Over the years, the January transfer window has been one of mixed fortunes for Rangers. For every Buffel, Thomson or returning Barry Ferguson, we’ve had Eggen, Gostomski or Mervan Celik. Like most teams, it’s rare to ever have a completely positive transfer window.
But January 2018 was certainly one of the better months in recent memory. Every game we played resulted in a win, and our most important players were retained. For me, the best thing this month brought was a real indication of just what direction our club wants to go in.
When you look at transfers over the years, either individually or as part of a collective, you can often find yourself questioning just why certain players were signed. For the first time in years, that can’t be leveled at the business Rangers done under the guidance of Murty and Mark Allen.
Early in the month, Rangers brought in Jamie Murphy and Sean Goss. Both players have clearly been identified to fill big gaps in the first team. Murphy offers balance on the left which we lacked. Goss is the deep lying playmaker teams like ours require against sides who hope that Rangers will play a slower tempo. These weren’t players just being brought in as they had ability, they were clearly identified as important parts of a grander strategy.
That continued with the loan moves for Russell Martin and Jason Cummings. Martin is the leader on the pitch Murty has wanted. If you watch the celebrations of the second goal against Aberdeen, Russell Martin is clearly telling every player to be calm and think about their approach to see out the game. On the way back to their positions, Murty uses the exact same body language to convey that message. Martin is the sort of player who will ensure the message is relayed on the park at all times. As for Cummings, he’s the sort of striker who loves to play on the shoulder of the last defender, something we didn’t have in the squad.
All of this sounds pretty basic – identify needs, and go get players to fit them – but a lot of teams don’t really do that. Players will be picked up and then fit in somehow, and Rangers have been prone to that for a long time. By far the biggest indicator that we weren’t going down that road wasn’t a signing, but a player we didn’t sign in Steven Naismith.
Naismith split fan opinion, but most would agree he’s a good player who would have offered something to the team. He was there to be signed, and would have cost us nothing. And yet Rangers didn’t take him up on the offer. The fact we signed Cummings and didn’t sign Naismith points to a strategy that was being strictly adhered to.
Of course, the last of the signings, and one of the more exciting, was Greg Docherty. He’s a strong box-to-box midfielder who has done well in this league for a while and represents real value at only 21. Like any Rangers player, he has loads to prove, but unlike previous players we haven’t sat back and let him go to England first.
And then of course, there’s been the retention of Morelos. He may still move before February is out, but it looks unlikely now. Taking the chance on keeping him to raise his value at Rangers was not only brave, but very rare for our club in recent years. Also away from the norm was the complete lack of payoffs or players given away for free. A large squad has been retained, but for once we haven’t just “cut our losses” with players.
In the last month we’ve seen just what Mark Allen, Graeme Murty and the board want for the club. We’re aiming to be a team which develops talent we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. We’ll have a lot more tests along the lines of the Morelos offer if we do things right.
For the first time in a while, the window gave us a clear view into what the project actually is. Whilst there’s plenty left to prove, it’s something that many fans can buy into and that helps build patience and excitement. Hopefully, it will bear fruit and we’ll remember January 2018 as something of a turning point after years of frustration.