Rangers’ under the radar swoop for Jon McLaughlin, announcing the signing of the Scotland international on a two-year deal on Tuesday, was somewhat of a surprise, but it makes complete sense.
Not much transfer activity has taken place in Scotland so far, and understandably so. But already the signing of the former Sunderland and Hearts No.1 looks like one of the more shrewd bits of business done.
Steven Gerrard is adding a hugely experienced goalkeeper. McLaughlin has well over 400 career appearances, has previous experience of the Scottish Premiership and is an international footballer.
Not only that, but he is adding a player to his squad who will immediately challenge for a place in the starting XI.
As Gerrard said: “Jon is a vastly experienced professional who will add strength and depth to our squad. He is here to compete for the number one shirt and will add much needed competition for places.”
For that, McLaughlin will have to find his way past Allan McGregor.
Two great goalkeepers, two contrasting personalities
Ever since he returned to the club in the summer of 2018, his position in the team was clear, taking over from Wes Foderingham as first-choice. Even if he didn’t hit the heights of the 2018/19 season this past campaign, there was little to suggest his position was ever going to be under threat.
It is now.
McLaughlin is the antithesis of McGregor when it comes to their personality and on-field demeanour.
No one does incandescent anger like Allan McGregor.
Connor Goldson suffered the stare and subsequent seethe when he fumbled with the ball before gifting Hamilton Accies a goal. Like a dad who has just witnessed his child put a crack in the TV following some tomfoolery with a lightsaber for a ‘TikTok’ video, the goalkeeper was far from content.
Many a referee has been on the receiving end of his Malcolm Tucker-esque tirade of incredulity. The closest anyone human being has got to replicating the cartoon steam out the ears, veins escaping from the head, face turning scarlet. All because he was asked to move a free-kick a few yards back.
The indignation, the exasperation, the contempt is hugely entertaining.
He plays on the edge. It is a rare commodity in the goalkeeping fraternity. Rene Higuita possessed it. Although the Rangers No.1 is not likely to nutmeg Murray Davidson on the half way line or find himself flying out of goal attempting a diving header just to be involved.
Totemic Tynecastle figure
McLaughlin is a lot more chilled. In fact, watch his reaction to Ross Callachan’s indiscretion when conceding from a corner in a Scottish Cup tie against Motherwell in 2018. Disbelief when he would have been entitled to be disgusted.
Serenity is a key mental quality which extracts the best of McLaughlin, the same way passion does for McGregor.
Rangers now have two talented, experienced, reliable and consistent goalkeepers.
Across his season at Tynecastle McLaughlin’s mistakes could be counted using just one finger. He was a totemic figure at the back, playing a vital role in helping Hearts record a club record of eight games without conceding.
The 32-year-old brings with him a calming presence, as will he a commanding presence. He is a huge figure between the sticks, possessing arms which would be more fitting on a windmill. He makes himself even bigger when readying himself to save a shot, giving opposition strikers little space to sneak the ball past him.
He’s a goalkeeper’s goalkeeper. Much more about keeping the ball out than playing as a de-facto sweeper, thinking he has the talent to play outfield. For a start he is very fond of catching the ball and is assured off his line when it comes to taking crosses and making sure there is no doubt in the mind of his team-mates, especially the defenders, that if there is a ball he can come and collect, he will do so with little fuss or fumble.
One thing which he lacks is that experience of playing for a club like Rangers. Hearts fans are demanding, as are Sunderland fans. And playing for your country can only take you so far. The Ibrox crowd expect the team to win. There is a pressure of having to be a winner. Of having that mentality.
That is something which McGregor possesses in abundance, as he does passion and most definitely talent.
It all adds into what is sure to be a fascinating battle for the No.1 spot at Rangers. If McLaughlin doesn’t play it’s because he has pushed McGregor to continue to deliver excellent performances, and probably closer to that edge which he enjoys so much.
If McGregor’s performance levels drop, or the anger takes hold too much, in McLaughlin Rangers have the ideal man to fill those very large gloves of the current No.1.