Before this summer’s transfer business was concluded, Rangers fans were rightly excited at the prospect of the new season given the potential midfield on offer.
Manager Mark Warburton had successfully secured three genuinely English Premier League class players in one-time English cap Joey Barton, 80+ Croatian international Niko Kranjcar, and England U20 international captain Jordan Rossiter, players who looked on paper like they could seriously propel Rangers from just hoping to be credible in the SPL, to outright challenging at the top of it.
Being rational, Rossiter, with his “Gerrard” comparisons and market value of approaching £10M at 19 years old while making enough appearances for Liverpool to show the kind of quality which promised a great future, was a great start. A hard-tackling defensive midfielder with vision, composure, passion and leadership mentality was a truly exceptional capture, and the kind Rangers could only manage thanks to Frank McParland’s Liverpool connection.
Meanwhile Niko Kranjcar with experience of world cups, European Championships, and top flight English football with Spurs looked a truly superb acquisition, as did the big summer signature of Joey Barton.
Into November and the hard reality is two-fold – all three of these signings have been a disaster, for very different reasons, and the “dream midfield” simply did not materialise.
Barton did not perform, did not produce, and was a clear failure on the pitch, and that was before his demotion to training with the Academy following the Auchenhowie spat and the betting charges. The story has been told oft-enough and I will not bore you all by reciting it.
Kranjcar is more unfortunate – took the Croat a hell of a long time to gain form, and literally the second he did he sustained a career-threatening and season-ending ACL. It was tragic, and he was just showing his quality only to have it taken away.
Lastly Rossiter has barely played – late back to Auchenhowie following the youth Euros, he managed a few appearances in which he hugely impressed all, but then has been blighted by injury trauma with two different knocks since joining up. Warburton hopes he will be available for the trip to County but chances are slim.
So it is evident Rangers’ trident of Barton, Rossiter and Kranjcar will not happen; but recent displays from the side suggest this might not be the big blow it seems.
Josh Windass is filling in the Kranjcar-shaped hole more than adequately, and may finally have accrued some fitness at long last. This site has been a long-time advocate of his quality, and it is barely a downgrade to rely on his services rather than Niko’s.
Meanwhile behind him Jason Holt is, while not quite motoring on the level of last season yet, just starting to yank his starter cable – his display v Killie was the energy we expect of him, and over time the confidence will return.
Lastly Andy Halliday is remaining hard-working, determined and doing a reasonable job filling in at DM (again). Whether we will see Matt Crooks ever seize that position remains to be seen. But let us not forget Harry Forrester either.
So while Rangers’ summer business in that department was ultimately, well, a disaster, frankly, January’s signings of Forrester, Windass and Crooks are doing a decent enough job of filling in the hole for now, while Halliday and Holt are getting up to speed slowly.
It is not the long term level we expect of Rangers, true, but the loss of those three need not be as crucial as it may have seemed before the season started out.
And if last weekend’s form carries over to this, it is all the more reason to suspect that something is finally clicking for both the players, and the manager.