The Jelavic Effect

Why Rangers can’t afford to sell Nikicia Jelavic

By Johnny Connelly

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Given the financial difficulties facing current SPL champions Rangers, football fans from up and down the country have been speculating ‘where’ and ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ talisman Nikica Jelavic will be departing the club. During the transfer window, it’s open season for ‘red-top’ journalists to pen tales that’d be more suited to Jackanory than the back pages of their downmarket publications. Before the transfer window even opened, Rangers fans have been conditioned to believe that their most prized asset will be headed for the exit. However, after a little statistical analysis, to my mind Rangers have no option but to retain the services of their leading scorer.

Look familiar? This is the SPL table as it stands:

Pl

W

D

L

Points

1 Celtic

23

18

2

3

56

2 Rangers

23

17

3

3

54

3 Hearts

23

10

5

8

35

4 Motherwell

21

10

4

7

34

5 St Johnstone

22

9

5

8

32

6 Kilmarnock

22

6

9

7

27

7 Dundee Utd

23

6

8

9

26

8 St Mirren

23

6

8

9

26

9 Aberdeen

23

6

7

10

25

10 Inverness CT

22

6

4

12

22

11 Hibernian

22

4

6

12

18

12 Dunfermline

21

3

5

13

14

Currently, the SPL title look as though we could be in for another nail biting crescendo at the end of the season. Celtic hold a narrow lead at the top of the table, and Rangers’ are close behind. Everyone knows that Rangers’ title challenge so far has leaned heavily on the abilities of the aforementioned Nikica Jelavic.

So where would Rangers be currently without Jelavic? This is hard to determine. He’s scored 14 goals in the 23 matches the Gers have played so far this season, as well as providing several assists. Let’s take a look at how things would look if we remove the contributions of the former Rapid Vienna hitman. Of course Rangers would have had another player in Jelavic’s place who’d have impacted positively on the team, but for argument’s sake, let’s deal with the cold hard facts of Jelavic’s impact on the SPL this season.

After reviewing in detail, each of Rangers’ 23 SPL encounters this season, it turns out that Jelavic’s contributions have been critical in gaining points on 7 occasions.

Date Opposition Result Result without Jelavic Jelavic Impact Point Shift

15/10/11

St Mirren @ Ibrox 1-1 Draw 1-0 Defeat 1 Goal – 48th minute

-1

29/10/11

Aberdeen @ Pittodrie 2-1 Win 1-1 Draw 1 Goal – 70th minute

-2

05/11/11

Dundee United @ Ibrox 3-1 Win 1-1 Draw 2 Goals – 19th & 63rd minute

-2

03/12/11

Dunfermline @ Ibrox 2-1 Win 1-1 Draw 1 Goal – 29th minute

-2

10/12/11

Hibs @ Easter Road 2-0 Win 0-0 Draw 2 Goals – 61st & 69th minute

-2

17/12/11

ICT @ Ibrox 2-1 Win 1-1 Draw 1 Assist – 55th minute

-2

14/01/12

St Johnstone @ McDairmid Park 2-1 Win 1-0 Defeat 2 Goals – 24th & 81st minute

-3

Total

-14

 

 How would this affect the current table? Take a look:

Pl

W

D

L

Points

1 Celtic

23

18

2

3

56

2 Rangers

23

11

7

5

40

3 Hearts

23

10

5

8

35

5 St Johnstone

22

10

5

7

35

4 Motherwell

21

10

4

7

34

7 Dundee Utd

23

6

9

8

27

6 Kilmarnock

22

6

9

7

27

8 St Mirren

23

7

7

9

28

9 Aberdeen

23

6

8

9

26

10 Inverness CT

22

6

5

11

23

11 Hibernian

22

4

7

11

19

12 Dunfermline

21

3

6

12

15

 

Of course, just to reiterate, this is all a hypothetical worst case scenario for Rangers, but it does make for interesting reading. Rangers are not alone in their heavy dependency on one or small number of players. (i.e Celtic – Hooper/Stokes, Barcelona – Messi, Arsenal – Van Persie, Man Utd – Rooney etc)

Perhaps coincidence, but perhaps not, that 6 of the 7 crucial Jelavic matches occurred after Rangers lost Steven Naismith for the season to that horrific injury against Hearts. This would imply that Jelavic has stepped up to the mark and carried Rangers through, again highlighting his paramount importance to the team. This poses the question, who, if anyone at Rangers could step up to the mark to replace Jelavic?

