When the news broke that Steven Naismith would be out for the rest of the season, the Ibrox faithful became fully aware that the equilibrium of reliable quality and stalwart position holders had been significantly disrupted, so much so that what once looked like a confident stroll towards the title, now would be transformed into a more familiar dogfight.
Gers fans, the media, and even the manager have held their hands up to say that the squad is threadbare; but less would concede to my view, that the team relies entirely on 4 top-class players.
To my mind, Alan McGregor in goal, dogged midfielder Steven Davis, cultured striker Nikica Jelavic, and the aforementioned Naismith were the galvanized spine that took games by the scruff of the neck and led Rangers to a formidable lead in the title race. Rangers, as well as Celtic, are held by constraints that no longer allow them the luxury of being able to afford the absence of a player of the quality of Naismith.
It’s no coincidence that Rangers’ dip in form came has come at a time when Naismith has been sidelined.
In the four games Rangers have played since the Scotland international damaged his cruciate ligaments, the Glasgow giants have secured a win over Aberdeen by virtue of a Jelavic penalty kick, a win over Dundee United with the help of an own-goal & penalty, a 0-0 draw at Ibrox against St Johnstone, and a 1-0 defeat away to Kilmarnock.
Conversely, before the injury, Rangers hadn’t lost a league match this season, and had drawn just twice in the league since this campaign began in July.
If Rangers are to recapture that championship winning formula, a stop-gap of equal ability for Naismith must be acquired in January, and I believe that replacement could be found at another cash-strapped SPL club, Paulo Sergio’s Hearts.
Rudolf (Rudi) Skacel, in my opinion, is capable of bringing much more festive cheer to the blue end of Glasgow than his scarlet-nosed quadruped namesake ever has.
Firstly, Ally McCoist will have no money to spend in January with the HMRC tax case looming over Ibrox like an ominous dark cloud, so a big money signing to ease the woe of the supporters isn’t going to happen.
Sticking with the cash-strapped theme, this also affects the wage budget, so any free transfers would most likely need to come from the SPL. Hearts in particular will be dying to shed some excess flab from an already bloated wage structure, and it just so happens Skacel’s contract will be due to expire in January.
Surely the Czech international would jump at the chance to get his hands on some silverware and play in front of a 50,000 crowd? The move would also represent one of Rangers very few viable alternatives to replace a player like Naismith.
Rangers would need to act fast, as Skacel is believed to be in talks with infamous Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov about extending his contract, although nothing has been finalised.
Skacel, at 32-years old has bags of experience, and is the current top-scorer at the Gorgie club. He’s played in the English Championship, as well as top flight football in Greece, Germany, Czech Republic, France, and has played in the Champions League. There are few players with such a CV could be attracted to Rangers to fill this Naismith-shaped hole behind Jelavic.
His prowess in front of goal is in no doubt with 31 goals for Hearts in his two stints at the club; despite not playing in a traditional striker’s role.
Of course this piece is entirely speculative, but the need for a Naismith replacement must be top of Ally McCoist’s Christmas list. Failure to insert a proven attacking-midfielder into the Rangers side could be just enough to give fierce rivals Celtic the edge in what looks set to be another nail-biting title race.
How ironic on this occasion that for once, this Christmas, Rudolf, rather than Santa could be the main focal point of the holiday season. However, whether Craig Whyte can make this Rudolf a ‘blue-nose’ with the monetary appeasing equivalent of the usual Christmas eve carrots could prove to be the biggest stumbling block of all.