Remember the 2017/18 Scottish football season? Gosh that feels like such a long time ago.…
Rangers continued their activity in the summer transfer market by capturing Liverpool starlet Ovie Ejaria on a season-long loan. The highly-rated Anfield youngster joins the Steven Gerrard revolution at Ibrox as well as the ever-growing midfield ranks at the Govan club.
Gerrard has many areas of this Rangers team to improve. In fact, the whole spine of the squad could really do with strengthening ahead of the new season. Rangers have already made strides in achieving this by signing Allan McGregor and Scott Arfield. Moreover, they also signed Jamie Murphy on a permanent deal. However, it’s fair to say that they need reinforcements in defence and midfield if they’re going to catch Aberdeen and close the gap on Celtic.
There’s no doubt Ejaria is an exciting prospect who has raw talent. After all, you’d like to think Gerrard could pick out a good midfielder given the career he had. Conversely, the 20-year-old’s still very much untested. Of course, he could hit the ground running and prove to be an astute piece of business. However, is Gerrard really saying this youngster is an upgrade on what Rangers already have in the middle of the park? And if so, surely that’s a pretty clear statement from the new Rangers boss? That he doesn’t think much of the eight, yes eight, centre midfielders currently on the books at Ibrox.
It’s paramount to state that Ejaria has significant potential. Conversely, it feels like every season we see a plethora of highly-rated players arrive from down south only to flop once they arrive north of the border. Joey Barton came and left, and more recently Graham Dorrans has failed to deliver since arriving in Govan. Rangers fans will be hoping that Scott Arfield and Ejaria buck the trend and make the transition to life in the Scottish Premiership.
However, it’s only when you dig into his career that you begin to realise just how inexperienced the 20-year old is. It’s not like he’s had a splattering of appearances for the Liverpool first team or even a successful season-long loan at a lower league club. He only made 11 appearances during his spell at Sunderland and scored one goal last campaign.
“I’m not going to say he was outstanding because he wasn’t. He was still in sort of Under-23s mode and he was learning but he showed an appetite to learn,” said Sunderland assistant manager Kit Symons. You can’t really argue with that; if a young player trains hard and wants to learn then that’s completely fair. On the contrary, it only drives home the point that he’s not been tested at senior level.
It’s hard for us to know much about him and he could end up being a complete masterstroke of a signing from Gerrard. It just seems that the latter must have little faith in his current midfielders if he believes someone as inexperienced as Ejaria is better than what he currently has at his disposal.
Although, perhaps we’re reading too much into this. Maybe the young midfielder will be a squad player and used as part of a squad rotation by Gerard. Conversely, Rangers don’t need cover in midfield. They need someone who has every chance of succeeding against the likes of Scott Brown, Graeme Shinnie and John McGinn. All of that aside, no matter the youngster’s role next season it’s a pretty strong statement. The new boss has looked at his options and decided they still need a young and untested player to cover centre-midfield.
The young Englishman is known to play both defensive and attacking midfield. For England’s Under-21s he occupied a more defensive, holding midfield role. However, at club level, he seems to play a more attacking role.
“Ovie can do the defensive side but he’s more offensive and his game is all about bombing forward and getting in the box and playing little one-twos around the edge of the box,” said Sunderland number two, Symons. The closer you look at Rangers’ midfield the more you realise there may be a potential place for Ejaria. After all, Graham Dorrans was seen as the player who could burst forward and play in and around the box, but he failed to deliver when it really mattered last campaign.
So lets for a moment say that instead of Ejaria’s signing being a damning indictment of Rangers’ centre-midfielders it’s instead down to the fact they have too many defensive-minded players in the middle of the park. Jason Holt and Greg Docherty are both good carriers of the ball, however, the former seems to lack the quality Rangers need.
Docherty, on the other hand, has bags of potential. He showed at Hamilton that he’s capable of scoring goals from midfield. Furthermore, he has great fitness and is a physical specimen. If he’s coached correctly and has the right teammates around him he could still thrive in a royal blue jersey.
Ejaria could easily be a success. He’s at one of the best clubs in England and could have the fearlessness that comes with being a young player. He’s said to be comfortable with the ball at his feet and always looks to get on it. This is certainly something Rangers were missing last season. Simply put, it seems like if Ejaria is to play it will be in a more attacking midfield role. Of course, it’s still very difficult to predict given that we don’t know how Gerrard will set up his team.
The other reason for Ejaria’s signing is that it provides more competition for places – in case there wasn’t already enough. And the 20-year-old undoubtedly gives Rangers more options in midfield. Although it can’t be a good sign for Andy Halliday and Jordan Rossiter. After all, the latter managed to play just two league games last season in what has been an injury-plagued Rangers career. Similarly, Halliday just doesn’t look to have the quality need to play for the Ibrox club; hot take I know.
When it comes to defensive midfielders Rangers are well stocked. Ryan Jack and Ross McCrorie both look more than capable to perform well in that position. With that in mind, it seems Ejaria would currently be replacing Dorrans, Docherty, Holt or Arfield in the team. Although it remains to be seen where Arfield himself will be deployed.
Rangers have the option to further mix youth and experience. Ejaria does appear like he might be the type of player they have missed in the attacking third. The majority of their goals came from out wide and through Alfredo Morelos, so if a midfielder was able to chip in with more goals that would be beneficial. Although many seem to think Arfield may occupy this role.
You’d have to think there will be a summer clear-out before the new campaign commences. Regardless, the signing of Ejaria can hardly be interpreted as a vote of confidence from Gerrard to the current midfielders at the club.