Ryan Kent has been a fans’ favourite since joining Rangers on loan from Liverpool. Joel Sked looks at why the Ibrox side are so keen to keep him.
“He wouldn’t be cheap but if opportunity comes up to retain him we will explore it. He’s a great player. We have an excellent relationship with Liverpool but too early to say.”
Those were the encouraging words of Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson regarding Ryan Kent. He told fans who had gathered in New Zealand for the Oceania Rangers Supporters Association convention about the willingness to extend his time in Govan.
It is not the first time someone from the Ibrox club has expressed a desire to retain the on loan Liverpool winger. Back in January director of football Mark Allen talked up the possibility of an extended stay, beyond the summer when his deal expires.
The issue is that the 22-year-old signed a long-term deal with Liverpool in 2017, believed to last until the summer of 2022. It would therefore either require a significant outlay to prise him from Anfield in the summer, another temporary deal, or one which is weighted with clauses if he succeeds in the long-run and sold on.
After all, this is a player who Bristol City manager Lee Johnson rated at £10million despite rarely playing the winger last season.
Kent has made positive noises about prolonging his Ibrox stay, accepting that the move to Rangers has been beneficial to his career after a year of stagnation.
After penning his new Liverpool deal, following a productive pre-season with the club, he was on the move to Bundesliga side Freiburg. Despite enjoying the cultural experience in the Black Forest and adapting to wearing shinpads in training, he played only six times in the first half of the season - starting just one game against Bayern Munich.
Having been recalled, he was back out on loan to Bristol City in January 2018, but again it was a frustrating period with just 11 appearances.
“Ryan hasn’t done it to how we would have hoped in our team for whatever reason,” said City boss Johnson.
“He came into a club with big expectations and for whatever reason it hasn’t quite worked as we would have all hoped.
“The squad understands each other and has cohesion with each other, its not always easy to break into that scenario.”
Enter Rangers, Steven Gerrard and an array of familiar faces in the Ibrox coaching structure.
“This is the most settled I have been at a club, just with the way I have been welcomed into the team and the people that I have got around me, like the coaches,” Kent said earlier in the season.
“I feel really settled here and I am enjoying my football, which is the main thing. When you are in an environment where you are comfortable, where you are enjoying your football, that is when you get the best performances out of your game.”
Kent has found the ideal environment with the right people around him to provide a guiding hand. The more confidence he has been given the more he has thrived.
Within Rangers’ 4-3-3 system he plays a key role.
No team has crossed the ball more with James Tavernier, Borna Barisic and Daniel Candeias all in the top five for most crosses in the league this season. Kent is the black sheep of Ibrox, the individual. When the others go on the outside, he goes inside.
He has crossed the ball just 39 times. His three team mates previously mentioned have hit 376 between them. Kent is more about opening up defences with his dribbling and jinking, dodging opponents like he is haring along Buchanan Street to make a train at Central Station trying to evade shoppers, performers, children and other obstacles on the way.
His close control, skill and feints draw opponents to him before he embarks on a game of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ with the ball.
It was seen in the most recent Old Firm game at the end of 2018 when he led Celtic captain Scott Brown a merry dance more than once. That afternoon also saw Kent bamboozle Mikael Lustig to set up what proved to be the winner.
Gerrard was effusive in his praise after the game, telling the player in front of the press that he was “s**t hot”. A phrase he repeated for emphasis.
It was arguably his best performance for Rangers, playing with a verve, confidence and directness which prompted Liverpool to hand him a long-term deal. He displayed the verticality which makes him such a threat for Rangers and such a pest for opposition defences. It is not surprise he is one of the most fouled players in the league.
There can be a tendency for him to flit in and out of games, when fans are wanting him to get the ball and drive at defences again and again; putting them on the back foot and driving Rangers forward, that quality which gets supporters along to games and off their seats.
“He’s been excellent for us. He’s in good form, he’s happy,” Gerrard said after Kent starred in a 4-0 win over St Mirren.
“But I’m going to keep pushing him because I want him to be hungrier to score more goals and I want him to keep being hungry to improve his numbers.”
That is perhaps the biggest criticism that can be labelled at him, the need to turn more promising opportunities into goals and assists. He has netted five and provided three more in the league.
Yet, for now, his ball-driving skills and presence in the Rangers team makes him a constant threat. Supporters, colleagues and the coaching staff are desperate that continues at Ibrox into next season.