While he is very much in the market for striking reinforcements at Rangers, Steven Gerrard is convinced he already has the services of a player whose scoring exploits will underpin his efforts to bring success and silverware to the Ibrox club this season.
The ultimate value of the away goal Alfredo Morelos plundered in Croatia last week will only emerge tonight when Rangers take their 1-0 lead into the second leg of the Europa League second qualifying round tie against Osijek.
The 22-year-old Colombian striker’s occasionally moody body language and inconsistent performance levels have often raised questions about his suitability for the role as Rangers’ first-choice front man. But new manager Gerrard believes he is gradually working out how to get the best out of Morelos.
“I’m still learning what floats his boat,” admitted Gerrard. “And he’s still getting used to me. He is working hard on his English and stuff.
‘But I see Alfredo smiling and enjoying his training. Having watched him from the outside last season and then with what I am seeing now, I think you can see a different player. He is looking ‘at it’. If we can keep him fit and sharp I have no doubt he will score goals for this football club. He is a threat and someone you wouldn’t like to play against when he is ‘at it’.”
Although Morelos was Rangers’ top league goalscorer last season in his first year at the club, he appeared to be adversely affected by speculation linking him with a move to China during the January transfer window. He scored just once in his final 10 games of the campaign. “I don’t know who the bid was from, I don’t know the numbers involved and I’ve not spoken to the player about it,” added Gerrard.
“It happened before I came in. All I can worry about is having Alfredo ready for tomorrow – and he’s ready. My focus is what happens in the future, not what happened in the past. I want him here. I believe he’s the man who can fire the goals in for us. The important thing is that he stays happy, fit and fresh.
“He has to be excited to be here, but those are questions you’d have to ask him. He looks in good shape and he’ll look better as well.”
With Rangers having already signed Nigerian striker Umar Sadiq on loan from Roma and now actively pursuing their former frontman, Kyle Lafferty, from Hearts, there will be competition as well as company up front for Morelos this season. “There will be times when he plays with a partner, sometimes he will be on his own,” said Gerrard. “I don’t think there is extra onus on Alfredo. I think the onus is on all of our attacking players. The onus is on Alfredo, Josh Windass and now Umar Sadiq who is growing and improving each day. The onus is on the whole attacking unit to deliver in terms of numbers.”
Gerrard is wary of the potential threat posed at Ibrox tonight by an Osijek side who started their Croatian League campaign last weekend with a 4-1 win over Hajduk Split.
“They are very dangerous opponents, they’ve got good players,” said Gerrard, pictured. “We’ve spoken to our players over the last few days and warned them about the threat this team carries and how important it is to go in with a clean slate and a fresh mentality and forget that we have a slight advantage.
“We have to go toe-to-toe and front up this challenge in isolation. If we do that and play the way we can, I’m confident we’ll get the right result. I don’t think it is Osijek’s nature to play cautiously. They do like to play very attacking football as they showed in their league game at the weekend. They played very similar to the way they played us, even though they were away from home, so we have to expect them to come and be confident.
“What I will say is that it’s important to start the game well and get the crowd with us. It’s our responsibility to lift the crowd. If we go 1-0 up nothing changes – we just keep trying to get a positive result. We’re not going into the game thinking about protecting a 1-0 lead – we’re going into it to win.
“We’re at home and we’ve spoken before about being difficult to beat at Ibrox. The crowd are educated – they know what we are trying to do and I’m sure they will be with us from start to finish and that will be a huge help to the players.
“They can take confidence from it – but it’s our responsibility to give them something.”