Despite excelling this season the midfielder has continued to endure a strained relationship with a section of the Ibrox crowd. Craig Fowler examines the reasons why
Having a player in the side who’s tied for the most combined goals and assists in the entire league would typically secure said player the full backing of a club’s support. And yet, as evidenced by a written and hastily deleted tweet on Tuesday evening, that is not the case when it comes to Josh Windass and a notable number of those who pay his wages at Rangers,
The midfielder has undoubtedly been one of the most improved players in Scottish football. His impact on the squad last term was almost negligible, this season he’s got 12 goals and five assists in the Scottish Premiership, making him tied with club-mate Alfredo Morelos and Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd for a total of the two stats combined.
It was his performance against the Ayrshire side in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat which brought renewed wrath from the Ibrox support, with one tweeting: “Wrong attitude! Still on my ‘out’ wishlist as only want 100 per cent hard work for 94 minutes all over the park, an unaffordable mini luxury, would knock someone’s hand off for 2 million in the summer!”
Seeing the tweet, Windass couldn’t help himself, replying: “My attitude has never/will never be in question. You know very little about my work rate – better write a new wish list.” He soon thought better of it, deleting the post, though he should know that a tweet only has to be up for 30 seconds and it’s likely to live on indelibly, such is the ease for onlookers of taking a screenshot and keeping it as an image.
It’s far from the first time Windass has been at war with a member or members of his own support. He was widely criticised in March of last year after posting a #ThrowbackThursday image celebrating his first league start for the club. Unfortunately, said match was the 5-1 defeat to Celtic where Moussa Dembele bagged a famous hat-trick. Unsurprisingly, fans didn’t take too kindly to being randomly reminded about it on Twitter and Instagram, and Windass again was forced to delete the post.
Then there was the “ssshhh” celebration, done in the direction of his own fans after scoring the opener a 2-0 win over Partick Thistle in early February. Even his own manager struggled to come up with an explanation, saying: “I don’t know why he has done it. But to be perfectly honest I don’t know why Josh does many things that he does.”
There have been other, less significant moments, such as his blunt “none” when asked by a fan in a Twitter Q&A what the chances were of getting his strip after an upcoming match, and his tweeting about Neymar as the Brazilian ran rings around Rangers’ rivals Celtic. His input of “when Neymar gives it away he just trots back, not a care in the world” was met by several fans answering back “just like you” or words to that effect.
It would be an exaggeration to say he was a target of the boo-boys as there will be players in the Scottish top flight who receive far more stick from their own support, and there have been moments when he’s been hailed as a hero for his off-the-field actions. His part in delivering a specially designed Xbox control pad to a young fan with cerebral palsy drew deserved widespread praise. Then there have been his positively received social media posts, such as the cat burglar picture in the immediate aftermath of the smash-and-grab win at Easter Road, and his succinct response of “f****d” when asked what he’d be if he wasn’t a footballer. However, despite this, and his play on the park, he’s yet to be embraced and taken to supporters’ hearts in the same manner as someone like Jason Cummings, despite delivering more.
The current landscape has obvious influence. It’s difficult to imagine such a divisive attitude towards the player if his 12 goals and five assists had Rangers level with Celtic at the top of the table. Then again, it’s a chicken and the egg scenario. Does Windass get unfair criticism because Rangers are not back where the fans want the club to be? Or are Rangers not back to where the fans want them to be because of players like Windass?
Few players have certainly epitomised the club’s struggles at home more than the 24-year-old. Of his 17 goals in all competitions, only three have been netted at Ibrox, including the opener in the recent 3-2 defeat to rivals Celtic. Doing it in front of 50,000 consistently will naturally make you more popular than doing it in front of 5,000, even in the information age.
Having started on the left of midfield, Windass has now found himself playing as a second striker in recent months, typically off Alfredo Morelos. Away from home there is more space to exploit with opponents, understandably, believing they can go out and beat Rangers. At Ibrox there is a tendency for the visiting team to pack the midfield, sit deeper and make it more difficult. In these matches, Windass has a tendency to fade from the picture. Away from home he’s a menace; in Govan he’s docile.
As said by Ian Hogg on the most recent episode of Heart and Hand, the most popular Rangers fans’ podcast: “I like Josh Windass as a player. However, in the role Graeme Murty has given him as the second striker, where he doesn’t have to track back or defend, that’s a luxury we’re going to have to do without. That’s because Josh Windass is not currently a good enough Rangers player to build the team around. In the role that he’s playing, that’s what we’re asking Murty to do. It’s leaving us woefully short.”
Going forward, it may be best for the relationship if the player is given a short spell on the bench. If the team continues to struggle he’ll immediately become more popular, such is the fickle nature of supporters. However, given his overall impact this season, and Graeme Murty’s tenuous grip on the manager’s job, it’s unlikely to happen.
In the meantime, if he wants to secure full backing then there’s only one thing to do. As said by Claire Wallace of the Rangers Supporters’ Association: “If he wants to shush us in the future then he should just keep scoring goals.” It’s as simple and difficult as that.