Rangers kid Stephen Kelly tipped by ex-boss to play his part in Ibrox title bid

When Stephen Kelly wasn't grafting on his day off at Ross County - he was picking his gaffer's brain on how to improve. That's why John Hughes wasn't surprised to see Rangers boss Steven Gerrard keep hold of him at Ibrox. Kelly could easily have been loaned out for a third time during the t...

Rangers kid Stephen Kelly tipped by ex-boss to play his part in Ibrox title bid

When Stephen Kelly wasn't grafting on his day off at Ross County - he was picking his gaffer's brain on how to improve.

That's why John Hughes wasn't surprised to see Rangers boss Steven Gerrard keep hold of him at Ibrox.

Kelly could easily have been loaned out for a third time during the transfer window to further aid his development.

But Hughes believes he's already done his apprenticeship at Ayr, and in Dingwall under him last season.

Now, he feels the 21-year-old is ready to compete with Gers' big name stars and play a part in their Premiership title push.

Kelly was a pivotal player for Hughes as he kept the Staggies in the top flight.

But it wasn't just his ability that impressed him.

The Ibrox kid lived and breathed football during his Highland stint, with the long-term aim of getting into Rangers' first-team.

Hughes now hopes Gerrard gives him a chance to prove himself beside the likes of Steven Davis, Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo, Scott Arfield, John Lundstram and Juninho Bacuna.

Because he's convinced the Scotland U21 prospect won't let him down.

Hughes told Mailsport: “I was intrigued to see Rangers keep him after the transfer window closed.

“But he had a loan at Ayr then went up a level at Ross County in the Premiership.

“And he handled all of it. Make no mistake, Stephen played a massive part in keeping County in the league, especially in the last half dozen games by the standard he set.

“So he's done his apprenticeship.

“I had a few phone calls over the summer – I won't mention the clubs – asking me about him.

“But in that environment at Rangers, training every day with that quality - which will bring out his own – is he now going to stand in awe or get in about it and show them what he's got?

“That's the next step in his development and it's what he needs.

“I'm sure Steven Gerrard will say to him: 'Come on then, let's see what you've got'.

“And he's a manager's dream.

“Anything you do, he wants to do it right. And the boy can play. Technically, he's very good.

“His mentality is unbelievable. He just wants it so much. And when you talk to him – he looks you straight in the eye."

Hughes knows a midfield talent when he sees one having brought through current Rangers star Arfield at Falkirk.

Back then, he'd throw him in against star man and Trinidad and Tobago international Russell Latapy.

That helped Arfield's progression and he says the same can happen for Kelly at Ibrox.

Some Rangers supporters questioned why they weren't in for St Johnstone ace Ali McCann on deadline day, who moved to Preston North End for £1.3 million.

With Davis another year older and Ryan Jack struggling with injuries, Gerrard could have delved into the market.

But Hughes insists with Kelly in the building, there was no need.

Arfield hated going to Ibrox during his Falkirk days

He said: “I had it with Arfield at Falkirk. I used to put him up against Latapy every day in training.

“When we were picking five-a-sides, I put them in opposing teams every day.

“And I'd crank it up with the young team, saying to them: “Are you's lot getting beat again'?

“The only reason they might lose initially is because there's a wee bit of trepidation there and respect.

“But see after a few months, when they felt like they actually belonged there, they weren't getting beat much.

“And Latapy wasn't nutmegging them much either! It's because they had the confidence to get in about them.

“I like the boy McCann, he's very good. But we're talking about two different players.

“Because with Stephen, it's still potential. McCann has played two or three years in the Premiership and is now an international with Northern Ireland.

“But with the ability Kelly has, he can get to the level McCann's at now – 100 percent.

“If he gets a break at Rangers and they keep him in and around the top pros - where you have to win every week - he can do it.

“He can't learn from anyone better than Davis. He'll allow these guys to mentor him.

“He'll listen to the senior pros and learn.

“The question is, is he going to really come out of his shell now and express himself at Rangers? I'm sure he will.”

Kelly didn't just play well at County, he talked a good game as well.

Hughes was impressed by his dedication and obsession with football during his stint in Dingwall.

He even admired his resilience – in refusing to fall for Hughes' banter by singing CELTIC songs to get in the team.

The former Hibs and Inverness gaffer said: "At Ross County, I played him as a sitting midfielder.

“But he said to me: 'Listen, I can go box-to-box as well'. He wants to talk football all the time, he's intrigued by everything.

I'd disappear for an hour and a half after training when boys were having a rub down or their packed lunches.

“And I'd chew the fat with him, just talk football.

“Stephen is so switched on about the game.

“On his day off, he'd be at the big indoor hall in Dingwall setting up a wall and practicing free-kicks.

“If he went into the Rangers team right now, he wouldn't let anyone down, no chance.

“I'm thinking and hoping that's where Gerrard sees him.

“Let him get in there and express himself.

“He has to find himself as a Rangers player and if he can play his part between now and the end of the season, that will be the next stage in his development.

“He's a cracking kid and he's a big Rangers man.

“I had him in my office and I used to wind him up. I'd say: “You're only getting in my team if you sing some Celtic songs'.

“And to be fair to him, he refused! He said that's the last thing he'd do – so I thought: 'Good on you son'.”