Why Champions League could hold the key to Ryan Kent's Rangers future amid fresh interest from Leeds United

Ryan Kent turned his back on the Champions League to sign for Rangers on a permanent basis two years ago.

Ryan Kent has enjoyed a highly productive season for Rangers with 12 goals and 14 assists so far for the new Premiership champions. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Ryan Kent has enjoyed a highly productive season for Rangers with 12 goals and 14 assists so far for the new Premiership champions. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Steven Gerrard will now hope that the lure of playing in Europe’s elite club competition next season will ensure Kent is not tempted away from the Ibrox club this summer.

When Rangers finally thrashed out the £7.5 million deal with Liverpool for Kent in the closing hours of the transfer window on September 2, 2019, the winger was in the departure lounge at Manchester Airport waiting to board a flight to Bruges.

The Belgian club, who were then getting ready for a Champions League group stage campaign against Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray, believed they had won the race to sign Kent.

Ryan Kent (centre) celebrates with team-mates Calvin Bassey (left) and Ryan Jack (right) on the day Rangers clinched the Premiership title. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

But they were gazumped by Rangers as manager Gerrard’s determination to bring Kent back to Glasgow, after his impressive initial loan spell the previous season, was matched by the backing of the Ibrox board.

Kent has justified Gerrard’s belief he would prove a key contributor to his efforts to restore Rangers to the summit of Scottish football.

Since scoring the first goal of Rangers’ as yet undefeated Premiership campaign in the 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie last August, Kent has been a pivotal figure in the march to the club’s first title win in a decade.

He made his 50th appearance of the season in last Sunday’s 4-1 defeat of Celtic at Ibrox, delivering another vibrant display which showcased both his admirable work ethic and outstanding technical skills.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has mentored Ryan Kent since the winger's formative years at Liverpool. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Longer contract?

It’s no surprise that Kent is attracting fresh interest from Leeds United. The Elland Road club had a £4.5 million bid for him turned down by Liverpool shortly before he moved to Glasgow in 2019, then saw an offer of around £10 million rejected by Rangers last summer.

Kent is under contract until the summer of 2023 but it’s understood Rangers are keen to tie him down for a longer period on improved terms.

Having settled happily at Rangers, after an itinerant period of his career which saw loan spells at Coventry City, Barnsley, Freiburg and Bristol City, Kent has made it clear he won’t be agitating for a move any time soon.

"It's just about playing in the now," he told Sky Sports. "It's nice to be linked with other big clubs, but you've got to understand your duty to where you are.

"As long as I'm at Rangers, I'll give 100 per cent to the club. "I love this place, it's done so much for me, so as long as I'm here, my mind is solely focused on Rangers."

A beacon in Europe

Many of Kent’s most eye-catching performances for Rangers have come during their Europa League adventures under Gerrard over the past three years. They will have a shot at a return to the Champions League next season, with two qualifying rounds standing between them and the group stage, and Kent has spoken positively about that challenge.

“It is definitely exciting,” he said in an interview with Rangers Matchday Programme. “It will be a step up from the Europa League which I think we have competed really well in over the past few years, so to step onto the biggest stage in Europe would be amazing for everybody.

“It would be an amazing achievement for the club and I think it shows the desire and which way the club is going.

“I think everybody buys into the ethos of the football club. Everybody wants to play for the fans and I would probably say you haven’t been to a proper football game unless you have been to Ibrox when it is packed out, regardless of whether it is in Europe, a cup game or the league.

“The fans come out in full force all the time and when you get a real feel of the football club on that stage and the feeling in and among the players, it is a really tight-knit family.

“You won’t come across many teams that are built like the way we are. Since I have come in, it has been the ‘beautiful struggle’. There have been some amazing moments in the past three years but we have just fallen short.

“To finally lift that (Premiership) trophy for the fans and for the football club, it will be a huge achievement.

“It has been a strange year for everybody but I think for everyone associated with Rangers – the players, the coaches and the fans - it has been an incredible period for us. We have achieved what we set out to do.”

Effective at both ends

Kent has scored 12 goals so far this season and provided 14 assists, providing creativity and pace in the attacking third of the pitch. He is also one of the most tactically diligent of Gerrard’s players, tracking back willingly whenever Rangers are out of possession.

While the form of some of his team-mates is likely to see Kent overshadowed when the Player of the Year honours are dished out over the next few weeks, he can reflect with satisfaction on a fine season from his own perspective.

“It is pleasing for a player to put in consistent performances and to bring out your quality onto the pitch,” he said.

“A big target of mine this year was to add numbers to my game. I would still like to get a few more and hopefully add them in the remaining games that are to come but I am definitely pleased with the outcome of that this year.”

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