written by – Jordan Campbell
“I love the young players and like working with younger players but they’ve got to deal with the experience of playing in front of 45,000 people.
“That’s a big ask for a young player so the balance is key. You want your two or three older players in mentoring roles to help the younger players coming through.”
Mark Warburton has built a reputation as someone who is a big advocator of youth academies being the ‘lifeblood’ of the club. He has a firm belief that a squad built around young and hungry players who have time to develop their potential is the best way forward. However, he is also not as naïve to think that you should have a whole squad consisting of just players in their early twenties; youth may be the ‘heartbeat’ of the club, but this team badly needs heart on the pitch and that’s why I think the signing of John Eustace will prove to be an inspired choice.
Rob Kiernan (24), Danny Wilson (23), Scott Allan (23) and Lewis Macleod (21)have all been heavily linked with Rangers in the past week much to the excitement of fans on social media who are raving about how progressive and refreshing Warburton’s approach is compared to Ally’s unimaginative, myopic plan of signing proven SPL players nearing their thirties.
So when the news broke last night that 35-year old John Eustace will be signing on a bosman from Derby and is to be installed as our new captain, the large majority of our support broke into mass hysteria, infuriated that we dare sign someone with experience – Ally’s favourite buzzword.
Most of the responses to his signing reeked of sheer ignorance as those who berated him had admittedly never seen him play, so how they can blindly base an opinion on his ability with nothing but his age to go on is beyond me. This is not a guy who is unwanted and looking for a good wage packet to see out his playing days. There are other Championship teams such as Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds interested in his services and prior to Paul Clement taking charge he was in contract discussions with Derby.
The hypocrisy of complaining about Warburton bringing in someone relatively unknown is laughable when you consider that most of Ally’s signings were predictable, hand-picked players from the SPL with no regard for how they would work together. The problem with Ally’s transfer policy was that we all knew these players from playing against them year in year out and it was clear that they weren’t Rangers class. Warburton knows Eustace from his time at Watford and from managing against him in the Championship so I will trust his judgement on this one.
Our fanbase seems to have developed a phobia of bringing in players won’t be able to be sold on for a profit. That, to a certain extent, is understandable given last season’s failure but we shouldn’t discount a player just because he doesn’t come with a glowing CV or a fashionable name. We are not in a position where we can attract the best youngsters from around Europe so sometimes the pragmatic choice is the best one. And in my opinion, this deal is a smart move as there is no financial outlay involved and he will be on a short-term contract.
I understand that this is not exactly the sort of signing which will act as the catalyst for a sudden surge in season ticket sales and, yes, it’s not the best move in terms of PR, but we have a promotion to achieve and that’s the most important thing at the moment. We are going to be in for another gruelling campaign in which at several stages of the season our mettle is inevitably going to be tested. We have to be able to stand up to it this time around, and he strikes me as someone who is more than willing to roll up his sleeves and fight when the going gets tough. We need characters, not just footballers.
Many have taken Warburton’s comments about ‘adding value’ as literal translation to mean sell-on potential, but is about so much more than that. If he can come in and help the younger players around him such as Andy Murdoch – who he could help mentor into a better-rounded central midfielder – then he’s added to their development, and who knows, maybe even their transfer value a few years down the line. If he can organise on the pitch and make sure our focus doesn’t drop and complacency doesn’t set in then he’s added a much needed presence on the pitch. If he can set an example when off the pitch and conduct himself like a true Rangers captain should then he’s restored values which have been missing the past four years.
Value cannot be solely judged on the profit potential of a player nor can they be assessed purely on their footballing capabilities. You need people in the dressing room who are going to lead and that’s the one thing that everyone connected to Eustace repeats: he’s a leader of men.
Fortunately, I’ve enjoyed watching Derby’s style of play the last two years under Steve McClaren so have had the pleasure of seeing Eustace half a dozen times or so and I like what I see. Playing alongside former Kilmarnock man Craig Bryson and English hotshot Will Hughes, he never looked out of place and gave the team a platform from which to build.
He is not the most athletically or technically gifted players but he does most things well. On the ball, he likes to retain possession by keeping his passes short and simple, not forcing the issue. He allows the more attack-minded players to go forward and express themselves as they know they have the security behind them in Eustace whose superb reading of the game allows him to break-up play.
Admittedly, he is a serial yellow card offender but his combative nature coupled with the role he has of shielding the back-four makes that a difficult tag to escape.
Granted, at 35 he is in his twilight years and as documented he has had his problems with injuries. But when Steve McClaren admits that if the midfielder had stayed fit for the second half of the season they would have won automatic promotion to the Premiership, you know he must have something about him.
A pivotal part of a promotion push which lasted two years, he was the fulcrum of the Derby side. It is no co-incidence that their form took a dramatic turn for the worse when he was absent with a cartilage problem as they eventually fell out of the play-off places altogether. If he can still have the impact on a top-end English Championship team then I have no qualms about him being able to replicate that in the inferior Scottish equivalent.
Derby’s win percentage ratio when he is playing is significantly higher with him in the team. Of the 23 league starts he made in 2013-2014, Derby won fourteen, drew six and lost just three of those games. He was restricted to just thirteen games this season due to an injury which kept him on the side-lines since January until the end of the season. Even so, Derby lost just one game when he started and the decisive goal in the 2-1 defeat to Wigan came after he was substituted so it is fair to say that he has a notable influence. The signing of Omar Mascarell from Real Madrid saw Eustace displaced at certain periods but from looking at the reaction of some Derby fans they feel he didn’t offer as much to the team as the veteran did.
Warburton and McClaren share many of the same footballing principles which makes me think that if he can recover from his knee injury and get back to full fitness, he will be able to slot seamlessly into Warburton’s system alongside Murdoch.
As I have said though, it is primarily the leadership qualities of Eustace along with his reputation as a model pro that will have drawn Warburton to the Derby man. The task of rebuilding every department of a football club the size of Rangers is pressure enough for one man, but don’t forget he still has to bring in half a new squad and integrate them with a squad that is currently half made-up of youth players.
Warburton needs someone who will help guide the team through the difficult spells and who will be able to organise on the pitch. He can be Warburton’s mouthpiece on the pitch and can also be the link between the changing room and the manager’s office.
Derby offered him a role as a coach so he may come with the intention of gradually moving into that role during his time here. Although it is likely to be a one or two year spell at Ibrox for Eustace, who is to say that he couldn’t defy the odds and play into his forties? After all, our assistant manager came to us when he was older than 35 and he didn’t do too badly did he?
You can follow Jordan Campbell on Twitter @JordanC1107