If you are seeking to become a winger who regularly finds the net, it is surely more than handy to have arguably the game’s foremost such practitioner as a confidante and inspiration. Brandon Barker is in that position, having arrived at Rangers this week after coming through the Manchester City system. It is a club where, in the new footballing parlance, Raheem Sterling has been posting some outrageous numbers across the two years since his £49million move from Liverpool.
Barker’s one appearance for City came that season, after he and Sterling started on the bench as Chelsea dumped Pep Guardiola’s side from the FA Cup in 2016. It is fair to say that their careers have followed entirely different paths since that occasion. Sterling, an English treble-winner last season, has bagged 52 goals in his past 99 senior appearances. Barker, meanwhile, has notched only four goals across 69 senior outings in loan spells at Rotherham, NAC Breda, Hibernian and Preston North End.
Throughout those temporary stints, Sterling remained a sounding board, giving his approval to Barker finally cutting his City ties permanently to sign up at Ibrox this week.
“All of them were really good at City but I learned a lot from Raheem, watching him grow from when he first came to what he’s doing now,” said the 22-year-old, likely to make his debut in Rangers’ Betfred Cup tie away to East Fife this afternoon. “We used to speak a lot and he was really encouraging. Watching him becoming a great player is great to see. The best advice [he gave me] is just to be yourself and never be afraid. I think that’s how I play.
“It doesn’t matter who I’m playing, I don’t have any fear. I play with no fear and hopefully I can show the fans what I’m all about.
“Definitely [he said go for it when the Rangers move came]. It was my time to move on and I think all the boys knew that. It was sad because I’d been there 16 years and I grew up at City. But I needed a new home, I’d needed one for the last two seasons. Now I have that opportunity and I’m just buzzing.”
Barker accepts that Sterling has redefined the winger role in proving himself as much a plunderer as a provider and that he requires to get with the programme in Scotland. “I’d like to add goals to my game,” he said. “I think that’s our job and sometimes it’s said wingers don’t score enough goals. I think that’s right, we do have to chip in with a lot of goals and a lot of assists. Hopefully I can bring that to Rangers.”
He brought the latter to Scotland in 2017-18 courtesy of his season-long loan spell at Easter Road under Neil Lennon. As much as the Irishman was an admirer, Barker suggests talk of Celtic having an interest in bringing him north again were wide of the mark.
“I think I became a man when I was up here first time,” he said. “There were ups and downs and I had an injury [torn ligaments] I had to deal with. But I learned about the Scottish game. People talk it down a lot but there is nothing to talk down. It is getting better and better and I’m really excited to be a part of it again.
“This is my club, this is my home and I want the absolute best for Rangers. I want to establish myself here and I want the fans to remember who I am. When that game comes, we’ll see what happens. I don’t know of any interest from Celtic. Rangers came in, Steven Gerrard phoned me and it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. It’s been a mad first week but I’m really enjoying myself. I got a phone call on the Wednesday and that was all I really needed to hear.
“By the end of the phone call I knew I wanted to go there. If you look at the career the manager had, and now I have the chance to be his player is just great.
“I was in talks with quite a few clubs in the Championship. All of them were permanent deals so I was going to find a home anyway – I did the Championship last year and it was a really competitive league. But this opportunity was something I couldn’t turn down.
“I lost my way a bit going out on loan all the time. It is not easy to leave your family and to keep going different places. I have been looking for an actual home and now I have that.
“I’m grateful for that and hopefully Rangers will reap the rewards of that. It is hard when you come to the end of the loan and you don’t know what will happen the following season. It can be difficult to stay focused but now I know I’m a Rangers player. And I can say that with a smile on my face.”