Steven Gerrard has his Rangers squad walking a title tightrope
By the time the ball starts rolling again at the end of the international break, Steven Gerrard should be back in the Rangers dugout after a period of Covid isolation. That time spent away from his team as they negotiated a Europa League qualifier in Armenia and an Old Firm showdown at Ibr...
By the time the ball starts rolling again at the end of the international break, Steven Gerrard should be back in the Rangers dugout after a period of Covid isolation.
That time spent away from his team as they negotiated a Europa League qualifier in Armenia and an Old Firm showdown at Ibrox would have been used to do plenty of hard thinking.
On the face of it, Rangers did well to ride out an injury and illness storm that saw them without a clutch of vital players against Alashkert and Celtic but still come through both matches unscathed.
That was down to the strength in depth he has built up, so kudos to the manager for that. Winning an Old Firm game with a third- choice keeper and right-back, no manager and no captain was no mean feat against a side that came to Ibrox expecting to win.
Certainly the vast majority of Celtic fans fancied their chances.
But now the dust has settled and the break has allowed for time and space to breathe, Gerrard and his board – whom he has credited with being fully supportive since he arrived – are going to have to make sure they are on the same page. Because right now they may not be. The manager will be absolutely delighted the transfer window closed with all of his star assets still locked inside Ibrox.
He’s like any other gaffer in that regard – the better the player, the better the chance of lifting trophies.
But at the top of the marble staircase there will be frowns forming above the face-masks because another window has come and gone without meaningful money being brought in for any of their big names. Stewart Robertson, their MD, admitted that this had to be the business model going forward; buy, develop, sell for a profit.
So far Rangers have bought, developed but sold nobody for a significant profit.
Gerrard, and the Rangers support for that matter, will be chuffed about that because they don’t want to lose the likes of Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo, Ianis Hagi or Alfredo Morelos, who are exactly the kind of players that fit into the business strategy.
But Rangers’ directors can’t keep digging into their own pockets to keep the lights on.
The wage bill has rocketed and although they had not budgeted for Champions League football, that £40million would have come in very handy. One of Ross Wilson’s tasks, you’d imagine, was to find buyers for at least one of those star assets.
That may well have put him at loggerheads with Gerrard but such is the life of a sporting director in trying to keep a manager AND a board happy at the same time.
Wilson didn’t find a buyer. At least not one willing to pay anything like the value they have attached to their players.
The days when Rangers had to take anything that was offered just to stay afloat are long gone.
It’s only six years ago that the previous regime was biting off Brentford’s hand for the £800,000 they’d offered for Lewis MacLeod, who was one of the country’s top young talents at the time.
The fact the current board can reject £5m for Nathan Patterson is proof that the financial situation is not desperate. They know that if the kid continues to develop they’ll get £20m for him at some stage.
But they wanted big money for one of their top men and it didn’t happen. By the time the window re-opens in January, these players will be six months closer to the end of their current deals, meaning that their values will have depreciated accordingly.
As things stand, Allan McGregor, Jon McLaughlin, Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun, Scott Arfield, Steven Davis, Brandon Barker and Jermain Defoe will all be out of contract by next May.
Given the age of most of them, only Goldson would attract a decent fee but it will cost a significant amount to replace these players if all or most of them are not offered, or reject, new deals next summer.
More concerning is that Kamara, Aribo, Kent, Morelos, Filip Helander and Ryan Jack are all out of contract in the summer of 2023.
If they don’t sign extensions, they’ll be worth far less next June with only a year left on their deals than they would have been had one or two of them been sold this summer.
It’s a balancing act. Keeping these players for the remainder of this season will mean a much better chance of retaining the title and going straight into the Champions League group stage, pocketing that £40m next summer.
But keeping them and NOT winning the league is going to cost Rangers a fortune because they won’t have that windfall and their best players’ values will have plummeted.
That’s a situation that might keep Gerrard awake at night far more than any Covid issue he’s had to deal with over the past two weeks.