fit, available and out there on the pitch but you and I know that every player has his price. Will we get bids for our best players? It’s quite possible and something I can’t control, so it’s something we are just going to have to manage going forward.”
Rangers’ nine-in-a-row captain Richard Gough said recently that Gerrard’s side had shown themselves to be physically and psychologically deficient in failing to push Celtic in the Premiership post-Christmas, despite having the platform to do so. Gerrard knows he requires to bolster his squad beyond the summer arrivals of Ianis Hagi, pictured, Calvin Bassey and Jon McLaughlin to enhance their prospects. It ought to be remembered that the low point of Gerrard’s two years in charge was the club’s last home game before the shutdown when they were defeated by Hamilton at Ibrox for only the third time in almost a century.
“We always welcome constructive criticism, especially if it’s from someone who has been there and done it and experienced it,” Gerrard said of Gough’s assessment. “There’s no doubt that to be successful over the course of 60 games, you have to have a certain level of physical and mental strength. From a mental point of view, it’s something that the players will have to prepare for individually. What’s important is we need to get them some help, make sure that we identify the right players to come in and help us. Strengthen the eleven, strengthen the squad to make us better prepared to go the distance because on two occasions now we have been consistent up to a certain point and then come away… I don’t think that’s just one reason, I think it’s a combination of different things.
“It’s easier said than done to pinpoint one issue that you need to address and everything will be perfect and rosy, but the players have to be better after the break - it’s as simple as that. They’ve got to have the hunger and produce more consistency. We go to places like Celtic Park, Porto and Braga and get the results against top teams. There’s probably teams where we are expected to win and they are the ones we have got to be more consistent in. To lose at home to Hamilton 1-0 is not acceptable for this football club. Those are the situations that have set us back. Drawing away to St Johnstone with some individual errors. It’s a combination of things that we need to improve and address if we are to stay the distance after January.
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