The January transfer window was perhaps approached with contrasting emotions by many in the Rangers support. Given our early season struggles it was undoubtedly seen as an opportunity to freshen up and bolster an ageing and underperforming squad but a brief glance back at our historic mid-season business would perhaps have left many wincing rather than rubbing their hands with glee.
The shadows of Aaron Ramsey, Amad Diallo, Maateusz Zukowski, Jack Simpson and Florian Kamberi loomed large over what was a crucial window for Michael Beale and his team. Having spent £15m in the summer I can’t imagine there was any realistic expectation of six or seven arrivals but the manager’s own words would perhaps be the acid test for Ross Wilson and our recruitment team this time around.
Beale stated that he wanted starters coming into the team, not short-term stop-gaps, however as the January window reached its halfway point there may have been growing concern that the new gaffer had set himself and Ross Wilson up for a fall. But patience is a virtue not always afforded in the fickle world of football and so pressure was mounting as each day on the calendar was ticked off.
The panic would soon be over – much to our delight – as Todd Cantwell was followed in the door by Nicolas Raskin. The former of course comes with Premier League pedigree where, as a young player in a struggling team, he showcased his talents on the big stage and was someone who looked destined for greater things than Norwich. Raskin on the other hand, some three years younger, is an emerging talent having represented the Belgian youth sides all the way to under-21 level but who had been frozen out at Standard Liege after his refusal to sign a new contract.
The two arrivals add quality in areas of the pitch where it was badly lacking. Cantwell has already been deployed on the cursed right-wing position but with license to roam meanwhile Raskin will add competition and more importantly quality to our central midfield which has been stale and neglected for far too long.
Transfers though are never without risks. Cantwell a couple of years ago was a rumoured target for Aston Villa at a price of £25m+ and his recent arrival north of the border hasn’t happened because he was simply holding out to test himself against the giants of Ross County and St Johnstone.
His form had dipped in the last 18 months and with his ‘numbers’ slumping from previous highs. This doesn’t mean he has become a bad player overnight – of course not – but after numerous years in the same environment my suspicion is that things simply became stale. We’ve seen the pitfalls of that first-hand at Ibrox. Coming to Rangers however provides a fresh challenge, the prospect of European football and the chance of silverware & clearly Mick Beale is banking on that reigniting a flame that had perhaps been allowed to dim in recent years. The early signs would suggest Cantwell certainly has the quality to be a success at Ibrox and that’s while he is still getting up to speed.
Raskin with less of a sample size appears to arrive with fewer risks and higher upside potential but we are of course still talking about a young player moving to a new country & adapting to a new style of football and that’s never completely risk-free. We’ve seen far bigger names and more experience heads struggle with the demands and expectations of playing for Rangers. He does however tick a lot of boxes and provides a different dynamic to current midfield options which have too often been too similar and predictable. His brief cameo at home to Ross County certainly showed no lack of confidence and he looks more than robust enough to handle the rigors of the Scottish game. I’ll be forgiven for being optimistic on this one.
Financially, while we have paid a bit of money to get the players in now in order to avoid potentially losing them in the summer scramble, at the ages of 21 and 24 they are likely to carry healthy re-sale value and have a ceiling well above the fees paid for them, and hopefully considerably so. Some will say it was too much for players we could have signed for free in the summer but to counter that point, would selling Morelos of £1.5m in this window have been a success for us? I think not.
For context both players have arrived for a fraction of what we sold Joe Aribo for in the summer as he entered the last year of his contract at the club. That seems pretty decent business when you consider that both are almost certain first-team starters and ones who can stay here for many years or be sold at a profit should we desire.
Could we have done more? Of course. But history has shown us time and time again that the January window is not an easy one within which to find bargains & secure top players. Unless perhaps you’re Chelsea spending £300m on anybody with two legs.
In a perfect world we would have brought in a first-choice goalkeeper – or one which would become first-choice in the summer – in addition to a centre-back or a striker. This however isn’t Football Manager and things unfortunately aren’t so simple. Beale already alluded to one target being unavailable in this window but who may become available in the summer and so the reality of transfers cannot be ignored.
That doesn’t excuse previous inaction or lack of planning. We kicked the goalkeeping situation down the road and ultimately it was a decision which has backfired given the struggles between the sticks this campaign. We still have the Kent & Morelos contracts to address too. But in isolation I think I am leaning towards the more optimistic side of giving the January transfer window strong pass marks, even if it’s not an A+ report card.
In terms of outgoings there was of course no activity. Many players we’d consider selling are injured and so perhaps only Glen Kamara seemed an obvious asset who could be sold. Failure to sell at the opportune moment has been a lesson of recent years but I’m not sure it’s a major criticism of this particular window even if it does carry weight when we step back and look at the bigger picture.
In simplistic terms if we step back and ask if we are stronger now than at the start of the window then the obvious answer is yes. We may not have addressed every deficiency or benefitted for any miraculous sales but Cantwell & Raskin in my opinion represent very solid business for the club, even if it cost us a few quid.
So as we draw a line under the improvements made in January I think it’s fair to acknowledge that we need more of the same in the summer. The deadwood must go, players need to be released and we need to revamp this squad in the manner many more expected to be done at the outset of the current season.
Ross Wilson – perhaps with the aid of the manager – has earned himself some breathing space after taking heavy criticism earlier in the season, and rightly so. But if we are to criticise when it is fair to do so then we must also be fair enough to offer praise when the tables are turned.
Michael Beale must now set about salvaging whatever he can from the league season & do something that he failed to last time around under Steven Gerrard – win a domestic cup. Cantwell & Raskin will certainly improve his chances of success but much more must come in the summer if we are to be serious challengers.
To end on a light note at least we have finally – FINALLY – spent money on a central midfielder. End of days!
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