When Steven Gerrard officially takes over at Rangers in the summer he will be confronted by a squad which requires TLC, but to what extent?
It is unlikely the likes of Joe Dodoo, Harry Forrester and Carlos Pena will be at the forefront of the Englishman’s plans. A sizeable number of the club’s support base would be content with an extensive clear-out, while pundits have been struggling to pinpoint more than two or three players who will be confident in their place in next season’s line-up.
Parallels can be drawn to when Brendan Rodgers took over from Ronny Deila as Celtic manager. There was an expectation that he would overhaul a squad which had underwhelmed under the Norwegian. Yet the team which completed an unbeaten domestic treble was largely the same as the previous term, Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair the only key additions.
Celtic’s success was a triumph in coaching. Rodgers’ work on the training field — his ethos, the standards he set — propelled the club forward and saw substantial improvements in individuals and the collective.
With a coaching CV that reads ‘Academy coach’, it is impossible to say just how good a coach Gerrard is, let alone predict how his spell in Govan will transpire.
One thing he should notice is that there are players already in situ who are good enough to form part of a squad which is expected to challenge Celtic sooner rather than later.
Speculation surrounding a return to Rangers for Allan McGregor is something which should raise eyebrows. The goalkeeping area is one where the club are strong. Foderingham has arguably been their most consistent performer over the last three seasons, while Jak Alwnick has proved himself to be a more than capable deputy. Meanwhile, youngster Robbie McCrorie has recently signed a new deal keeping him at the club until 2022.
Foderingham took to Twitter in a familiar no-nonsense manner to deny he is set to leave the club. One response in particular stood out, a fan commenting that he previously thought Foderingham was mediocre but was more than happy to be proved wrong.
The 27-year-old, under Mark Warburton, unnerved fans with his distribution. But in time won them over with his reliability and propensity to come up with outstanding saves. Rangers have not been the most defensively savvy of teams since promotion back to the top-flight, meaning Foderingham has been given more responsibility.
Similar to Foderingham, Tavernier has had questions asked of him since making the move to Rangers. Although the criticisms are familiar with modern day full-backs: ‘his positioning is questionable’ or ‘he gets caught too high up the pitch’.
It was said he would be found out in the top tier after scoring 10 and assisting 18 in the 2015/2016 Championship. While he hasn’t quite produced those numbers, his defensive liabilities are not as a pronounced as made out.
The responsibility to provide Rangers with width high up the pitch has been lessened with the arrival of Daniel Candeias this season but he still has those attacking instincts. He is constantly involved in Rangers’ play. Assists, crosses, defensive duels, passes, even touches in the box Tavernier is in the top 20 of many metrics.
Looking at the intangibles, he is a player who gets Rangers, understands the club. That quality can be vital to a new a manager.
The 20-year-old is another in a line of young Scottish talent which has emerged in the last 12 months to suggest the country’s clubs are getting it right in terms of youth development.
More attention is being paid on the academy at Auchenhowie and McCrorie is set to become the inspiration for others, whether his future is in the middle of defence or in the midfield.
The Scottish Cup semi-final showed that he may lack the physicality and may be slightly naive to be a centre-back at such a club at this time in his career. He has impressed more in a midfield role, protecting the defence, winning the ball back and giving the club a platform to play from.
The former Aberdeen captain has improved further as a player since picking up a knee injury in a 2-0 win over Motherwell. His presence was most notably lacking in games against Celtic where Rangers lacked a semblance of control, in possession and in position.
At Aberdeen Jack was happy to simply back up play by sitting at the base of the midfield. More has been asked of him at Ibrox where he had to provide a dynamism to help the club dominate.
His understanding and game intelligence will appeal to Gerrard. The new manager will appreciate Jack’s football ability but also his willingness to muck in when it matters.
The 21-year-old was a smart signing for Rangers in January: a young, promising Scottish talent who has a high potential level. It would be foolish to discard him after an inconsistent start to his Rangers career.
Steven Gerrard, however, will likely look at Docherty and see a bit of himself as a young player. The midfielder provides anarchy to the midfield. Gerrard could be the ideal person to instil some direction and greater intelligence to the way Docherty plays, the same way Rafa Benitez did to Gerrard.
It is likely Docherty will have to bide his time on the bench and fight for his spot in the team but it should result in further improvement in the midfielder.
The Scottish Premiership’s assist king. No player has assisted more than Candeias’ 10 in the league. As a player Gerrard would have loved to have had someone like the Portuguese winger firing in accurate crosses for him to run onto.
The 30-year-old is a bit of a throwback. A wide-man who stays wide, wants to go on the outside and to fire crosses into the box. As impressive as his output has been his adaptation to Scottish football, not an easy environment for someone new to the league.
He has work to do defensively but in a league where crossing is an important element Rangers have one of the best.
Despite a fine season individually the Englishman remains a divisive figure around Ibrox, with views varying between the club’s best player and a waste of a jersey on a game-by-game basis.
In reality he is a good, albeit inconsistent, forward player who requires guidance to take his game to the next level. A return of 12 goals in the league is commendable but he should influence games more often than he does with his pace and power.
That more than anything is what frustrates fans. They know what he is capable of but when he plays on the periphery fans see a player with an attitude that needs the most improvement. If Gerrard can get into his head and inspire him Rangers would have a genuine player of the year candidate.
Currently on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion it is expected the move will become permanent. He has been the club’s best January signing even if he didn’t quite hit the ground running.
The 28-year-old should be entering the peak of his career after experiencing English football at League One, Championship and Premier League level. His dribbling skills and vision is the perfect counterweight on the left to Candeias’ old school wing play on the right.
He’s hit four goals and provided six assists in the league since arriving and his continuation at the club should be a no-brainer.
In the build up to Celtic’s third goal in their 5-0 league rout of Rangers last month the ball ran loose towards Jason Cummings but the forward was slow in getting to it, allowing Dedryck Boyata to nip in and win it back. That would unlikely have happened so easily if it was Alfredo Morelos.
Cummings is a fine striker, he will score goals. But he’s not Morelos. He doesn’t offer the same rounded ability as the Colombian.
Morelos has split opinion this season, despite hitting 14 goals in his debut season in Scotland. His misses in games against Celtic are set to define his season. They shouldn’t. Centre-backs must be relieved when they see the 22-year-old on the bench, such is his nuisance factor. He should have scored more goals but they should come with more experience. It would be harder to add his movement, physicality, link play than would be goals.