Ryan Kent became Rangers’ 10th signing of the summer, arriving on loan from Liverpool. Joel Sked looks at what Rangers can expect from their new attacking recruit.
He should excite fans
Fans want to be treated to excitement and entertainment when they head along on a Saturday afternoon to watch their team. Ryan Kent is a player who can get supporters out their seats and on their feet.
In an interview with RangersTV he said: “I never hold back. I don’t fear getting on the ball, even if I’ve lost the ball. I am hopefully going to bring a lot of excitement to the fans here at Rangers.”
Words are easier than actions but evidence from his loan spell with Barnsley suggests he is speaking the truth. He drives forward with the ball, using his pace, close control and skill to evade opponents. He could be set to deliver 90 minutes of anguish to a few Ladbrokes Premiership full-backs.
Some of what he does is old school wing play. Knocking the ball to one side and running around the other or, the ultimate humiliation for any footballer, the nutmeg.
His ability to appear from seemingly perilous situations with the ball at his feet, the proclivity of bamboozling a full-back in a 1v1 situation, the direct nature will appeal to fans, as long as it is channelled correctly.
Barrie McKay 2.0?
Barrie McKay split opinion among Rangers fans. To some he was a tantalising talent, while to others he was a mere luxury. There can be no doubt that the 23-year-old frustrated fans throughout the 2016/2017 season but he also created a host of chances for his misfiring team-mates.
The Ibrox side’s new boy shares similarities to McKay. A comparison of their respective 2016/2017 campaigns when McKay was at Rangers and Kent on loan at Barnsley in the English Championship saw them record similar numbers with regards to the advanced stats.
Both players were frequent dribblers with Kent averaging 10.32 per 90 minutes to McKay’s 9.16. But they didn’t dribble to get to the byline and send in crosses in the way of a traditional winger. Kent averaged 2.93 crosses per 90 minutes to McKay’s 3.25.
Both players seek to come infield and get involved in other ways. McKay made 0.66 key passes per 90 minutes, while Kent made 0.43.
Kent is a more dynamic operator, however, capable of playing from either foot, so much so that it can be difficult deciphering which foot is his stronger one.
Former Liverpool coach a huge influence
Naturally it would be easy to assume that the presence of Steven Gerrard is the key reason Kent opted for a move north of the border. However, it is one of Gerrard’s key lieutenants who may have played a bigger role in terms of persuasion.
Michael Beale came with Gerrard to Ibrox after two spells at Liverpool, which sandwiched an assistant manager role at Brazilian giants Sao Paulo. Beale was a huge influence for Kent as manager of Liverpool’s U23s.
Kent told RangersTV that Beale “got the best” out of him at Liverpool.
The player doesn’t lack self-belief
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is a big fan of Ryan Kent. Twelve months ago he was reluctant to loan the player out, saying he wasn’t the “president of the supporters’ club for loaning players”.
It was the player himself who pushed for a loan move, following on from fruitful spells with Coventry City in League One and Barnsley, where he won the club’s young player of the year award, in the Championship.
Instead of joining another Championship side or a team in the lower reaches of the Premier League, he moved to the Black Forrest in Germany and a loan move with Freiburg.
He told The Times last year: “I want to show people I am capable of playing at this level. I wouldn’t say going abroad, or playing in the Bundesliga, is an easy thing for an English youngster.
“It is a hard decision to make in the first place and that is before you fulfil your role as a player. I have wanted to knuckle down and that has meant putting other things aside, such as family and friends, and focus on football.”
Not just that, but the player, who was learning German despite being on loan, spoke of his ambition to win the league’s young player of the year.
It suggests a player who will be unfazed by the challenge of playing for Rangers.
A big moment in his career
All that being said, a loan spell at Ibrox could be a key staging post in the player’s career even if he is still only 21 years of age.
Last season was a somewhat disappointing campaign. After the high of being a regular for Barnsley in 2016/2017 and signing a new Liverpool contract he was unable to kick on. He took to the field for just over 800 minutes, a drastic decrease from the 3,288 minutes the previous season.
He made just one start for Freiburg before his loan was cut short and was then sent out on loan to Championship play-off hopefuls Bristol City. It looked as if he would be an important player in helping the Robins achieve that ambition. City failed in their quest, while Kent was left out the squad for the final six league games of the season.
Kent, with the right attitude, recognised the frustration in terms of game time but looked towards the positives with regards to the experienced, of playing against Bayern Munich, learning in a different culture and country and the pressure of trying to get into the play-off positions.
The grand ambition for the player is to make it at Liverpool. While his contract runs until 2022, football is so ruthless, especially at Premier League level, that time waits for no man. One or two bad moves can badly affect the momentum of career.
Kent can’t afford to have another loan spell which sees him spend more time looking on from the sidelines. Rangers may well be getting a player with the feeling he has something to prove.