When I was a young Rangers fan, I idolised Davie Cooper, Mark Walters, Pieter Huistra, Alexei Mikhailichenko and Brian Laudrup. Notice the trend? Wingers with flair, pace, panache and the ability to do something special. I also started out as a winger determined to emulate my idols. However, the inner centre half was never far away and before I knew it I was never to have the number 11 shirt on my back ever again. The chance of being a winger for Rangers had gone! A blessing for my team mates and centre forwards some might say.
It would be easy to write about the wingers we’ve had and maybe one day I will but today I’m looking at the backbone of the team – the centre halves. Just to cover myself first, I’m not saying these are the best-ever Rangers centre halves. Richard Gough and Terry Butcher are untouchable and most 30 somethings will probably tell you the same. They are a given, so I’m going to look at a few others.
Not everyone’s cup of tea but I loved big Jocky. At the time, the perfect foil for an ageing Richard Gough. He was an established Sweden International with Champions League experience when we signed him from Vicenza in 1996.
Bjorklund’s biggest asset was his pace. He was great at man marking because of his pace and energy levels. He wasn’t the most physical which is why, as a young centre half, I looked at how he played. Keep it simple, play to your strengths, cover your team mates. Don’t try to be Richard Gough when you are Jocky Bjorklund! He left after the unsuccessful 10-in-a-row season. I always think if Lorenzo Amoruso wasn’t injured for the whole season there could’ve been a decent partnership there.
A future Rangers Captain and future Scotland Captain when he was signed. Richard Gough’s natural successor so who better to help develop him than the great man himself? McLaren had really risen to prominence for Scotland. Performances including man-marking Roberto Baggio had given cause for others to sit up and notice him. He’d played 200 senior games at the age of just 23 when Rangers signed him from Hearts.
McLaren showed for two seasons why he had been brought into the Rangers team. He was solid. Great in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet and wasn’t slow despite his (considerable) physical appearance. Devastatingly, he suffered a knee injury at the age of just 25, missing Euro ’96 in the process and never returned to his previous self. His last game for Rangers was to Captain them in the 1-0 v Dundee United, sealing 9-in-a-row.
I always felt injuries to the likes of McLaren, Marco Negri, Sebastian Rozenthal, Paul Gascoigne and Lorenzo Amoruso etc were the reason we didn’t win 10-in-a-row. Key players for a variety of reasons that never recovered their best form or recovered at all. There’s no doubt McLaren would’ve gone on to become a Rangers and Scotland legend.
I’ve only grown to appreciate John Brown as I’ve gotten older. Some of you might understand this, for those of you who don’t, let me explain. He was a hard, hard footballer. When I was younger I didn’t realise how good a footballer he was. Ironically, for all that he was a bit of a “throwback”, he’d probably be worth a fortune now. Think Sergio Ramos.
I didn’t like him when I was younger because of the way he looked and because he wasn’t Butcher or Gough. He wasn’t as cultured and everything he did appeared to be brutal. But as I said, these are qualities you appreciate when you have missed them for so long. His left foot was massively underrated having played in midfield and at left back previously to signing for Rangers.
Maybe this is where my disliking of him came from. Watching him play on the wing or in midfield to do a specific job, which he would do. You don’t really appreciate the finer points of the game at 10-11 years old! Oh, to have a player in the squad now that was so versatile and had such passion for the club……
That’s my Three of a Kind for this week, three centre halves I loved or loathed but have grown to appreciate in equal measures despite having totally different qualities. A mixture of the three and you’d have some player, or Richard Gough.