Mark Hateley says Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos could make a mark in any league

Alfredo Morelos has made no secret of his desire to play in a bigger, more competitive league so reports of interest from Crystal Palace are likely to be warmly received by the Rangers striker.

Alfredo Morelos has made no secret of his desire to play in a bigger, more competitive league so reports of interest from Crystal Palace are likely to be warmly received by the Rangers striker.

Fans of the Ibrox club will be less welcoming of overtures from Roy Hodgson’s side, especially as the competitive season kicks off in a couple of days with a Europa League qualifying tie in Gibraltar against 
St Joseph’s.

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Defeat would be unthinkable for Rangers but memories of the loss to Progres Niederkorn two years ago should be fresh enough to prevent complacency, particularly when they could meet Progres again in the second round of qualifiers.

Morelos, therefore, remains a key weapon in the Rangers armoury as they embark on a new European campaign. Reaching the group stage of the Europa League last time represented significant progress and provided a welcome financial boost. Manager Steven Gerrard will be looking for at least the same again this season, even if his chief focus will be on trying to prevent Celtic winning a ninth successive league title.

With 18 league goals, Morelos was the top scorer in the Premiership last season and while his strike rate in Europe was less impressive, the Colombian still chipped in with some important contributions.

He got the only goal in the vital away victory over Osijek of Croatia in the first leg of the second-round qualifier and also found the net against Maribor and bagged a double in the win over Rapid Vienna.

Of course, this being Morelos there were disciplinary issues too. The dismissal in Russia against Ufa could have cost his side and a sprinkling of other red cards over the course of the season rather took the shine off what should have been a campaign to savour for the striker.

Temperament remains a concern but former Rangers centre forward Mark Hateley believes Morelos can get to grips with his disciplinary issues, citing the player’s youth – he recently turned 23 – and also using his own experiences of playing abroad as an example.

“The disciplinary side of it let him down last year but I’d look for that to improve greatly,” said Hateley, now an ambassador for the Ibrox club.

“It is possible to change – you just have to find a way to channel the aggression and explosiveness in a different direction.

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“I’m the best example I know of that. I got sent off in my first ever game for Milan, in the Coppa Italia, for headbutting Brescia’s centre half! I was 21, similar to Alfredo, and you do daft things when you’re young – and you live to regret them.

“But the manager we had at the time helped me discover a better way to be. Nils Liedholm, who was the centre forward for Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final, he was the best example for me.

“He took me to one side, explained things to me and taught me how to play as a European striker. But also how to approach everything. He was a typical Swede, laid back, wise, well-spoken, and he was a great tutor teaching me how not to lash out but to use my energy in protecting the ball more, to focus on denying the opponent.”

Hateley believes Morelos can learn from Gerrard in a similar way.

“I’ve watched Steven with Alfredo, he’s all over him. Steven had his own moments as a player and has learned from them, and he’ll know he can’t take all the fire away, but he also knows he has to find a way of channelling it that keeps him on the pitch and keeps him effective.”

The paradox for Rangers is that, if they are able to tame Morelos’ wilder side while continuing to nurture his attacking talents, he will become even more attractive to other clubs.

“He’ll score goals, whatever club he’s at,” said Hateley. “And that is a problem, that he’s in demand and there’s a long way to go until the window closes. Everyone has a number, that’s the way of football the days.

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“But the fact there’s still nearly two months to go before the window closes, a lot can happen both ways.”

Rangers, who play Oxford United in a friendly at Ibrox today, have been busy recruiting and have already added midfielder Joe Aribo from Charlton, attacker Greg Stewart from Birmingham City, defender George Edmundson from Oldham and wingers Sheyi Ojo (on loan from Liverpool), Jake Hastie (from Motherwell) and Jordan Jones (from Kilmarnock). Hateley believes there will be more to come and that the new recruits should make Rangers more robust in Europe.

“They did well last year and they’re even better prepared this year,” he said. “Steven’s a quick learner. I think he had a great first season, considering the amount of upheaval, and this season he’s focusing on the quality that will lift this group to the next level. And the spending probably hasn’t finished either.

“I’m quite excited to see what we’ve seen already this summer and I expect to see more and better, whether it’s in this window or the next one. He’s putting deep thought into everything he does at the moment, there’s a reason behind everything he and Mark Allen [Rangers’ director of football] are doing.

“They got the majority [of signings] spot on last season and this summer is making us stronger.”