Every team has them. The unsung heroes. The water carriers, players that do all the donkey work or unglamorous things so that those around them can shine. An essential cog in the wheel of a successful football team if you will. Rangers have had more than a few over the years and I’m not saying these ones are the best. As always, these are the ones I remember for different reasons – good and bad. These are this week’s Three of a Kind.
Any player with 125 games for Rangers must be decent, eh? Especially one who plays as many games during the 9-in-a-row team. Signed from Dundee United with his less competent pal Gary Bollan, Cleland was not a marquee signing. And that’s an understatement.
He was, basically, Gary Stevens’ replacement. Think about that for a wee while. Last week I wrote about how high a regard I hold Stevens. Cleland was bought in season 1994-95 after Stevens started having injury problems. Now well into his 30’s he wasn’t quite the player he used to be. Craig Moore, Dave McPherson and Neil Murray were all played out of position as cover until Cleland arrived.
Even now, I couldn’t really tell you what Cleland offered. He had loads of energy at least, often like a dog relentlessly chasing a ball! He was just reliable. Although I was younger at the time, he reminded me of Stuart Munro. Neither players good enough to be international players but just below that level. When you compared Cleland to Davie Robertson on the other side it was night and day. Having said that Robertson only got 3 caps, a modern-day scandal.
My lasting memory of Cleland? Getting an absolute roasting off Alessandro Del Piero in the Champions League in 1995/96 culminating with a red card after 55 minutes. Stephen Wright was bought from Aberdeen the year after Cleland arrived. If Wright hadn’t suffered a cruciate ligament knee injury v Juventus at Ibrox who knows how Cleland’s career would’ve panned out. Thems the breaks, so to speak.
Edu was just 22 years old when we signed him from Toronto in 2008. A rare purchase from the American market, yes, I know Toronto isn’t in America but you know what I mean. He looked like a big lad and very athletic. Ideal for the engine room.
He would find games hard to come by at the start of his Rangers career. Barry Ferguson, Pedro Mendes, Kevin Thomson, Brahim Hemdani and Steven Davis all getting in the way. It wasn’t for another couple of seasons that we saw the best of him. I didn’t help rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, missing almost a year of football as a result. An eventual run of games with Steven Davis in the middle of the park was great testament to his work rate and commitment.
Edu is remembered more positively than Cleland. Why? A 93rd minute winner v Celtic goes a long way in ensuring fan popularity! We could’ve done with Edu during the banter years, it may surprise you that he is still only 32. Seems a lifetime ago now mind.
Another American midfielder but a totally different type. Reyna was almost Dutch-like in how he played the game. He could play almost anywhere on the park and produce at least a 7/10 performance. Between 1999-2001 Reyna found himself almost filling in when others were injured or unavailable. He would play either in the middle of the park, right back or right midfield.
He was so underrated technically because he suffered by comparison. Barry Ferguson, Jorg Albertz and Giovanni van Bronkhorst were all in their pomp. Tugay Kerimoglu was also in and out of the Rangers team during the same time as Reyna, a true gluttony of riches. He wasn’t (as) flashy as the others, more workmanlike. If they had GPS trackers on players in Reyna’s time, I’ve little doubt he’d cover more than most week-in, week-out.
I loved Reyna because time after time he would be the man that played the pass before the assist. He created the space or opened the defence with a pass for the likes of Neil McCann or Andrei Kanchelskis to burst on to. A true unsung and often undervalued member of Advocaat’s side. If you didn’t the first time around, get onto YouTube and see just how good he was.
Just the six league titles and several cups between them, not bad for a group of unheralded players. As always, I’m sure there are plenty of alternatives, for example, would John Brown make an unsung hero list? I’ll save him for another day, got to be a “cultured hard man” list done at some point.