Rangers Todd Cantwell opens up on being target for tackles, Philippe Clement impact on him and hiding ego at times

The playmaker is in a good place at Ibrox under Clement as title races enters its climax

It will come as little surprise that Todd Cantwell is the most fouled Rangers player in the Premiership this season, given he is a magnet for opposition players.

Cantwell has played 23 times in the league and has drawn 40 fouls in total. A creative, forward-thinking midfielder, the 26-year-old is at the centre of many Rangers attacks. His game has flourished under Philippe Clement and after missing five matches due to a hamstring injury, he made his return against Benfica as a sub last month before starting the 3-1 win over Hibs on Saturday, providing an assist for Cyriel Dessers’ goal. He is likely to keep his place in the team for Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated Old Firm derby against Celtic.

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Cantwell is fully aware of the attention he gets from other players. “Yeah, I think it is something I have probably had most of my career,” he said candidly. “I am the sort of player who probably invites tackles with my dribbling and the way I like to play. Do I think that some teams look at it as an opportunity to try and stop me? Yeah, I do. But it only works if it stops me and I don’t think it has. The injury I got was hamstring. Listen, it happens, it is part of football. To be honest, if I was on the other team I might try the same thing.

Todd Cantwell has been fouled more times than any other Rangers player in the league this season.Todd Cantwell has been fouled more times than any other Rangers player in the league this season.
Todd Cantwell has been fouled more times than any other Rangers player in the league this season.

“It is a compliment. It always has been. Ever since I was a little kid I have always been the player who gets tackled a lot and it is the way I play football, I know that. The manager has made it clear that he doesn’t want to change the way I play, but at times I can maybe be a little bit smarter and protect myself as well. That is another learning curve for me as well.”

As a No 10 who is the main creative outlet in Rangers’ front four, Cantwell accepts that tackles – and fouls – come with the territory. “For me personally, the No 10 is in the team to create, to be a bit of a maverick, to be the player you probably look to and say, ‘oh, I didn’t see that coming’,” he said. “With that you are obviously going to make mistakes at times and people are going to say, ‘He is forcing things’. You are always going to be the player who is targeted by other teams as well. If someone can make something happen they are going to try and stop him. Sometimes that can be physically, mentally, it can be anything. That is my responsibility to be ready for that.”

His manager Clement has called for more protection of creative players such as Cantwell, and while the player doesn’t think the game is over-physical, he would like to see referees clamp down early on eager defenders. “Over-physical is a hard one,” he mused. “I don’t think it is over-physical. I think some of the tackles and some of the decisions are questionable. I have always found from my personal experience that the first tasty tackle should always be booked because it sets the tone and shows ‘you are not getting away with that’. The problem that I struggle with is the consistency of that because sometimes the tackle will be booked instantly and sometimes it won’t. Mine don’t tend to be yellow cards. It tends to be a yellow card for me if I am on the other side.”

Cantwell has certainly discovered a different level of physicality in comparison to the English Championship, a league itself which isn’t immune to the odd rumbustious tackle. “Yeah, I think I said it quite early on,” Cantwell said of the aggression in the cinch Premiership. “I don’t think you can compare the football up here to down south. I certainly don’t think it is faster, I think it is probably slower. It is definitely physical. Teams just play a different style. The way that we play and the way that most teams in the league play is different. Most teams will try and drop off and set a boundary and say, ‘No, you are not coming into our box’. That is down to us to challenge. It is different, sure.”

Cantwell has flourished under the tutelage of manager Philippe Clement this season.Cantwell has flourished under the tutelage of manager Philippe Clement this season.
Cantwell has flourished under the tutelage of manager Philippe Clement this season.

For Cantwell, being such a vital part of this Rangers team is a privilege. Early on in Clement’s reign, he was taken off after just 35 minutes in a Europa League match against Aris, the Belgian not happy with his contribution. “No player wants to be that player,” admitted the Englishman. “Listen, me and the manager have had a lot of conversations and I have got a lot of respect for the manager. I think he is a good person as well as a good manager. For me personally, in football you have to hide your ego a little bit sometimes and you have to understand that things aren’t always done for your best interest, it is the club’s best interest. I think we have got a manager on our hands who cares very, very much about the club.

“I won’t go into it, but we had a very honest conversation and it was a very respectful conversation and I think it has been very positive on the pitch and off the pitch. Yeah, me and the manager are in a really good place.”

Cantwell believes Clement has made him a better player. “I think you could argue that,” he added. “It is definitely a different No 10 role to the No 10 role I was playing under Michael [Beale, the previous manager]. But, listen, as a footballer, you have to be able to adapt and you have to bring different parts of your game. That is something the manager has really homed in on with me. I would like to think I do have a good attitude. The club is always more important than any individual, I believe that. It is probably more important here than at most clubs. For me, it is being at the right end of the trophies at the end of the season. For me, that would be a good season.”



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