Glenn Middleton hasn’t reached the end of the road at Rangers
Rangers players who are going out on loan elsewhere or are already on loan at other clubs should not view it as the end of the road for them at Ibrox.
With Hibernian set to confirm a loan move for Rangers winger Glenn Middleton, Craig Mulholland, the club’s Head of Academy, has revealed the Ibrox club’s strategy for youth development is to treat players on an individual basis.
Some are fast-tracked straight into the first team, some, like Middleton, are given a taster of first-team action then sent out on loan, while others are handed multiple temporary moves away. All remain very much on the club’s radar.
The loaning of players elsewhere will remain a central tenet of Rangers’ player development policy for as long as the club are frustrated in their efforts to have ‘B’ teams, or colt teams as they are otherwise known, introduced into Scottish football.
Mulholland stressed that Middleton, and others such as Ross McCrorie at Norwich City, should not worry about being forgotten about since Billy Kirkwood’s sole responsibility as loans manager at Rangers is to keep tabs on them. Middleton’s Ibrox contract runs until 2023, while midfielder McCrorie’s expires a year earlier.
“We’re not just sending players out on loan and saying on you go, we are getting footage back every week that gets shared among the management team,” said Mulholland. “I think until such time that we get a B team in this country and we can control the style of play and play against men’s football, the loan market is absolutely massive for us.”
Mulholland has been cheered by the changes to the Glasgow Cup, with Thistle, Clyde and Queen’s Park set to play stronger sides this season when taking on Celtic and Rangers reserves. Talks are continuing, meanwhile, with clubs who have pulled out of reserves leagues in both Scotland and England to play a series of home and away friendlies, as Rangers trialled last season. Games against Ajax and Bayern Munich are also lined up.
Playing – or hopefully playing – competitive football on a regular basis at senior level has been identified as the best strategy for Middleton after his breakthrough last season.
“What we’ve identified is that each player has a different pathway and what was successful for us last year was that we had three or four players who were on different pathways,” said Mulholland, who was speaking as the club promoted a new Rangers Lotto campaign to generate funds for the youth department.
Striker Zak Rudden was named Falkirk’s Player of the Year last season while Middleton, in Mulholland’s words, “stayed in the building” and made an impressive 28 appearances for Steven Gerrard’s first-team, scoring five goals.
Midfielder Stephen Kelly, meanwhile, was kept at the club to build up his body under the supervision of the sports scientist and has now been loaned to Ayr United.
“What we’re learning in this transition phase to get players from the Academy to the first team is that every player needs an individual pathway,” said Mulholland. “Some will go straight to the first team, others will need two or three loans.
“If you look at the average age of players breaking into the first team in the EPL just now it’s 23, but they would probably need two or three loans before that with 100 games under their belt,” he added.
“Some will require that and others will just go straight from the Academy to the first team. We have to find out how they get from the Academy to the first team and find out each individual’s needs.”
Middleton was set to go on loan to Dutch club NAC Breda but Hibs’ need became urgent after winger Martin Boyle was struck down by the recurrence of a serious knee injury during a Betfred Cup tie against Elgin City.
Boyle is likely to be out until next year having missed the second half of last season. Mulholland believes Hibs will provide a perfect platform for Middleton.
“What we need to look at is the style of play at the club, what their playing opportunities are going to be, what’s the crowd like, what’s the expectations like, what stage are they at?” said Mulholland. “So a group of us come together and look at every player’s individual needs and we ask if that club fits the player.
“Too often in the past, a club could come in for a player and get him on loan, but is he at the right club for him? Is it the right environment, the right manager? So we do a lot of research – we won’t get them all right, but sometimes it’s OK if a loan doesn’t work too because they can take positives from it. We will decide the club and take all factors into account.”
Gerrard has already proved himself to be supportive of the club’s youth policy and is keen to utilise its output. “The gaffer has given six debuts to Academy players – the latest was Josh McPake in the Europa League,” said Mulholland. “The boys who are 18 or 19 are now starting to give the gaffer a thought about whether he can play them.”