What Rangers will be getting in midfielder Carlos Pena

Rangers have reportedly agreed a deal for the Mexican international, subject to a work permit. Here's what Craig Fowler makes of the impending transfer.
Rangers are confident of signing Mexican international Carlos Pena. Picture: AFP/GettyRangers are confident of signing Mexican international Carlos Pena. Picture: AFP/Getty
Rangers are confident of signing Mexican international Carlos Pena. Picture: AFP/Getty

Jason Holt, Andy Halliday, Emerson Hyndman, Jon Toral, even the almost forgotten Jordan Rossiter, Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar, what do they have in common? They’re all neat and tidy midfielders who featured for Rangers in the 2016/17 season. Do you know what else they have in common? They all lack a bit of strength, a bit of power, a bit of something different to offer the opposition.

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The exceptions were the Accrington Stanley duo, Josh Windass and Matt Crooks, who did have other aspects to their game. Windass could drive play on with pace; Crooks had size and strength. However, neither of them worked out. For Windass, the potential seemed to be there, he just never managed to put it altogether in his debut season, which was hampered a little by injuries. As for Crooks, well, he was almost invisible prior to a January move to Scunthorpe, which would suggest he’s not the man to provide that added physicality.

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Through the undistinguished campaign, Rangers tried to pass their opponents to death. There were often calls for something different, but as Mark Warburton put it himself, there wasn’t the personnel there to try another approach.

That’s something Pedro Caixinha has needed to add to his side. And he appears to have found an extra layer of physical play to the midfield with Carlos Pena.

The first thing that strikes the viewer when watching Pena is his size. At 5ft 10in he’s around the average height for a midfielder, but he’s broad and carries a fair amount of muscle in his upper body. It’s the type of frame you’d expect to see a defensive midfielder or a striker have, so it’s no real surprise that Pena also has the ability to play up front. However, his preferred position is attacking midfield.

Power is a big part of his game. He uses his strength to muscle defenders off the ball, while his shot packs a punch. He’s pretty accurate with his shooting, hitting 50.75 per cent of all shots on target in the league last season, which ranked very high for players in his position. That’s because he likes to attack the penalty area, getting 1.84 touches in the box per game, which had him in the top five of players who predominately played the No.10 role.

His style is more robust than it is subtle. He doesn’t record a high volume of passes and his 1.78 dribbles per games ranked 75th of all players in Liga MX. He likes to get into areas where he can hurt the opposition, but tends to rely on team-mates to find him rather than going and trying to dominate play or dictate the tempo himself.

From the advanced stats, we can see he’s at his most comfortable making lateral passes out to the flanks. This could make him particularly beneficial for this Rangers team, who are known for advancing the full-backs high up the park. You can imagine Pena scoring a goal, having taken the ball into feet, shifting it out-wide, and then dashing into the penalty area himself to get on the end of the cross.

Of course, a lot of this is in relation to his environment. His technical qualities may shine through more in Scottish football, something we’ve come to expect from Latin footballers, or foreign imports in general.

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It could work the other way as well. Few leagues in the world are as fast and as physical in the style of play as the Scottish top flight. Even when a player looks like he has the tools to succeed, as Pena does, it doesn’t always work out that way, particularly for players moving so far from home (he’s never played abroad before).

All signings are a gamble, but bringing in players with no experience of Scottish or even British football represents a bigger gamble. But with it becoming harder and harder to find a gem in the British market, sometimes these gambles are necessary, especially for a Rangers side desperate to restore some pride after last season’s sorrow.