Rangers boss keen to see Ryan Kent ‘shift through the gears’
Had Steven Gerrard not successfully guided Rangers through the Europa League qualifying rounds for a second consecutive season, it’s highly improbable he would currently be able to call upon the services of Ryan Kent.
The Ibrox club’s latest set of annual accounts, published last Friday, provided a stark reminder of how crucial yearly participation in the group phase of European competition is to its ongoing regrowth and longer term sustainability.
The £14.3 million Rangers received from last season’s Europa League campaign was by far the largest factor in their 63 per cent increase in turnover.
It’s the stage chairman Dave King and his board need Rangers to be on a consistent basis as they continue to invest in the club while addressing a financial model which still showed an overall loss for the 12 months to June of £11.3m.
Gerrard’s continued progress in the Europa League this year was pivotal in allowing King & Co to sanction the £7m paid to Liverpool for winger Kent on transfer deadline day.
The 22-year-old, so impressive while on loan to Rangers last season, has experienced a frustrating start to his permanent spell at the club after sustaining a hamstring injury on his second ‘debut’ against Livingston in September.
But his contribution in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final win over Hearts at Hampden, before he was substituted just after the hour mark, suggested he is now ready to make a regular and telling impact for Gerrard’s side.
The manager certainly has no doubt that Kent has the potential to shine for Rangers at European level as they look to further enhance both their prestige and finances by reaching the knockout stage of the competition this season.
“Ryan will take some weeks to get to his 100 per cent levels,” said Gerrard. “But even coming in at 80 or 90 per cent, whatever number you want to put on it, he is still such a threat.
“He’s got natural pace and natural power. He knows the game and how we want to play. He is such an important part of what we are trying to do here.
“Add to that the fact the fans love him and he loves being here, I’m looking forward to seeing Ryan shift through the gears in the coming weeks and getting him back to where we need him, because he is a matchwinner for us.
“I don’t think he’s made any secret of the fact he is inspired by the bigger games. He has come through at Liverpool, played Under-23 games and had different experiences going out on loan. A few have worked, a few haven’t.
“But he has always had that dream of playing European football and being at a big club fighting for big things. He’s got that now. He’s got that security. He knows he is here for a long time.
“He likes Glasgow, he has a girlfriend from up here and his family are happy he’s here. There are no excuses for Ryan now. He just needs to go out and perform to the best of his ability and I’m sure that later he can look back on his Rangers days and be very proud.”
Kent is relishing the prospect of what promises to be a raucous Thursday night under the lights at Ibrox when Rangers face Porto in a match pivotal to both teams’ hopes of progressing from Group G.
“I do love these European nights, the scale of the game, the top-level football,” said Kent. “For me personally, it’s the level where I want to test my ability, up against top teams and top players.
“They’re the best kind of games because they create a really big atmosphere. The fans love it here, we as players love it here. I do respond to it. If you can play in front of the kind of atmosphere generated at Ibrox, it would bring the best out of anybody. It definitely does take it up a notch on European nights.”
Rangers have only lost three of the 25 Europa League games they have played under Gerrard since the start of last season, a commendable record by any standards. They are also undefeated in their last 14 European games at Ibrox and Gerrard wants to make home advantage count after taking a valuable point from the 1-1 draw away to Porto a fortnight ago. “There’s no doubt we’ll be positive in this game,” said Gerrard. “We will not set ourselves up in any way, shape or form to sit in and protect ourselves. We go into this game full of belief and confidence and determined to give our best because we believe that should give us a good chance of getting what we want.
“The plan was to take something from the away leg. Obviously, we wanted to win the tie over there but the draw and performance was positive for us because it’s put us where we are now, knowing that if we take the three points against them at home, then we’re in a great position.”