As Steven Gerrard radically revamped the Rangers squad he inherited in the summer, Umar Sadiq was one of his signature recruits.
Hailed as a prodigy when he scored his first Serie A goal at the age of 17 as a substitute for Mohamed Salah in Roma’s 2-0 win over Genoa back in 2015, the Nigerian striker’s season-long loan deal appeared to be something of a coup for the Ibrox club.
So far, however, Sadiq’s contribution to Gerrard’s Rangers revolution has been minimal and underwhelming. He has made just three substitute appearances for the first team in competitive fixtures, totalling 26 minutes of action, all of them as a late replacement for Alfredo Morelos.
With Morelos suspended for Rangers’ Europa League Group G opener against Villarreal in Spain tomorrow night, Sadiq might have been expected to have been firmly in contention to replace the Colombian up front. ut his struggle to make a positive impression in his new environment will almost certainly restrict him to a place among the substitutes with Kyle Lafferty leading the line for Gerrard’s men in the Ceramica Stadium.
Sadiq hasn’t featured for Rangers since the third of his cameo outings in the Betfred Cup tie against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on 19 August. But the 21-year-old has told media outlets in his homeland that rumours of him cutting his loan contract short and returning to Roma in January are unfounded.
“It’s too soon to talk about moving,” said Sadiq. “I am here to play football and I know it won’t be easy. It’s a privilege to work with a living legend like Steven Gerrard.
“I’m working hard in training and we’re doing the right things. It’s just too early to talk about leaving. Let’s just see how the future turns out.”
It’s easy to understand why Gerrard was so eager and persistent in his pursuit of Sadiq. Having made that early impact at Roma where he was a team-mate of striking luminaries such as Salah and Edin Dzeko, he had loan spells at Bologna and Torino before a third temporary move to NAC Breda in the Dutch top flight in the second half of last season.
Sadiq’s five goals in 12 appearances for NAC included strikes against PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar which enhanced the reputation of the pacey and unorthodox 6ft 3in front man.
“He’s a player with huge potential,” said Gerrard when Sadiq was formally unveiled by Rangers in July.
“I think he’s looking for the next stage to take his career to the next level.
“He’s done fantastically well in Holland and he’s one of many boys who are at top football clubs around the world and they find it very hard for that breakthrough. “So instead of staying at that club and suffering and not playing games, I think the likes of Rangers can go and grab these boys and give them the stage and platform to go and perform on.
“So now it’s over to Umar to come here, keep learning and keep growing, to try and force his way into the team.”
It’s a challenge Sadiq has yet to meet with any conviction. Even outings with the Rangers reserve side have yielded mixed fortunes. He was booked for simulation then substituted at half-time as the Ibrox second string lost 2-1 to Falkirk in the first round of the Irn Bru Challenge Cup.
Sadiq did get his first goals in Rangers’ colours when he scored twice in a 5-1 reserve league win over St Mirren at the Hummel Training Centre but was then part of a youthful line-up beaten 4-0 by Dundee at Links Park at the start of this month.
It’s not the surroundings Rangers would have envisaged for a player in whom they have invested a not insignificant loan fee. Having signed 15 players since taking charge, Gerrard’s recruitment strike rate has undoubtedly been successful so far.
As Rangers enter a stage of the season when the demands of a European group stage campaign test their squad to the limit, they will hope Sadiq can yet live up to the high expectations with which he arrived at the club.