Rangers may regret a January neglect of their defence - the man they needed won't be far away today
John Souttar has been one of the best defenders in the league this season and, on the back of his performances for Hearts, has earned a recall to the Scotland set-up and a lucrative pre-contract deal with Rangers. The 25-year-old will move west at the end of the season. Those at Ibrox tried to get him sooner, but failed with at least three January bids that were deemed unsatisfactory by the Jambos.
The fanfare that greeted Ramsay’s arrival – and it was right to crow over the Welshman’s signing, such is his ability – overshadowed a failure by Rangers to properly address a key flaw in their team right now: defence.
Manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst can’t say he wasn’t warned. He watched his team ship three goals to Ross County last Saturday, and then Celtic blew them away on Wednesday to move ahead of Rangers in the title race. Granted, Souttar would not have been able to play in the derby due to a small ankle issue, but for the rest of the season, he would make a massive difference to an increasingly porous backline.
Connor Goldson is a mainstay in the centre of Rangers’ defence but who plays next to him is an area of concern. Filip Helander has a long-term hamstring injury, Leon Balogun is only just coming back to full fitness, Jack Simpson is well out of the picture and Calvin Bassey, who has filled in the past few months, is needed at left-back due to Borna Barisic’s alarming drop in form. Souttar would enhance Rangers’ defence right now, of that there is little question.
The exact amount Rangers offered on deadline day to Hearts for Souttar is unknown, but they weren’t demanding a seven-figure sum. A fee of around £500,000 would probably have got the job done. Hearts were happy to play hardball, not be bullied by Rangers. Jambos manager Robbie Neilson is content to play Souttar for the rest of the season, cognisant of the player’s ability, leadership and professionalism.
Rangers need Souttar right now. This is not the season to be penny-pinching, with a resurgent Celtic under Ange Postecoglou and the mighty reward of guaranteed Champions League group-stage football next season for the champions. The riches that would bring far, far outstrips defensive reinforcement expenditure.
If fit, Neilson says Souttar will play for Hearts today, when they travel to Ibrox to face a wounded Rangers team. Hearts took a point from Govan earlier in the season, when Rangers were stronger under then-boss Steven Gerrard. They have regressed since Van Bronckhorst took over the tiller, and a response is needed quickly after such a beating from Celtic in midweek.
With Ramsey set to make his debut, and key striker Alfredo Morelos back from Colombia, Rangers look better equipped at the front end. But it’s at the back where the questions remain, questions that could have been answered had they stumped up the cash for Souttar.