Why holding onto Alfredo Morelos would be the best piece of business Rangers could do this summer

With a goal against Celtic joining a Premiership title win on his CV, Alfredo Morelos may feel he has now ticked every box he wants to as a Rangers player.

Alfredo Morelos celebrates outside the Rangers training ground on the day the Ibrox club clinched the Premiership title. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Having consistently made no secret of his ambition to move to a bigger league, it’s certain that the Colombian striker will yet again be front and centre of transfer speculation surrounding the Ibrox club this summer.

It may be that both Rangers and Morelos will reach the conclusion that the time has indeed come for them to part company. If an offer in the region of £20 million comes in for the 24-year-old, it will be difficult for Rangers to resist as they look to move towards a more financially sustainable player-trading model in the coming years.

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Yet while Steven Gerrard will recognise the pragmatic reality of such a scenario and would not wish to stand in the way of Morelos fulfilling his dreams of operating in a higher profile environment, the Rangers manager may still hope to delay that inevitability for another season at least.

Alfredo Morelos heads home his 16th goal of the season and his first in 15 appearances against Celtic in Sunday's Old Firm match at Celtic Park. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Champions League incentive

It is where the lure of Champions League football could perhaps persuade Morelos that his ambitions of playing on a bigger stage can be met, in the short-term at least, in a Rangers jersey.

There are two qualifying rounds for Rangers to negotiate at the start of next season before they can return to the group stage of European football’s elite club tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign.

Their prospects of making it would certainly be significantly enhanced if Morelos is still leading the line.

Alfredo Morelos, pictured scoring in the 3-0 win against St Mirren at Ibrox on March 6, has been in top form for Rangers in the second half of the season. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

His club record haul of 23 European goals, all scored in the Europa League over the past three seasons, have proved how suited he is to the type of challenge Rangers face on the continental stage.

Difficult to replace

If they do decide to cash in on Morelos at the end of this season, Rangers will not find it easy to fill the void he leaves.

They made a significant investment to improve Gerrard’s striking options at the start of this season with the signings of Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten. English forward Roofe has shown his worth with 12 goals in 28 appearances so far, while Swiss international Itten has displayed clear signs of promise in his thus far limited outings.

Both players are capable of making telling contributions next season but it remains clear that Morelos is Rangers’ most rounded and effective striker. His movement and much improved link-up play allows him to flourish as the spearhead of the attacking trio in Gerrard’s favoured 4-3-3 formation.

He is a constantly unsettling presence for opposition defences and although his disciplinary record still has room for improvement, he has gradually become less of a liability in that department than he once was.

Wearing a smile

Morelos’ demeanour has also changed noticeably in recent times. Where his default setting previously seemed to be a scowl, a smile is now never far from his face. Since he and his wife Yesenia celebrated the birth of their daughter Leonela last May, Morelos appears to have discovered a new sense of contentment and maturity.

His prowess in front of goal has always been obvious, even if he occasionally hits barren spells. His equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park on Sunday, finally breaking his duck in the Old Firm fixture at the 15th attempt, was his 16th goal of this season and leaves him just seven short of hitting the century mark for Rangers.

He scored in pivotal fixtures during the run-in to clinching the title, including winners in tricky away fixtures at Aberdeen, Hibs and Livingston since the turn of the year.

His overall performance at Celtic Park, as well as his personal landmark goal, earned fresh praise from his manager.

Big game player

“I thought Alfredo’s performance, again, was selfless,” said Gerrard. “He did a lot of running and did well holding the ball up for us.

“He’ll be very relieved with his goal. But credit to him because he’s scored big goals this season and you can’t get away from that.

“When you analyse the season so far, he’s come up with big moments when you rely on your number nine to step up and score.

"He has been magnificent in terms of his contribution, certainly of late, and he has scored big goals at key times.

“But he should take a lift from that goal against Celtic, because the longer it goes on without him scoring in an Old Firm game, the more people talk about it. He’ll have been aware of that.

“But with Alfredo, it’s never through lack of trying. He’s a winner and he wants to win. He always tries to be a threat and unfortunately it hadn’t happened for him against Celtic before now.

“But that’s gone now and I think he’ll bounce into the next Old Firm game with a lot of belief and confidence.

"He has had a lot of attempts to try and score against Celtic, so for his own personal point of view it was a positive moment for him and helped us get a decent result at the end. So we are really happy with Alfredo.”

After all South American World Cup qualifiers were postponed this month because of the coronavirus pandemic, Morelos will have to wait for his first chance to impress new Colombia head coach Reinaldo Rueda.

But a refreshed Morelos will be good news for Rangers when they return after the international break and bid to complete an unbeaten Premiership campaign and win the Scottish Cup.

“Normally he is travelling all round the world for internationals but he is staying behind this time,” said Gerrard. “He will get some time with his family and be ready for our next game."

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