Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe in which Rangers had done things “the right way” after their liquidation. Ally McCoist’s side began the 2014-15 Championship campaign with a balanced squad consisting of solid, senior professionals and exciting youngsters cultivated from the club’s youth academy after being allowed to develop over the previous two years: Luca Gasparotto partnered Marius Zaliukas in central defence; Barrie McKay and Robbie Crawford joined Fraser Aird and Lewis Macleod in midfield; and Calum Gallagher and Danny Stoney provided an alterative in attack to Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller. When they eventually made their way into the top tier, the youngsters were better, harder players and either formed the cornerstone of a side ready to challenge Celtic or were sold elsewhere for a profit to be reinvested in the squad.
Alas. On transfer deadline day, Rangers sent seven members of their development team on six-month loan deals to various outposts across the country, presumably with the aim of giving them precious first team experience and hoping they return to their parent club as better players. But with McCoist having neglected youth development in favour of short-term gain (Aird and Macleod aside), and with his side’s rivalry with Heart of Midlothian decreasing the margins further – Rangers have not faced a foe of the Jambo’s quality in the last two league campaigns – it is unlikely we will see them turn out at Ibrox anytime soon.
This author first explored the situation for the SPFL website but a word count and, perhaps more pertinently, a required level of political disinterest hindered a more detailed discussion. In a more objective climate, however, examining the impact of these transfers on the players, their loan clubs and, indeed, Rangers is surely still worthwhile. Just whatever happened to the “Ajax model“?
Calum Gallagher moved to Jimmy Nicholl’s Cowdenbeath and his signing should add extra impetus to an unconvincing forward line (and might even ease the exasperation at Pat Scullion’s astonishing return to Central Park). The striker, a rangy, athletic presence, was loaned out to East Stirlingshire last season and performed well, scoring twice in four matches. John Coughlin was keen to keep him until the end of the year but McCoist had other ideas and brought him back to Ibrox in February. Gallagher made five appearances for Rangers, netting a decisive goal against Dunfermline Athletic on his debut, before dropping out of contention altogether. Whether or not he should have remained at the Shire for longer is a debate for another day, but he represents a very decent piece of business for Cowden – Gallagher can operate as an orthodox striker or a wide forward and looks like an upgrade on Craig Sutherland and Danijel Jurisic.
On the occasions he can be bothered, Barrie McKay can thrill on the wing
Does Gallagher have the stomach to involve himself in a relegation battle, or is he likely to show the same capriciousness displayed by Barrie McKay at Greenock Morton last year? The winger joined Raith Rovers and will be expected to fill Joe Cardle’s boots out on the left flank. McKay rose to prominence in 2012-13 and played 33 times in Rangers’ Third Division campaign but for whatever reason, McCoist did not hold him in the same regard the following year and after three appearances, he was banished on loan to a dismal Morton side. On the occasions he could be bothered, McKay would thrill (his goal in the 3-0 win over Dumbarton was quite stunning) but it didn’t happen often enough and he generally looked indifferent to the Ton’s plight, although he certainly wasn’t the only one. He might perform better in a team looking upwards rather than one staring into the abyss but a repeat of such an attitude will not be tolerated this time around.
Robbie Crawford could never be accused of having a bad disposition. A fitness fanatic who lives at home with his parents in Gourock and regularly attends church, Crawford is, for want of a better term, a “nice boy”. Having privately expressed his dismay at the lack of game time last season, a move to Morton should work out well for both the player and his new club. Although he is undefined by an obvious midfield specialty (something which may have hampered his chances at Rangers), Crawford is a superbly talented ball player, nimble in possession and clean with his distribution – although he’s a little slight, he should bring a different dimension to a Morton midfield badly lacking in spark. Whether or not Jim Duffy is the correct manager to bring out the best in him remains to be seen but he’ll be allowed to play with some regularity at the very least.
