DESPITE being Rangers’ two biggest summer signings, Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton were far from impressive at the onset of the season, with the two midfielders garnering more attention for situations off the pitch than on it. Barton is now out for good and Kranjcar for the foreseeable future, leaving manager Mark Warburton questioning his transfer policy if he intends to challenge in Rangers’ first season in the Scottish top flight.
Barton only played in eight games, receiving a six-week ban for a training-ground altercation and ultimately having his contract terminated last week. The Scottish FA has also charged Barton with breaking league gambling rules. The maverick midfielder was supposed to bring top-level experience, supposed talent and a fighting spirit to Rangers, but he only succeeded in generating internal conflicts and unwanted media scrutiny.
Kranjcar has not been a controversial public figure, but he has been a poor performer for a player of his supposed level. The Croatian international never lived up to expectations of creativity and passing poise, having arrived after a short stint with the New York Cosmos that was cut short due to injury. Now, a cruciate ligament tear in training in mid-October has rendered Kranjcar sidelined for six months, and the already rusty attacker may struggle to ever contribute at the levels hoped for by the Ibrox decision makers.
Manager Mark Warburton’s two marquee signings have been failures. Compounding this disappointment has been the success of Brendan Rodgers’ signings at Celtic, who have all proved capable of contributing to Celtic’s title procession.
Over the summer, Rodgers was able to attract former Premier League stars Kolo Touré and Scott Sinclair, as well as the signature of coveted 20-year old talent Moussa Dembélé. When Rangers last faced Celtic on 23 October, Dembélé scored an 87th minute winner to send Rodgers’ side into the Scottish League Cup final. Days earlier, Kranjcar’s season ending injury had been announced. Joey Barton would also not feature, facing the ban that would lead to his termination.
“He [Kranjcar] is in great hands and his attitude is first class and we have no doubt he will return back fitter and stronger than ever,” Warburton told the official Rangers website on 14 November, reporting that the midfielder’s surgery had been a success.
Warburton’s optimism does not mask the fact that Kranjcar’s signing has strayed far from plan. The Croatian played only nine league matches before his injury, never completing a full 90 minutes. For Kranjcar to come back stronger and fitter would be unlikely, and Warburton’s argument for improvement is only made plausible by his player’s pitiful levels of strength of fitness prior to injury.
Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers already has his eyes on squad improvements while Warburton laments injuries and recovers from the embarrassment of the Joey Barton debacle.
“January is an important window for a club like Celtic, with one eye on Champions League qualifiers,” Rodgers said in regard to his transfer plans. The difference in ambition is evident, and Warburton must make smarter signings so as to not distract from his club’s own hopes of European qualification.
Signing aging semi-stars with histories of causing team conflict or a long-term lack of fitness was never going to translate well for Warburton. Whatever the rationale behind his summer transfer policy, it must be undone if Rangers hope to challenge for the Scottish league title in the future.
Written by Matthew Schattner