This really is a Three of a Kind that could have any combination of genuine world class talent. Rangers have been blessed with some of the finest midfielders in British footballing history so how do you narrow it down to three? A good Rangers midfield has always been able to dominate the game, providing the transition from defence to attack. Capable of breaking play up and creating chances at the other end.
In (relatively) recent years we have seen the likes of Giovanni van Bronkhorst and Mikel Arteta shine despite being in the infancy of their careers. Stuart McCall and Ian Ferguson build the solid platform for the 9 in a row squad to rely on. There are also notable mentions for Tugay Kerimoglu and Claudio Reyna, players with sometimes unappreciated contributions. These players, despite their undoubted quality were always the support acts though.
Over the last 35 years, or since Souness’ revolution swept into Scotland, there are maybe 4-5 names that come to mind when speaking about Rangers midfielders. They all share similar characteristics. Quality on the ball, arrogance, determination, leadership and the ability to drag his team-mates up to his standard. Notable absentees from this list are Ray Wilkins, Ian Durrant and Paul Gascoigne. Three of the finest midfielders to grace any shore. These are my three that I loved for different reasons.
Souness arrived at Rangers when he was 33. In 1986, this was considered to not just be veteran stage but near retirement age. He arrived as Player/Manager fresh from two years in Italy playing for Sampdoria, hardly missing a game in the process.
My memories of Souness are that he always seemed to play as if he knew he was better than everyone around him. Treating them with the disdain they deserved. Most videos that you see of Souness now are usually of him flying into tackles but there was way more to him than that. Souness had an incredible passing range.
He had one pass in particular that I’ve not really seen a Rangers player do since. From a standing start, flicking the ball with the outside of his right foot into the centre-half/full-back channel for forwards to run on to. He wasn’t shy of confidence anyway. It would have been amazing to either have had Souness at a younger age or have him along-side Gascoigne in his pomp. The best British central midfielders of their respective generations. If you haven’t seen it before, YouTube “Souness puts Johnston in his pocket” for the finest example of Souness swaggery!
The similarities with Souness are endless both in playing style and personality. Both hated losing, maybe even more than they loved winning, winning was expected, anything less wasn’t good enough. Ferguson and Souness both had the ability to drag average players up to their level.
I always wondered if Ferguson had been brought into the first XI more often under Walter Smith if it would have given a bit more energy and freshness in the quest for 10 in a row. Advocaat immediately trusted him and not only played him but gave him the armband at the age of just 22. He was a natural born leader.
Yes, Ferguson had a few off field “issues’ at the club but on the field his contribution could never be put in question. A Ferguson in full “chest out” mode was a sight to behold. For those that said he failed in England, Man of the Match and Player of the Year awards would probably say otherwise. I always felt he wouldn’t have looked out of place at the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United. His Champions League performances regularly confirmed his ability to shine at this level.
I have Souness and Ferguson in my Greatest Rangers XI, leadership, fight, creativity, arrogance – the perfect midfield pairing.
Imagine if we had a midfielder like Albertz nowadays. Capable of scoring 20 goals a season for 3-4 years. We’d be happy if we had forwards that could do that for goodness sake! His versatility meant he would play most weeks but Advocaat claimed his work rate wasn’t good enough. A lazy excuse not to pick him.
Albertz was another midfielder that could do pretty much everything. You only have to watch his highlights reel to see what he was capable of. Not only did he create countless goals but he had a habit of scoring on the big occasions. A priceless commodity, especially being able to score from nothing.
Now, I’m not saying Albertz was a better player than Gascoigne. He was more consistent and reliable over a longer period though. Gascoigne at his best was unplayable. I always felt the season that we needed him most he let us down, for a variety of well publicised reasons. I can’t remember Albertz ever letting us down and you would have to look hard to find a Rangers fan that wanted him sold when he left. Gascoigne on the other hand…
Those are my midfield Three of a Kind, legends one and all. Anyone who says Bert Konterman was in with a shout needs to have a word with themselves, that’s not even funny.