The U-20 centre-back pairing of Luca Gasparotto and Craig Halkett have joined Airdrieonians and Clyde respectively. Gasparotto was an infrequent presence in the Third Division but did not feature at all in League 1 and spent a brief spell on loan at Stirling Albion before being recalled for no specific reason. His addition to an ailing Diamonds backline will be welcome – their poor start to the season has been down to a number of factors but the calibre of the defending so far has been alarmingly haphazard; Gasparotto should at least provide adequate cover. Meanwhile, with Barry Ferguson apparently doubting the capabilities of David Marsh and Brian McQueen, Halkett will experience senior football for the first time at Broadwood (although goodness knows what the manager expects from a fourth tier defender if he mistrusts a player like McQueen).
Elsewhere, Danny Stoney is a ballsy young striker and will augment Craig Malcolm and Jamie Longworth at Stranraer while Tom Walsh, an attack-minded midfielder, joined Stenhousemuir. Although the Warriors might have benefitted from recruiting an uncomplicated anchor instead, Walsh has the ability to provide drive from the middle of the park – if he is able to put his recent injury concerns behind him, he can be a fine asset to Scott Booth’s side.
What does any of this matter, though? It matters because it is doubtful any of them will play for Rangers again. From an unsympathetic perspective, it looks as though McCoist is just blooding them in the wild before releasing them from their captivity at Auchenhowie. Are they good enough to play for Rangers? Who knows. It would be wrong to expect the manager to “flood” his squad with youngsters (as he unhelpfully suggested when criticised), but it is disappointing that he has completely disregarded their development, particularly last season.
In 2013-14, Rangers enjoyed an enormous margin over their rivals and won the championship with eight matches to spare. McCoist could have spent the remainder of the season fielding a mixture of experience and youth but instead picked his strongest XI whenever available (although, in mitigation, there was a suggestion that the Gers were required to win the division by at least 25 points as the spectre of a second administration loomed). If McCoist didn’t use them with greater frequency then, he will not play them in a superior competition this year, and he certainly won’t play them should they enter the Premiership next term. Charlie Telfer understood this and moved to Dundee United in the summer.
Surely one of the most satisfying elements of coaching is bringing through kids
It is difficult to comprehend McCoist’s reticence to use the club’s youngsters. A lack of direction at boardroom level, perhaps? Or is it a fear of experimenting, knowing that every dropped point brings renewed scrutiny from a critical audience? From an unqualified perspective, one of the most satisfying elements of coaching is surely bringing through kids, teaching them and developing them into superior players; refining natural gifts into something far more tangible.
At the Harvard Business Review almost 12 months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of his triumphs at Manchester United and discussed the foundations of his success. “Winning a game is only a short-term gain – you can lose the next game,” he said. “Building a club brings stability and consistency […] I always take great pride in seeing younger players develop. The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better. Give them better technical skills, make them winners, make them better people, and they can go anywhere in life. When you give young people a chance, you not only create a longer life span for the team, you also create loyalty.
“They will always remember that you were the manager who gave them their first opportunity. Once they know you are batting for them, they will accept your way. You’re really fostering a sense of family. If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you.”
This doesn’t appear to be a sentiment McCoist buys into, and onlookers must have watched in despair as a motely cast of characters pitched up, took their money and then quietly disappeared again – Fran Sandaza and Emilson Cribari immediately spring to mind in this instance (although the manager might point out that stability is badly lacking at the club). The youth academy at Auchenhowie costs around £6m per annum to run – if used properly, as it has been in the past, then it has infinite potential; at the moment, it is little more than a waste of money (particularly given the club’s perilous fiscal outlook).
In the immediate future, the seven loanees should benefit from their six months away from Rangers – they will experience different environs, different coaching and different approaches to the game. They might even begin to contemplate how their careers might play out elsewhere. Who knows – in a couple of years, we might see Robbie Crawford combining with Barrie McKay on the flank before slotting in Calum Gallagher to square for Danny Storey to score a sumptuous fifth in Rangers’ convincing rout over Celtic.
But not for Ally McCoist’s Rangers.