It isn’t just Rangers’ commendable European adventure that has come to a conclusion this week. The signs point to Ovie Ejaria’s loan spell from Liverpool being in the throes of reaching a premature end.
The 21-year-old midfielder was left out of Thursday’s trip to Vienna that resulted in a 1-0 loss to Rapid which put the mockers on the Ibrox club’s hopes of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League.
Steven Gerrard admitted that decision was taken over Ejaria becoming “unsettled” amid suggestions the introspective figure has become an isolated figure at his temporary club. The Rangers manager acknowledged that the player had always been something of a loner, even when coming through the Liverpool academy. He was to meet the youngster yesterday to attempt to discover what was eating him but he accepted Ejaria’s appetite for seeing out the season in Glasgow may now no longer exist.
Asked if he was concerned about the departure of one of his few central performers who brings creativity to his Rangers side, the former England captain said: “Sitting here right now, it’s a concern. I haven’t had the chance to speak to Ovie today, I haven’t long been in the door but I need to have an honest conversation with Ovie and see where his head’s at and where he sees his future, and I also plan to speak to Liverpool at some point today and we’ll see where those conversations go.
“I’m going to try to find out [the background to his uncertainty] during the conversations. At times he has looked fantastic but I think his form has dipped slightly in the last couple of days so I need to find out. Ovie is a very quiet kid, he doesn’t give you much. I might have to dig deep to try to find out what’s going on. He’s a young kid, he’s living away from his family. There might be other stuff going on in his life that I’m not aware of yet. The reality is he’s a Liverpool player and Liverpool have almost got to take charge of this. Yes, we’ve got a loan situation with Ovie but we wouldn’t keep a kid who was unhappy. I wouldn’t stand in any kid’s way whether he was signed with us or on loan. I want players here who are committed and want to help and want to play here.
“He is that type of kid [who is a loner, and an individual]. He was like that at Liverpool and he’s like that here but he doesn’t cause a problem with it. He’s very respectful and talks with the players in the dressing room but he is the type of kid who does like to be alone. That doesn’t mean he’s a problem. He’s a very quiet and reserved kid but he’s a fabulous footballer at times which we’ve all seen.”
As expected, Umar Sadiq has returned to Roma after his loan deal was cancelled. That leaves the Ibrox side short it attack and, according to Gerrard, that was one of the “fine details” that ultimately prevented Rangers progressing from Group G.
The manager, rightly, had both “mixed emotion” and “pride” in his players over the club’s 14-game Europa League run, which took them through four qualifying rounds – which no-one gave them a realistic prospect of doing – and left them with only two defeats for their continental endeavours. In having a better head-to-head record over Group G top two Villarreal and Rapid Vienna there was also exasperation over not making the knockout stages. This is tempered with realism, though.
“We just came up short and that’s a shame because it would have been a fantastic achievement given where we started and what happened last year [the defeat by Luxembourg part-timers Progres Niederkorn]. It is very difficult to criticise the group because at times they punched above their weight. At times they played some really good football which I think surprised a lot of people.”