In a week’s time, Rangers will turn up at Fir Park to play their first match of the new Scottish Premiership season. Most teams, by this stage, have given a hint over what kind of side they will be, either through pre-season performances or European qualification campaigns. Pedro Caixinha’s team, however, are still very much an unknown quantity.
Of course, it wasn’t meant to be this way. Rangers had planned for a Europa League qualification campaign, with some fans even booking flights and hotels for rounds they had yet to even progress into. They were made to pay for that when the Ibrox side suffered the worst European result in its history, crashing out at the first opportunity to Luxembourg part-timers Progrès Niederkorn.
Rangers have yet to play a competitive fixture since, forced to fill their schedule with some hastily arranged friendlies in order to make sure next week’s league opener against Motherwell didn’t see them make a standing start.
The 1-1 home draw against Marseille was probably the most encouraging display turned in by Caixinha’s men this summer, but for all the players brought into the club by the Portuguese, for all the money spent, Rangers are badly lacking in one position – attacking midfield. This was apparent against the Ligue 1 outfit.
The link between the midfield and attack is missing. Carlos Peña may well come to fulfil that role, but the £3.5 million signing has yet to feature this pre-season and could operate deeper in midfield. Rangers need someone to sit behind the central strikers, breaking down opposition defences with movement and creativity.
Jamie Walker is perhaps the player they envisage playing in that position. The Hearts attacking midfielder has been a target for Rangers this summer, with the Ibrox club reported to have made more than one bid for the 24-year-old. Hearts, however, are digging their heels in. It’s expected that only an offer of over £1 million will force their hand in selling their star player to a rival.
Recent reports also claim that Caixinha could turn to Kenny McLean. He too is also regarded as one of the brightest young players in the Scottish game at present, occupying the same area of the pitch as Walker. It might be even tougher to get McLean out of Aberdeen, who finished above Rangers last season, than Walker out of Hearts, though.
All this just demonstrates how hasty Rangers were in selling Barrie McKay, though. The 22-year-old completed a move to Nottingham Forest earlier this month for just £500,000, bringing to an end a saga which had seen him become something of a peripheral figure at Ibrox. For whatever reason, Caixinha just didn’t want him at Ibrox.
Despite this, there could be no denying McKay’s pedigree. He is a Scotland international and at just 22, he has a bright future ahead of him. Such is his talent, many Rangers fans believe Caixinha has made an almighty mistake by selling him so early in his career. They at least believe more than £500,000 should have been collected for him.
And that’s just it. The modest fee taken for McKay is having an effect on Rangers’ pursuit of the attacking midfielder they so badly require. Is Walker really a better player than McKay? He might play in a different position and possess a skill set that Caixinha can work with more effectively, but in terms of sheer ability, he is no stronger than McKay. Yet Hearts want more than £1 million for him.
The same goes for McLean, who for all that he has shone for Aberdeen over the past season, hasn’t reached the heights McKay has reached in his career. The Dons will surely demand more than £500,00 too, which is entirely reasonable. It’s not Aberdeen and Hearts who are out of order here, it’s Rangers, who sold one of their best young talents for peanuts.
Having already splurged so much money on new signings this summer, the transfer pot is surely close to running dry at Ibrox. Rangers have already taken some by surprise with the amount of cash they have splashed. It’s reasonable to assume that only through the sale of players, like McKay, will they be able to replenish the pot.
By selling McKay for so little, Rangers have crippled themselves in the pursuit of Walker and McLean. And they desperately need a player of this mould. Nobody really knows what to expect from Rangers against Motherwell next week, but whatever materialises, they will be lacking in one area.