Rangers have in previous years had criticism over the use of their youth academy, due to the fact the youth facilities are the best in the country yet the return from academy graduates to fully fledged first team players has often not been good enough. If we rewind to Division 3 (I’m sorry) many critics point to the possibility of doing the journey with far more academy players and not doing so being a failure. There is also an argument to say that crop in particular weren’t fantastic, however.
Currently there is an exciting crop at Rangers at 16-18 year old range but as always success will be measured on the transition to first team from academy youngster. The club have started in the last year or so to use the loan market in terms of development and at times a stepping stone approach with some of the youngsters which seems as if they want to make use of the youth squad but in a measured approach.
This is a case in point with Robby McCrorie: the Scotland U21 goalkeeper who has been on loan to Berwick Rangers, Morton and Queen of the South with his exploits in the Championship prompting Livi to loan him from January 2020 where he seems to have done well in jumping up a level before the season was cut short. Many supporters feel that McCrorie is number 1 in waiting; the signing of Jon McLaughlin helps confirm that along with Robby agreeing a 3 year deal to 2023 – the expectation is Robby goes out on loan again within the Scottish Premiership for one year. McGregor's deal ends next summer and by the deal end will be 39 so could be a well timed transition.
Now to the player I want to highlight, Kai Kennedy. He is a very exciting talent who is in a circumstance that is more unique in terms of youngsters that the club really see as having a big future with us. Unfortunately, he has just one more year left on his deal and the last reports about this situation were suggesting a deal was some way off being agreed. At 18 years of age you could ask him to be patient, he has already had huge clubs showing interest in recent times though with Liverpool, Roma and Manchester City being linked after he was named player of the tournament at the Alkass Cup when he was just 16, which the young Rangers side won.
The fact the deal is some way off with him entering his final year of the deal is worrying and whilst we can only speculate as to why the sides aren’t close I feel you can hazard an educated guess. It’s either financial or pathway to first team football related. We can’t compete with the wages he could get at an elite side, however, as a young lad who has been with us for a while I reckon it is a bargaining chip to see how the pathway looks under Gerrard.
I do think Gerrard likes young players – we see that with the acquisitions of Ryan Kent, Ianis Hagi, Nikola Katic and others. However the promotion of academy graduates is an area that just hasn’t quite happened yet so. As such, if this is the issue, I can see why Kai wants not just assurances which Gerrard has spoke of in good terms of Kai on numerous occasions but I feel he wants to see actions to back that up.
You could argue Gerrard has enormous pressure with Celtic pushing for an unprecedented 10 in a row albeit a period of dominance where their main rivals weren’t in the league for a huge period and a league given to them but I digress. For me I think the manager had many chances to involve more academy players though, take James Tavernier's injury spell in January – Nathan Patterson comes in for the Stranraer game, gets man of the match and next game out he goes and is replaced by Polster.
Kai actually made his full Rangers debut coming on as a 2nd half substitute in that game, he had the following to say to RangersTV after, “It was a dream come true, it has been what I have been working for for the last 7 or 8 years and I just hope there are many more to come.”
Since that game in January no further chances to academy graduates have been forthcoming. Pressure to deliver and win things is one thing but Polster keeping Patterson out whilst Ojo and Barker restricting even the opportunity to come off the bench in the case of talents like Kai is a big failure on the part of the manager. In my view, he really needs to trust the young players more or risk losing a huge talent like the Scottish u19 international, who scored the winner in his last match vs Czech Republic: a stunning curling effort by standing up his opponent, a wee quick shift to create the space before firing in to the top corner.
Kai is a technically gifted talent who is versatile enough to play numerous positions. He has played predominantly on the left wing but can also be utilised as a traditional number 10 so it is likely he would be looking to give competition for Ryan Kent. I feel he is ready for that chance and the reason a loan is not an option on the table for Rangers is due to his concerns of a pathway. His ability to shift the ball with quick feet and confidence to take on his opposition full back with strong pace is impressive along with his unpredictability which is key to his success given he often likes to cut inside from the left to either shoot or play someone in but can go down the line too. Kai has also scored a few free kicks showing off his technical abilities, a downside could be his physicality however this is something he has worked on and will improve with age but his direct style could cause a lot of defences problems and he is ready now for the step up.
It’s time for Gerrard to commit to the hype surrounding Kai and give him the opportunity he deserves or face losing one of the biggest young talents in Scotland: pressure to succeed should not hinder the development of our top young players.
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