WHEN at Fernando Ricksen’s testimonial at Ibrox on Sunday, the likes of Ronald De Boer and Michael Mols lined up for the charity match from a recent modern bygone era, it was a concision of the time when Rangers were actively a club chasing the falafel cream of Europe.
It was the majority of these particular signings made under Dick Advocaat that made Old Firm fixtures an exquisite quality of high class internationals, regularly appearing for other top sides before their moves to the Old Firm. Debt and other factors including a lack of television money, of course were creaking below the tombstones that would contribute.
It was January in general that brought a particular kind of signing typically for Rangers and Celtic, a particular nostalgic whittle to a generation nearly retired glancing at the newspapers for a particular type of foreign player that would be able to score the fifth or sixth goal against a Kilmarnock or Partick Thistle. Occasionally that particular player would have shot at the English Premier League or would be a loan star. Excitement was the complete buzz word in a title decider.
With this year’s January, both Old Firms are under pressure in their respective leagues. Aberdeen are a force on Celtic even in the turn of February. Heart of Midlothian’s restructure in Edinburgh have pivotally put them 15 points ahead of Rangers in a still yet competitive Scottish Championship The collapse at Ibrox three years ago was a procession to Sunday’s League Cup Semi-final at Hampden but the January transfer window brought an interesting contrast stereotype of signings.
Celtic look to build a Scottish contingent once again with Ronny Delia looking to revert to Gordon Strachan’s original ploy of buying Scottish players particularly Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong but this time at a far younger rate. Cynics will take about the ploy of players being in the Old Firm and not getting games, the likes of Stephen Pearson, Derek Riordan amongst others proving to be particular names but unlike under Neil Lennon where young talent rarely got a match, foreign names are now utilised alongside Scottish talent in low value. It is not the Championship yet valuation is consistently decreasing inevitably.
Mackay-Steven at 24 has waited long for a big move. He is a laidback person, but will be secretly determined inside having had to restart his career with Airdrieonians in Scottish League 1 after being released by Liverpool and Fulham. He has spent a good proportion with United to witness an evolution of youth, a player that United could have sold countlessly but chose to stay. He is the exact type of player Celtic fans will crave for, an exciting winger with the technical ability which could take him to the higher level that he was at. Armstrong at 22 is tall and is a serious looking athlete with a law degree at the Open University underneath him making almost the student-athlete type. He is a box to box player in the midst of Phil O’Donnell, both players have played well over 100 games for Dundee United and have waited a long time to establish themselves before making a move, a rare occurrence sometimes in Scottish Football.
The signings are not dissimilar to Celtic’s past but they are also perhaps a sign of indication for the likes of club youth like Liam Henderson however young, Callum McGregor and perhaps even James Forrest to step up. All three will have looked at the releases of Flip Twardzik, Marcus Fraser and previously Anthony Watt regardless of their particular futures.
Rangers are a club on a slight stale of borrowed nature. There is perhaps a glimmer to the heart of the seeing of the likes of Kenny Miller, Kris Boyd, Lee McCulloch and Steven Smith in Rangers shirts, all players who played in their last major success but perhaps a hint of the slight muddleness that has clubbed together. However the element of Mike Ashley’s signings of five players from Newcastle United certainly has an element of the Watford appeal to it or even in the Scottish hierarchies, a tendency of the FBK Kaunas Hearts element to it.
Remi Streete, Hans Vukic, Shane Ferguson, Kevin Mbabu, and Gael Bigirimana are all Under 25, and have become part of a Premier League club, additionally all add youth to an ageing squad. Yet it seems weird to a group that these players would transfer but because of Mike Ashley’s 8.9% stake in the club, there is a tendency to try and alert all of these additional natures.
Put it in Rangers, the squad is ageing and players of the likes of Dean Shiels and David Templeton, all players who could have signed for decent SPL teams have actively seen their careers stall. This has made the club one of the least attractive teams to sign for in the entire pyramid of British Football because of the consistent uncertainty. What will the five add to the squad? Vukic is a good striker, a Slovakia international and Ferguson additionally too has further success ahead of him for Northern Ireland. It will bring pace to a Rangers team that has utterly stagnated, short on confidence and a side that looks a cross between a mid-1980’s pre Graeme Souness side and an ageing Craig Brown 2001 team. Vukic for example will be a better fit than Clark and expect Bigirimana to take the place of Hutton.
January transfers are a long way from the previous haven of Scottish Football but equivalently it makes for more interesting times in a bizarre loop based on circumstance, and fortitude. Do people really care? When you see the establishment struggling against other teams in domestic leagues in a country they have longed to leave, then this makes sense.