Expanding the football education of Ross McCrorie is a legacy Graeme Murty would surely be willing to accept should the Rangers caretaker, as is being tipped, gives way to Derek McInnes this week.
McCrorie has packed a season-worth of experience into the five weeks that Murty has been in charge; a period that is expected to conclude at Pittodrie this afternoon.
The second meeting with Aberdeen inside a week, the 19-year-old’s performance as a deep-lying midfielder in his side’s 3-0 victory at Ibrox over the Dons in midweek had social media abuzz with claims about his talents.
A teenager whose central defensive abilities have been talked up, his prowess at the base of a diamond brought glittering comparisons to Italy legend Andreas Pirlo. It was a far cry from the exasperation over a calamitous passback that allowed David Templeton in to score for Hamilton three weeks ago and send them on their way to a first league win at the Govan ground in 91 years.
Murty made the switch against Aberdeen after watching McCrorie perform the same role for Scotland Under-21s. And the player is amused at the reaction it caused across social media. “A couple of friends fired into the group chat about that,” he said of the Pirlo posts. He was not tempted to do likewise. “No chance.”
McCrorie, who was even preferred to Bruno Alves by Murty the other week, is happy to let others judge the strides that he is making in his first season of senior football with his boyhood club.
“I don’t look too much into things and I don’t let it get to my head,” he said. “I never take anything for granted. I’ll push and I’d never be complacent. I’ll try my best and see where it takes me,” he said. “Things are different when I am out and about, and people see me. They notice me now. But that’s part and parcel if you to make it as a footballer. I have had a few fans stop me. There has been nothing from Celtic fans, apart from when I am back home in Ayrshire – but that’s just banter as I know everybody.”
It certainly didn’t faze McCrorie in the least when Murty made him a midfield anchor the other night – having never used him in the role as his manager for the club’s under-20s.
“I played in central midfield when I was on loan at Ayr and Dumbarton,” he said. “I knew all the basics of the position. It was a wee bit different but I felt great. I’ll play anywhere for Rangers.
“Murts just told me to sit in front of the defence and do the job like anyone else in that position. I was to get on the ball, play and win tackles. You don’t normally get young players in that position but I am grateful to Murts for his trust and belief in me.
“There were challenges because Aberdeen have great movement in and around the hole. He just asked me to shut them off, and let Ryan Jack, Jason Holt and Carlos Pena to play. I was to block Aberdeen – I was the wall in front of the defence.”
The defence was marshalled by Alves and McCrorie credits the Euro 2016 winner and 94-times capped Portuguese defender with helping him overcome his first real personal low point since making his full debut against Celtic in September.
“The Hamilton game was pretty disastrous to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy it all but that’s what happens. There are going to be mistakes. When we came back into training on the Monday, Bruno sat me down and spoke to me. He said, ‘These things happen. It’s all about reaction - be confident’.
“Bruno told me that he’d done something similar and that made me feel a bit better. Mistakes like that are natural. It will make you a better player and you learn from it. Bruno told me to be confident in the next game and that’s what I did. I was thankful that he spoke to me. It means a lot coming from a guy like him, who has won the Euros.”
McCrorie has enjoyed a far more understated win in his professional career of late, meanwhile. “I have fully moved into the first-team dressing-room now. It happened after the Hearts game a few weeks ago. That’s me in amongst them now,” he said.
“[Director of football] Mark Allen spoke to me a couple of weeks before but I had to get approval from [kitman] Jimmy Bell. He’s the one who decides when we move up, so I was just waiting on Jimmy to give me the nod. Straight after the Hearts game, he pulled me to the side and said: ‘That’s you in the first-team dressing-room. Bring all your gear over’.
“I was buzzing. It was a big moment. There is a transition when you are a 20s player but once you move up, you feel like you are in the first team. I’ve gone from a peg to a locker. That’s basically it. It wasn’t daunting as I have been training with the boys for a long time now, a couple of years. It doesn’t make much difference - it’s just that’s where I get changed now.”