Steven Gerrard: For now Jordan Jones is the enemy, a rival

Forever the warrior as a player, Steven Gerrard doesn’t hold back in delivering a bellicose assessment of how Jordan Jones will be viewed within the Rangers ranks when his Ibrox team face a Kilmarnock side containing the Northern Ireland winger tonight.

Kilmarnock winger Jordan Jones who will join Rangers in the summer.

Jones would appear to be in the invidious position of facing the club he will join in the summer following his decision to sign a pre-contract agreement with Rangers. The deal caused outrage from the Kilmarnock support after the 24-year-old took to Twitter to express his “unbelievable pride” in making “a dream come true” .

Gerrard chose to distance himself from the fall-out from Jones’ pre-contract, which he said changes nothing in how the wide man will be perceived by his players at Rugby Park.

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“For me, this is Rangers v Kilmarnock. It’s not about us playing against a future Rangers player,” he said of the contest against an Ayrshire side that sit a point behind them in third place. “At the moment, where it stands is he’s an opponent, he’s the enemy, he’s a rival and we’ll treat him that way.”

The Rangers manger sees nothing strange in the situation. “Not for us,” he said. “We know all about Jordan. He’s a good player and will always be a threat for Kilmarnock. He’s still a Kilmarnock player and we have to respect that.

“Kilmarnock have handled it very well, but he’s an opponent and we treat him individually with respect and Kilmarnock with respect. We just deal with it as normal, really.

When asked how difficult will it be for Jones, Gerrard added: “That’s a question Jordan will have to answer himself. Jordan is the one who put it into the public domain, so he has to handle it in the best way he can.”

How Steve Clarke, pictured, has handled himself as manager of the Rugby Park side, though, draws glowing praise from Gerrard, who had already been impressed by Clarke when he was assistant to Kenny Dalglish at Anfield for a year-and-a-half from January 2011.

The Kilmarnock manager eschews any flannel in his dealing with players and media and Gerrard has been a straight-talker in his mould across his seventh months as a first-time manager. “The thing for me with 
Clarkey is he’s real. He doesn’t try to pretend and try to be something he’s not,” said Gerrard. “He’s open and he’s honest. As a player, he’d say to me: ‘I didn’t think you were at it today’. Sometimes he’d say: ‘I thought you were very good today’.

“That honesty and respect went a long way for me because I think players at the level that Clarkey has played at and worked at can work you out.

“Why do it any other way? Players are quite clever, they are cute, they are streetwise, they work you out pretty quickly.

“The last thing you want to do is be false and then lose a handful of players in your dressing room.

“Clarkey is real, open and honest and has the courage to tell you when you are not at it, but there’s also a side of him that he’ll reward you if you put it in for him. That’s how he was under Kenny [Dalglish] and I respect him for that.”

The postponement of Rangers’ Scottish Cup-tie in Cowdenbeath on Friday night, means their trip to Ayrshire will be the first post-winter shutdown encounter. The intervening period brought the statement signings of Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis that has Gerrard believing his side can sustain a title challenge that they ramped up with the emphatic 1-0 victory over Celtic in their last outing.

“I think we have done really well in this window, getting the calibre of player that we have for nothing, for free. We knew pretty quickly what we needed in this window.

“To be fair to the board and Mark Allen, they delivered very quickly. We got them in as early as we could. We managed to get them over to Tenerife which was important to get them to settle and get used to the players.

“It was a lot easier with Davo, who knows a lot of people around the place. For Jermain, it was helpful getting that business done pretty early. We have improved the quality in the squad. To do that without having to spend money has been very helpful.

“There is confidence, there is belief, but I think it’s still too early to make bold predictions. We have a lot of respect for people at the other clubs who are in the running. I still think Celtic are the team to beat and catch. They have the know-how.

“They remain the champions as we speak, so we are not going to sit here and boast or predict anything that’s too early to predict. What we will say is that we will give it everything we’ve got.”

They will require to exert themselves on plastic pitches twice in the next four days, with a jaunt to Livingston on Sunday following their Kilmarnock assignment. It isn’t ideal, admitted Gerrard.

“Let me be brutal for you,” he said. “There shouldn’t be plastic pitches in the Scottish Premiership.”