Ross McCrorie '“ Great expectations for club and country

Scotland is crying out for a centre-back. Not exactly blessed at the position to begin with, further concern exists regarding the age of the two starters at present, Christophe Berra and Charlie Mulgrew, both of whom are over 30 and coming to the tail-end of their careers.

Ross McCrorie made his debut for Rangers as a substitute  in the 3-1 Betfred Cup win at Partick Thistle
Ross McCrorie made his debut for Rangers as a substitute in the 3-1 Betfred Cup win at Partick Thistle

This nation needs fresh talent coming through at the heart of defence. Step forward Ross McCrorie, at least in the mind of his manager. Pedro Caixinha, who praised the player in the aftermath of his Rangers debut, a 45-minute cameo against Partick Thistle. The 19-year-old may not have prevented the home side’s equaliser, but he was able to subdue the troublesome Conor Sammon in extra-time, a task which experienced team-mates Bruno Alves and Fabio Cardoso failed to complete.

It was enough to confirm Caixinha’s faith and he wasn’t shy in forecasting the player’s future should he live up to his potential: “Ross McCrorie is going to be one of the best centre-halves in history, not just for this club but for this country.” He also insisted he had no qualms in starting the player against Celtic this weekend.

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The hype machine has since kicked into overdrive. Trying desperately not to fuel it further, goalkeeper Jak Alnwick stressed his reticence in comparing the youngster to anyone famous from the world of football - then did so anyway.

“I have played with quite a few people and I am not going to compare him with anyone,” said Alnwick when asked if McCrorie reminded him of anyone, “but Fabricio Coloccini who I played with at Newcastle. Coloccini is an international centre-half, but, in terms of the way they play, they are similar. They are good on the ball, can use both feet, are calm. They are a million miles apart in terms of where they are at now. But, if he keeps working hard, there is no reason why he can’t be up there.”

Lord only knows how much further McCrorie’s profile will skyrocket if he starts against Celtic and Rangers are able to upset the odds by claiming a result against their Old Firm rivals. Though a risk to play someone so inexperienced in such a pressure situation, Caixinha has showed before he is willing to give young players a chance, with fellow youngsters Myles Beerman and David Bates both getting starts against Celtic last 
season.

While those two were being thrown into the deep end, McCrorie was on loan at Dumbarton, and one of his former team-mates backs him to handle the expectation. “He’s got nothing to lose,” said Dumbarton striker Christian Nade, who played alongside the youngster at the Sons last term. “We all know Celtic are a really strong team, so he’ll just have to play his game and I’ll sure he’ll be fine.

“When he came into the club, he was a little bit lost. As the season went on, the more comfortable he became and you could see his abilities: to read the game, to react, to be strong. You could see he had a strong personality. He was already a leader at his age. Everyone knew he would 
definitely make it.”

Others aren’t quite as convinced. McCrorie spent a few months at Ayr United in League One in the season prior to his Dumbarton spell, but, at both clubs, he wasn’t a regular centre-back. At Ayr, he predominantly played in midfield, either through the centre or on the right, while Dumbarton tended to use him at right-back.

“McCrorie is a strange one,” said Dumbarton blogger Fraser Clarke. “When we had him, all the supporters came on to our forum saying he was a great player, a future Rangers captain and that kind of stuff.

“We’d had Stuart Findlay [from Celtic] and he’d been the benchmark for centre-backs that we’d had on loan, and I kind of expected McCrorie to be an equivalent, but he never really was.”

At neither loan did he impress at his natural position, but then loans can be unpredictable.

Ask any Raith Rovers or Morton fan whether they ever thought Barrie McKay would play for Scotland, and you’ll see they aren’t always a reliable method of assessing talent.

There’ll be plenty of time for that. Caixinha’s words have increased expectations tenfold. Let’s just hope he lives up to them.