The “academy signing” label attached to the arrival of Glenn Middleton this week accorded him a lesser status than the five other additions Rangers made during the transfer window. That situation need only be temporary.
The 18-year-old Middleton, a left-sided schemer who can play right across the frontline, has been considered one of the Scots-most-likely in recent years. His performances for the under-17s and under-19s have ensured that. He was instrumental in helping the 17s reach the European Championship finals last summer across 17 appearances at that level. Even though he only turned 18 five weeks ago, he has stepped up impressively to the 19s. His contribution across seven outings at this level was crucial in their progress to the elite round of their European Championship, which will take place next month.
The player, born in Glasgow before moving to Northampton as a child, was expected to make an impression at club level with Norwich City as he was gaining valuable international experience. However, save for an appearance on the bench for the Championship side as they lost to Southampton in the FA Cup a year ago, he made no headway on that front. That has underpinned his move to Rangers, the club he supported as a boy, but while Graeme Murty won’t be rushing him in that direction, the Ibrox manager knows his capabilities better than anyone after his stint as youth coach at Carrow Road four years ago. Middleton was playing for the club’s second string as a 15-year-old schoolboy. Murty won’t say how he learned of the teenager’s desire to move on in order to progress his career, but admits it provided an opportunity he seized upon.
“He’s an exciting player,” said the Rangers manager. “I’ve known him for a long time now. I was really surprised when I heard that he was going to be able to leave the club, and a bit shocked to be perfectly honest.
“I got straight on to the phone to Craig Mulholland [Rangers’ head of academy] and we made it happen. He’s desperate to be here, he’s a passionate Rangers fan and he ticks lots of boxes. He’s an exciting, pacy, left-footed player who can beat people and he can finish as well.
“The platform now is here for him to go and accelerate if he can. I’ve said to all the young players that if they are good enough, they can push into the first-team squad and see what it is actually like to be a Rangers player.
“We’ve done that with Ross McCrorie and with Aiden Wilson at times, and David Bates, even though he wasn’t ours is still a young player. We have to make sure the players see a pathway. He’s just a young player that we like, and that has an opportunity to go and showcase his talents at a big club.”
Murty knows what to expect from Middleton, who he has already had training with the Rangers first team, and knows too what he brings on in the game to a youngster given a four-and-a-half year deal at the Ibrox club.
“I’ll try to develop his game and try to develop him as a person,” the 43-year-old said. “I know his mentality, his work ethic and his professionalism, and they are all of the highest order.
“What we have to do now is recognise that he is still only a young man and not place too many burdens on his shoulders, but just release him off to try and be great every day.
“If we can do that, then I don’t think there is a better platform for him to have to push on and reach that next level, which for him is to get into the first team. He’s only going to get there though if he does certain things.”
Middleton might be low profile just now, but Murty believes Rangers is one of the ultimate showcase clubs in British football for any player succeeding at senior level.
“He is a Scottish international who has come to Scotland to kick-start his career and go and get into a first team. We are a massive club, he knows we are a massive club. We are on Sky every other week, on BT every other week. People know that if you are playing here in our first team you will be seen across the globe. He has the potential to do that but I think it makes statement from him. He wasn’t feeling he could progress on at his club, he feels he can do that here.
“He has a chance to get in the first team but, as I say to all the young players, that is conditional on him being excellent every day for the 20s, being excellent in his mentality and professionalism. We have no worries on that with him but he needs to accelerate because we are not going to wait. We are going to challenge him every step of the way and he needs to hit some performance parameters to push on.”