Why Rangers need to up their bid in Michael O'Halloran chase

Having spent what felt like an age pursuing Scott Allan last summer, Rangers could be set to do it all over again as they go after St Johnstone's Michael O'Halloran. This time they need to up the ante to get their man, writes Craig Fowler

Michael O'Halloran has been in excellent form for St Johnstone over the past couple of seasons. Picture: SNS

First of all, Mark Warburton and his staff deserve a little praise for their interest. The ex-Celtic youth player, discarded by the Parkhead club, is a fantastic talent in Scottish football.

His biggest strength and what he could bring to Rangers, even if/when they make the ascension to the top flight, is that he’s a real X-Factor. Even if he never repeats his 2015 form for the rest of his career, his blend of pace, dribbling ability and hunger to drive at opponents make him a terrifying prospect for any defender. If Rangers didn’t want to use him in the starting XI most weeks, he’ll at least be a danger off the bench, someone capable of turning games at the drop of a hat.

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That’s the worst case scenario. It is just as likely that O’Halloran shall continue the rapid progression he’s shown over the previous two years, where he’s gone from a squad player to one of the most exciting players in the country. At 25, basic football knowledge would suggest he’s about to reach his peak sometime soon, but there are exceptions to this assumption, with Jamie Vardy being the most recent high profile example of a late bloomer. Barring injury, O’Halloran will have his pace for another five years, and if his technique improves further then you could be looking at a regular in the Scotland starting XI.

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For the short term it would fill a void in the Rangers line-up. The team have been at their most effective when Kenny Miller and Martyn Waghorn have both started, with the pair rotating and each taking a shift on the right flank, but this is far from ideal. Nathan Oduwa promised much but has largely yet to deliver, and is only on a season-long loan from Tottenham anyway.

Now, with the pleasantries out of the way. Let’s get to the two derisory offers made thus far, reported to be £150,000 and £200,000, respectively.

Last January, Gary Mackay-Steven was sold to Celtic for a fee around that mark. While Mackay-Steven was looked upon as a better player then as O’Halloran is now, the tangible difference between the two is that the Dundee United winger was out of contract in the summer, and O’Halloran still has 18 months left on this deal. Even though United are historically a bigger club, and generally get good fees for their assets, there is no way £200,000 comes close to O’Halloran’s current market value.

Surprisingly, St Johnstone have actually come out and, in a roundabout way, put a fee on the player’s head. Chairman Steve Brown stressed the club had to show ambition and keep their most important player for the League Cup semi-final with Hibernian, because there was a £600,000 money pot for reaching a final against Celtic and achieving a top six place in the Ladbrokes Premiership table. Then he said “Rangers are going to have to get much closer to that kind of figure before there’s any prospect of a deal being agreed”.

It’s a curious thing to say and certainly differs with the “no way, Jose” stance adopted by Hibs for the duration of the Scott Allan chase. It suggests St Johnstone may be willing to do a deal, or at least getting the bidding started, with several teams down south and Celtic also said to be interested in the player, if prospective buyers can offer that figure.

If Rangers really want O’Halloran, £600k is more than a fair price to pay. However, it would seem the club are attempting the same hardball tactics that blew up in their face last summer.

We’ve seen it often up from the bigger clubs, not just in Scotland but around the world. They come in with a couple of offers that definitely will be rejected out of hand. The first offer piques the player’s interest while the second suggests seriousness on the part of the bigger club. It then becomes a short waiting game while the wanted player kicks up a fuss. His imagination having run wild at the prospect of 45,000 fans chanting his name and trophies that could be won. When that happens you’re left with an unsettled player, and the fee comes down.

The trouble with such a strategy in this instance is the possibility that Celtic will swoop in and hijack a likely move to Ibrox once more. The longer Allan sits on the bench at Celtic Park, the more it becomes apparent Rangers’ rivals were not all that fussed on signing the player. The reason they did so is because he had a decent amount of potential, came relatively cheap, and signing him up would stop him from becoming a hit at Ibrox, where he could hurt maybe Celtic in the future.

The exact same situation applies here. Rangers are in a better position than where they were last summer, when there was still a degree of uncertainty over how improved they’d be under Warburton, but they still can’t quite match what Celtic can offer, not yet anyway. Not until they have the same opportunity to get Champions League football (don’t laugh – it could happen).

There may be zero interest from Parkhead and previous reports linking Ronny Deila with an interest in the player could be wide of the mark. However, there will be a number of teams wanting O’Halloran, and the best way to beat them to the punch it to do things quietly, quickly and efficiently. Not repeat the circus of last summer.

It would also go a long way to quashing the accusations that they don’t have the money to pull off such a deal, if this is indeed an incorrect assumption.