Saturday, 22 January 2011
Five Stars of the future from Murray Park
At a time when a black financial cloud hangs over the inspiring façade on Edmiston Drive, a beam of hope comes from the Murray Park training complex in the outskirts of Glasgow.
Rangers opened their £14m state-of-the-art training complex in July 2001 and the manager at the time Dick Advocaat and his youth supremo Jan Derks had a massive say in the construction of the facility. The centre sits in a 38-acre site in Auchenhowie, Milngavie, and was one of the most advanced training centres in Europe when officially opened nearly 10 years ago. The complex boasts six full size pitches, two half size pitches, a practice area, an indoor pitch and a training centre which has some of the most advanced pieces of Sports Science and gym equipment in the UK.
What has to be emphasized is that Murray Park is not a youth academy but a purpose-built training facility.
However, its effect on the development of young players at Rangers is clear for all to see in recent years. Tottenham right-back Alan Hutton is one of those players who developed at Murray Park. Hutton netted Rangers £9m in January 2008 and made his debut in a Rangers side full of international stars at 18 years old.
Steven Smith burst on to the scene in 2005 under Alex McLeish and made his Champions League debut at 20. Smith’s Rangers career was hampered by unfortunate injuries but his form under Paul Le Guen was one of the only success stories of that season. He was a regular in the side and was one of the hottest properties in Scottish Football. However, recurring injuries were a serious problem for Smith and he was never able to reach the heights of 06/07 in his later years at Ibrox. It was a story of what could have been.
The facility also had a major impact on the development of Chris Burke and Ross McCormack who are now playing their football in the Football League but both had impacts in the Champions League and were another tale of what could have been.
The class of 2011 are already growing upon the Ibrox faithful and with such a threadbare squad, there has never been a better time to make your mark at Rangers. There are 5 stars around the famous Rangers crest which symbolise the 53 League Championships won by the club and there are 5 new stars emerging from the Rangers youth teams.
Midfield duo Kyle Hutton and Jamie Ness have burst on to the scene this season and both have played a part in some of Rangers’ biggest fixtures this season. Hutton made several sub appearances in the SPL before a surprise start against Manchester United in the Champions League and he never looked out of place. His U19 team-mate Jamie Ness had to wait for his senior debut due to injury but started in the Old Firm derby of January 2nd and came out with pass marks in a terrible team performance that day.
Hutton is the more defensive of the two and is very comfortable at picking the ball up from deep. Ness on the other hand is more industrious and covers a huge amount of ground each game but his best asset is by far is wonderful left-foot and his impressive range of passing.
Attacking midfielder John Fleck has been around for some time after making his senior debut back in 2008. Fleck became the youngest player to appear in a British Cup Final when he made a late sub-appearance in the 3-2 Scottish Cup Final win over Queen of the South. Fleck was tagged early on as ‘the next Rooney’ and was under severe pressure by media and some sections of the supporters to deliver quickly. It looked like Fleck was set to have a big part to play this season and after an excellent pre-season, picked up a hamstring tear in a friendly to Clyde which effectively ruled him out for a month or so. The 19-year-old is naturally most comfortable as a second-striker or attacking midfielder. He is technically very sound and is capable of creativity which can unlock stubborn defences. Time is very much on Fleck’s side and with Kenny Miller now a Bursaspor player, the youngster could make that position his own in the future.
Gregg Wylde is one of the Murray Park youngsters who have grown on the Rangers supporters any time he has taken the field. Wylde featured mainly at left full-back for the U19s but is more comfortable as an old-fashioned left-winger. The 19-year-old prefers to use his excellent pace over any skill and reaches the by line fairly often. That is useful but more importantly, Wylde has a final ball and has created numerous chances in his cameo-appearances so far in his career. He is potentially one of the last of a dying breed of wide-players and could be the next to try to hold down a shirt in what has been a problem role for Rangers in the last decade.
Walter Smith took the opportunity to hand Darren Cole his Rangers debut against Bursaspor in the Champions League with the Ibrox side already heading into the Europa League. Cole is comfortable at centre-back and full-back and he started that match at right-back for the first-team. The 19-year-old impressed in the intimidating atmosphere of a Turkish stadium and got subsequent praise from his manager. He has yet to play in the Scottish Premier League but his performance in Turkey has certainly put his name on the list of players to replace Whittaker or Foster if they pick up injuries.
The financial situation at Ibrox is well-documented and the mis-management of the club by Sir David Murray has resulted in extensive pressure from the Lloyds banking group to recoup £20m-£25m worth of debt. Most Rangers fans naively still treat Murray as a god, but the 2 years without signing a player and the inability to withstand any decent offer for a player should have been a wake-up call, if they had not realised the damage Murray was causing.
A takeover was on the cards, or it could in fact be another Murray moonbeam, but with the future uncertain off the pitch, Rangers fans can be encouraged by the new breed of talent which may save the club a fair few pounds in the next few years.