No Country for Young Men

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The transfer window is closed for another summer and the players we have will be the players we have until January, barring freebies. While we've improved in some areas, it remains to be seen whether it's enough of an improvement to move forward from last season's mediocrity.

One area it seems clear that we have improved is up front, where Alfredo Morelos, although no-one's idea of a top drawer striker, has enough ability to rack up 20-30 goals a season, help the club forward, and bring in a decent fee in 18 months or so. Other than Morelos, though, it's Herrera (can't tell yet) and Miller, about whom, regardless of your view on the player, enough has been typed already.

Where then, does this leave Ryan Hardie, youthful scorer of goals and latest candidate for the Thomas Buffel Prize for getting more praise the less he is seen?

On this score I can say I have seen him play, both for Rangers u-20's when they played out of Dumbarton and for Raith Rovers. The games I saw at whatever Boghead has been renamed were some years ago, though, so should probably be discounted. For what it's worth, he looked a decent but not outstanding forward. His loan at Raith Rovers, both in 2016 and again last season, brought plenty of game time (28 games across the two loans) and 12 goals.

That's not bad, when you consider how inconsistent Rovers were. It should be noted that Rovers are on their fifth manager since 2015 in Barry Smith, not exactly the ideal spot for any young player let alone a striker.

Hardie's also done well at international level, scoring at all the age-groups he has played at, while getting picked consistently suggests a level of appreciation from coaches which would hardly be the case with a duffer.

So how come we don't see him in the Rangers first team?

Clearly the main reason is that Caixinha sees Morelos, Miller and Herrara as the three main strikers. But even with that in mind, a month and more into the season the No.4 pick forward might reasonably have expected a few run outs in the last 20 minutes. There must be other factors at play. Perhaps it's his movement, not bad but not outstanding. Perhaps it's attitude, something fans can't be in a position to know. One thing we can probably rule out is that Caixinha has decided Ibrox is no place for a callow youth (allowing for license, after all Hardie is now 20), but it's a point worth pondering just the same - as fans, there's loads we can't affect, but the one thing we can play a part in, giving players confidence, is where we often fall down.

I remember, many years ago, Jim Traynor on the radio eulogising Stephen Pearson and excoriating Stephen Hughes, the one at Motherwell and the other with us. Both youthful products, it seemed to baffle Jim's mind that Pearson, developing away from the spotlight and able to throw in a few duff games with little impact on his reputation or confidence, had matured into a better player than Hughes, never more than two stray passes away from the chastisement of the Ibrox stands and the teeth sucking, head shaking, synthetic sympathy of the media, always willing to throw a young player under the bus to fill a few column inches.

You may have your own opinion on whether these two players ever amounted to much in the grand scheme of football, or of which was better, but the point is surely valid that developing as a young player with Rangers requires way more than the ability to kick a ball. You won't have time to develop mental toughness; you better have it before you make your d├ębut. You won't have time to develop a level of consistency; lose form and people will write you off immediately and permanently. You can't betray the foibles of youth; mess with the wrong person's sister and you will be on the front pages the next day, your teenage exploits destined to be cast up for all eternity in the looper-Matrix of Scottish football coverage. A woman who once argued with Graeme Souness over the half time tea in 1990 - 1990! - is still semi regularly hauled up as a totem of resistance to 'the man'...if you think any mis-steps off the pitch will be forgotten, you're wrong.

It's clear by now, I hope, that the young player who hopes to make the grade in a Rangers shirt needs to bring the full schmeer to the party, as well as being lucky. And how often will someone like that come along? Ian Durrant understood the gig, but crucially also had the advantage of being not only the best prospect we'd had in years, but was coming into a pretty lousy side of which little was expected. The stars aligned for him until Scottish football, with it's customary grace and elegance, scythed down its once in a generation talent and them blamed him for being carried off the pitch wrongly. Derek Ferguson understood the gig but also wanted to have a life, and a combination of Graeme Souness and the West of Scotland did for him. Coming up to date, Barrie McKay seemed to understand the gig, perhaps too well - he couldn't get out fast enough.

I have never seen Kieran Tierney, the Celtic prospect many are raving about, kick so much as a ball so I don't know how good he is, but I hope he bails out of the crunching backwater he currently plays in soon, lest the same fate befall his career. We don't produce exceptional talents often enough to allow the thug life to beat them. His left-sided peer Andrew Robertson has certainly had a meteoritic rise to fame, moving quickly through clubs to end up at Liverpool.

Anyhow, Ryan Hardie. Does he have in his hand all the cards that he'll need to finally break into the first team and start bagging the goals? Only time will tell. If he does get a chance, though, I'd love to see and hear the crowd get right behind him. Forgive the odd misplaced pass. Accept the odd shot skied over from six yards out. Ally McCoist missed about 100 chances a season but didn't do too badly over the piece, as a player anyway. Now, that understanding can't be a free pass for ever and if the goods aren't there it will soon become obvious to everyone, the player himself probably included. Since so many have called for him to get that chance, if it comes lets back our call and back the player. Ibrox has been no place for young men for too long - it's up to us to help change that.

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