The team is always bigger than the individual, a mantra regularly trotted out by managers as they try and engender a sense of team spirit and togetherness. No more so than the situation facing Harry Redknapp at the moment as he endeavours to forge a sense of unity and spirit amongst his charges. As supporters we feel the same, players come and go but we will always remain true and loyal to our team.
However, whilst the team’s success is everything, there is always that fascination with the players, for it is they that determine the team, give it personality, charisma and direction. They are the ones that we pay our money to watch, the ones that get us off our seats, the people we talk about. The revolving door policy at Loftus Road in recent times has meant that there are now so many ex Rangers plying their trade elsewhere and there is always a certain interest and curiosity as to how they are doing now. Which players have surpassed expectations and gone onto bigger and better things and which players have found their natural level in a lower league? And what about former heroes or hoops’ legends? Were the ‘powers that be’ right to dispense with their services or were errors of judgement made?
In these days of total media coverage of all the leagues, it is very easy to keep up to date and follow their progress, wherever they may be.
In the Premiership, four players readily spring to mind. Wayne Routledge who, along with Adel Taarabt, provided the gloss on the Championship winning side, is now enjoying rare success at Swansea and indeed bagged a brace against West Brom in the week. It must be said, it was something of a surprise when his services were dispensed with by Neil Warnock after promotion, in favour of SWP, and there have been many occasions since when Routledge’s pace, direction and finishing ability have been sadly missing. SWP really has not come close. A confident Routledge wins the race every time. There are also two former Rangers who have come back to haunt the club this season, both scoring goals at Loftus Road. Kaspars Gorkss, whose natural level is probably as a very solid Championship player and Jason Puncheon, who only two weeks ago looked a complete revelation playing for Southampton, compared to the fish out of water who came to the R’s on loan in the previous season.
The fourth is a player who never actually played for Rangers, but was at the club from the age of 10 until 15 when he signed for Liverpool. Raheem Sterling has now become a regular in the Liverpool team and made his full England debut only a few weeks ago. He is definitely one that got away and whilst understandable at the time, should never be allowed to happen again at a progressive club like Rangers.
The Championship is full of Rangers, both past and present. The 3 ‘Loan Rangers’, Rob Hulse, Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell are now getting some proper game time and both Hulse and Campbell are making their mark and bagging a few goals too. Maybe they have found their natural level, especially as they all struggled to create any form of impression for Rangers in the Premier League. Campbell is arguably the pick of the bunch and he will probably consider that due to injury, he never really got a proper crack of the whip at Rangers. It would be no great surprise if he is recalled to the ranks in January to add some much needed pace from the bench. After all, he did score a few crucial goals at Blackpool in the previous season and clearly has talent.
Arguably the greatest surprise is the success of Damien Delaney and Peter Ramage as a central defensive pairing at Crystal Palace. Both were generally played as full backs at Rangers, where their lack of pace was frequently exposed and they were both considered fairly average footballers. However, their determination and spirit make up for their footballing inadequacies and, as Palace ride high, keeping clean sheets along the way, the success of these two likeable former Rangers must be applauded. Paddy Kenny is also performing admirably for Neil Warnock at Leeds, as expected, and for the most part he will be remembered fondly at Rangers, recent tweets and messages excepted.
Yet it is often the flair players that really catch the eye and two former stars are now appearing in red shirts in northern outposts. Akos Buzsaky, after a stint at Portsmouth, has just joined Barnsley and played his first game this week for his new club. He produced so many memorable moments for the R’s in recent years that he became a club legend, even having his own song and he so deserves success as he is such a talented footballer. And then there’s Emmanuel Jorge Ledesma. What a talent. He broke onto the scene with a memorable hatrick for the R’s against Carlisle in August 2008. Those that witnessed the event that night left Loftus Road thinking that a star had arrived. Indeed a limited edition t-shirt was made in his honour. Alas it wasn’t to be for Ledesma and he left the R’s in Feb 2009 but he had left an indelible mark on all those who had been there on that balmy August evening. His career subsequently took him back to Italy and Argentina and Walsall too, before he joined Middlesborough in July this year. The Borough are now beginning to reap the rewards as Ledesma has scored two wonder goals in recent weeks. Oh what might have been!
In the First Division, all eyes are on Leyton Orient, where former Rangers legends, Lee Cook and Martin Rowlands are doing their stuff. Their best days are behind them, neither seeing much action at Rangers in recent years, and so at least they are now back playing regularly and contributing after a really frustrating few years. Angelo Balanta is still on loan at MK Dons, yet it is questionable whether he has the ability, strength or desire to make it at the highest level. However, with MK Dons second in the league, he is enjoying successful times and maybe this will be his ultimate destination.
In the Second Division, look no further than Adams Park, the home of Wycombe Wanderers, where former Rangers player, caretaker manager and ‘rock’ legend, Gareth Ainsworth has recently taken over the managerial reins from another Ranger’s legend Gary Waddock. He has taken Bruno Andrade on loan and following a couple of wins, the ‘Chairboys’ are now moving away from the foot of the table. Ainsworth put his heart and soul into his career at Rangers and built a huge bond with the supporters, and all Rangers will wish him success.
So where does this leave us? Well, it must be said that very few players who have left the R’s in recent years have gone onto better things, Raheem Sterling excepted. In the most part, all of the recent managers’ judgement has been sound as they have looked to improve the squad with better quality players, with far more coming from overseas. It remains to be seen what changes Harry might make, but he has a big squad and players may need to be moved on to finance new recruits. The question is who and of the current crop how many will be able to improve their lot by a transfer elsewhere? It is unlikely that many will, but it will be very interesting to find out as the Redknapp reign begins to take shape.