Clement seeks immediate impact players - Scottish market should be his first stop


If Rangers are looking for a crumb of consolation during those lonely hours of soul searching they will have endured following Saturday’s title surrender, then there is at least this: their recruitment has been just as lamentable as Celtic’s of late.

Indeed, when the Parkhead club are officially crowned champions later this week, it will be mainly down to the efforts of their old guard, whether that be the goals of the likes of Matt O’Riley, or the solidity in defence from Cameron Carter-Vickers and Co. The new faces brought in over the last two transfer windows have been consigned to bit-part players, still to convince that they can ever graduate to the main stage.

While experienced heads prevailed in the Old Firm cauldron over the course of the season for Brendan Rodgers, counterpart Philippe Clement was left scratching his as a side he reinvigorated after the damaging reign of Michael Beale capitulated in calamitous fashion over the finishing straight.

Clement’s frustration as his side dropped points against both Ross County and Dundee was evident. To have previously closed the gap on Celtic, to have them on the ropes, and then to somehow allow that pressure to evaporate was utterly mystifying. In truth, it was embarrassing, and it’s clear that Clement lost control of the situation, eventually allowing himself to be riled by some rather timid comments from Rodgers. Celtic probably couldn’t believe their luck.

Neither manager should look back too fondly at this season, regardless of who grabs a ‘double’ in the forthcoming Scottish Cup final. It has been a turbulent campaign for both – and predictions of who is really on top come the next title race are foolishly premature.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement has much to ponder after latest Old Firm defeat

Rangers manager Philippe Clement has much to ponder after latest Old Firm defeat

Clement will need new recruits to give Rodgers a bigger challenge next season

Clement will need new recruits to give Rodgers a bigger challenge next season

Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland is one of the players Ibrox boss should be considering

Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland is one of the players Ibrox boss should be considering

Kilmarnock's David Watson is another who Rangers ought to try and lure to Ibrox

Kilmarnock’s David Watson is another who Rangers ought to try and lure to Ibrox

Some commentators have described the gap in what was the closest title race in years as huge. That would seem a reasonable assessment given the money Celtic have in the bank, the Champions League cash to come, plus their dominance in this season’s derbies. Yet it ignores the inconvenient truth for both clubs: in any given transfer window, they could win or lose the title. And this summer will be no different.

For Rangers, it happened last year. Beale’s scattergun approach seemed excessive at the time, reckless in fact, and so it proved as the likes of Sam Lammers came and went in the blink of an eye.

When it comes to strikers and the Old Firm, prudence is required. Ability simply must be accompanied by mental fortitude – a player must be able to deal with over 50,000 fans berating him for missing even a half-chance, after all.

Rodgers summed it up best earlier this season. When pressed on winger Mikey Johnston’s impressive form at West Brom after departing Celtic on-loan, he said: ‘The shirt is a different weight of shirt when you leave here.’ Clement must understand that now.

It looks like a significant rebuild is upon the Belgian anyway, whether he would want it or not. Tavernier and Goldson have been heavily linked with moves to Saudi Arabia and a reunion with former manager Steven Gerrard. Losing the captain’s goals would appear to be a significant loss but a team relying on a full-back in such a way probably tells you something isn’t right.

Who else goes remains to be seen, but it should at least focus Clement’s mind on the type of side he wishes to mould.

Keeping Butland, who will no doubt be attracting attention again from England having been linked with a return south in January, would be a considerable boost. He’s been fantastic this season, with his penalty save from O’Riley a rare highlight for Rangers on Saturday.

Lundstram is sent off in pivotal moment of 2-1 defeat for Rangers at Celtic Park

Lundstram is sent off in pivotal moment of 2-1 defeat for Rangers at Celtic Park

Clement speaks to Todd Cantwell who failed to even make it off the bench at Parkhead

Clement speaks to Todd Cantwell who failed to even make it off the bench at Parkhead

The difficulty for Rangers – and Celtic, too – is that they operate in a diminished market these days. Coupled with a reluctance, or failure, to bring through youth players at regular intervals into the first team, it impinges significantly on the ability to build a team.

Clement commiserates with skipper Tavernier after another derby defeat for Rangers

Clement commiserates with skipper Tavernier after another derby defeat for Rangers

Clement is probably now operating in the third or fourth tier in terms of the fees and wages Rangers can afford to pay. Saudi money will no doubt inflate the market further.

And it is pointless talking about being given the time to build a team, or create an ethos or culture at an Old Firm club. It doesn’t happen. It rarely happens anywhere these days, never mind Ibrox or Celtic Park.

So Clement needs players who can hit the ground running. So it means that, whether he likes it or not, his first market should be the Scottish one. There is talent there. And it should be affordable.

For example, if Celtic can make Liam Scales a stalwart in their defence, then surely there is a lesson to be learned there?

Inevitably, the name of Lawrence Shankland will crop up in such discussions.. And the Hearts striker would seem a gamble worth taking. But there’s more than just the Scotland hitman to consider.

Young talent should not be overlooked – remember the likes of Aaron Hickey, Lewis Ferguson and Josh Doig have all thrived since departing these shores and they were under the noses of the Old Firm for long enough.

David Watson, Connor Barron and Lennon Miller are raw but gifted. They will take the step up eventually, so it just depends on whether Clement would back himself to manage their development. A risk, yes, but no bigger a gamble than some signings we’ve seen head to Glasgow of late.

If the Belgian can marry some youthful dynamism to an experienced core then he might be on to something. But his focus must purely be on the league title. While European football is certainly a glamorous distraction, a run on the continent would not save his job.

As for Celtic, they face similar issues, especially if O’Riley was to depart. Their recent failure to be competitive in the Champions League, or even just respectable, hangs over them and their manager.

If that drives them to loosen the purse strings, then this summer could be one to watch. But, as we’ve seen before, splashing the cash with abandon guarantees only one thing: greater expectations.



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