The Rangers striker is the leading goalscorer in the Scottish Premiership this season, so why isn’t he being talked about like one? Craig Fowler examines
All things considered, the capture of Alfredo Morelos was the best signing Rangers made last summer. Given his age, potential and the output he’s delivered so far, his acquisition was a snip at £1million. Not only has he provided the team with a lethal striker, he’s managed to shine despite the constant flux around him and the fact that he’s barely had a break, having played his last game for HJK Helsinki in early June with the Finnish season running from spring to autumn.
Despite all of this, some of the discussion around the 21-year-old has been a little odd. On Tuesday’s Sportsound, ex-Rangers midfielder Alex Rae spoke about the need for the club to sign someone of “substance” in front of goal when referencing Jason Cummings. He later said Morelos blows “hot and cold”, a point reiterated by Kris Commons the following evening. There’s an element of truth to both these observations - behind their top striker there’s nothing approaching a lethal hitman in the Ibrox ranks, and he did go through a barren spell between mid-September and early December - but it’s still unusual to hear these points made in connection with the leading goalscorer in the Scottish top flight.
Then there was a column in another newspaper which agitated the Rangers support, as it questioned why they’d clapped the player from the park following his substitution against Celtic because he’d missed a couple of gilt-edged chances, while a prominent journalist on Twitter openly wondered whether he is actually the league’s best finisher this term, regardless of the basic stats, because he’s only netted twice against top six sides (Hibs, twice).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems unlikely that the same narrative, this suspicion towards Morelos’ true worth, would exist if the exact same performance was replicated by his Scottish team-mate Kenny Miller, for example.
It is easy to understand why some may label it jingoism, but it’s more complicated than that. First of all, when it comes to judging foreign players, especially ones which have arrived within the last year, compared with Scottish talents, there are many layers which mean familiar faces will sometimes get an easier ride. There are personal relationships built up over time, familiarity with a player’s talents through watching him for years, and yes, perhaps a little preference for Scottish players to do well, which is only natural. Fans love nothing more than a local lad made good. It doesn’t mean there has to be anything sinister about it.
One reason will be the environment in which he’s having to perform. When his stock was at its highest and the media were talking in glowing terms about his ability, earlier in the season, the cloud that seems to follow Rangers everywhere wasn’t quite as dense. Progres Niederkorn had been an embarrassment of biblical proportions, but the fall-out had begun to die away when they started to show signs of recovery in August, with Morelos on fire.
Goals dried up for the striker in September when it became apparent that Pedro Caixinha was not the right man to take Rangers forward, which could be said likewise for a number of the players the Portuguese head coach recruited. Guilty by association: Morelos would never be explicitly named in a list of duds, but he’s one of a group of recruits which has been widely panned. One publication printed a story about the list of summer recruits that Rangers were looking to sell on in January. The image accompanying the article was of Morelos alongside Carlos Pena. Of course, only one of those players featured in the story. It may have been nothing more than coincidence, the first useful picture the sub-editor came across, but again it spoke to the Colombian’s reputation being hampered by those he has been force to keep company with.
Since his dry spell he’s enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, netting four goals in six games, but this came at a time when the club was either in the midst of a bewilderingly long search for a new manager or dealing with the fall-out from the decision to give the gig to the man already in interim charge. What happened on the park was secondary to the circus off it.
Under the current board, The Banter Years don’t look like they’re coming to an end any time soon. However, with the reinforcements made to the squad in January, we should expect Rangers to be improved and, at the very least, push Aberdeen very close for second place. With results on the park comes praise off it, and it will give Morelos the chance to really underline his credentials.
He’s not just a penalty box player, far from it. His link-up play can be a little erratic - he’s either too sloppy or too cute with his passing on occasion - but when he’s focused he’s a real asset dropping deep. He’s got a smooth touch and a big backside, which he uses to frequently back into defenders and make it impossible for them to get a foot around and touch the ball away.
Moving in on goal, there’s an explosiveness to his shot, and he’s definitely someone who can assist in making opportunities with his strong running and evasive movement around the final third. His finishing may lack consistency, especially his heading, but seeing as he was a midfielder just a couple of years ago, and has many years ahead of him before he reaches his peak, it’s not something to be overly critical of at this moment in time.
Rangers supporters have bemoaned the coverage of Moussa Dembele in contrast to their foreign goalscorer. However, it’s not a fair comparison. Morelos has yet to show he’s capable of performing at a level like the Champions League as Dembele did against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in his first season, and most recently his showing away to PSG where he was good in spite of his team getting thumped 7-1. He also hasn’t had the profile-boosting, headline-grabbing, record-setting day that Dembele enjoyed in his Old Firm debut. The Celtic star is a big-game player, which his Rangers rival still needs to prove himself capable of being.
Despite the Frenchman’s dip in form this season, he remains undoubtedly the better player of the two. But Morelos still deserves much more credit than he’s getting at the moment.