Rangers have been fortunate in recent years, that when they’ve lost a prolific goal scorer, another one has emerged from within the squad. After Kris Boyd moved on, Kenny Miller couldn’t stop scoring. When Miller was sold, in stepped Steven Naismith and latterly Nikicia Jelavic.
But who, in a such a threadbare Rangers squad, could step up to fill Jelavic’s boots? – Lafferty? Healy? (Really?)

The names that have been thrown around as potential replacements for Jelavic are unlikely to fill the Ibrox faithful with much hope. The return of an overweight and out of touch Kris Boyd or Nacho Novo is not what the fans want, or the team needs. Even the likes of Garry O’Connor, despite his impressive goal scoring record this season, has neither the prowess or finesse to replace Jelavic.

So in this myopic and seemingly inevitable shifting of Rangers’ top scorer to pastures new, I wonder if the money men at the club have considered weighing up the potential benefits of keeping him against selling him?

The benefits of keeping him are clear, having top-drawer goal scorer like the big Croatian in the team could be the difference between Rangers winning or losing the league. This in turn affects the chances of Rangers qualifying for the lucrative Champions League next season.

So what of the benefits of selling him? Transfer fees of between £7-£10m are being batted around, but in the grand scheme of things, does that money really dig Ally McCoist’s men out of any kind of trouble? Supposing Rangers do flounder in the conclusion of the HMRC tax case, and end up owing the tax man in the region of £50m, does selling your star man to pay off just a fraction of a mammoth debt seem like shrewd business? For me it doesn’t.

To my mind, Rangers currently have 3 top drawer players in their team: Alan McGregor, Steven Davis, and Nikica Jelavic. Now, tax case or no tax case, if Rangers are to survive this difficult spell in their history, this solid core unit of players has to be kept together.

Even for Celtic fans, or fans of any other team in the SPL, the retention of Jelavic should be a concern. The SPL is constantly under fire for being poor in quality, with very few real stars. To lose yet another one to the Premiership or beyond would be a real kick in the teeth. Obviously scoring 30 times in 44 outings for Rangers is going to attract attention, but for the good of Scottish football, and their own future, the Ibrox club must fight valiantly to keep Jelavic.

As much as Celtic fans would love to see their side win the league, given the choice, would they rather beat a strong Rangers side, or a significantly weakened one? The classic Old Firm battles throughout they decades have been when both sides have been at their strongest, with a spattering of world class players dawning both famous jerseys. Although Jelavic perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the Gascoigne’s, De Boer’s or Laudrup’s of the past, he’s the best they have, and as such, is invaluable.

Only time will tell as Scottish football fans look on anxiously, peering through the smoke and mirrors of the Craig Whyte regime to see if he’ll hold on to Jelavic and try to steer Rangers to glory; or cash in on the player in order to make the club’s accounts look a little more robust.

Leave your thoughts below:  


Have Rangers turned the corner after their Old Firm blues?

Hitthebyline introduces our latest contributor, Rangers fan Chris Mason. In his debut article for the site, Chris explores the optimistic notion that Rangers may well be back on the road to success after suffering a purple patch at the tail end of 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Rangers Talisman – Nikica Jelavic

 

January is typically a depressing month, and this January is no exception, particularly for Rangers fans. After witnessing what seemed like an unassailable lead at the top of the SPL cut back due to an alarming loss of form, then losing top spot to Celtic in the festive Old Firm clash, there feels little to be cheery about. On top of this, there is the re-opening of the transfer window, where Rangers will be faced with the all too familiar daily speculation about the departure of our best players. Then there is the looming dark cloud that is the clubs ongoing tax battle with HMRC.

First let’s take a look the end of 2011. A poor run of results at the end of the year was difficult to take. So many key players seemed to be playing within themselves, in particular, the usually stellar Davis and Jelavic. Defeats to Kilmarnock and St Mirren were embarrassing, with the lack of fight and creativity difficult to understand. Narrow victories over Dunfermline and Caley Thistle at home did little to build confidence and the team went into the Old Firm game as underdogs. The game itself was stifled by the bad weather and although Rangers lost, the defeat was by virtue of the narrowest of margins, and I take comfort in the fact that there really isn’t too much between the two sides at the moment.

A negative start to this article I know, but let’s try and take a positive outlook for 2012. The club could badly do with a bit of optimism. After coming off a run of terrible results including an Old Firm defeat and losing top spot, there was anxiety at how the team would fare when the best of the rest in Motherwell came to visit Ibrox in the first fixture of the New Year. Things weren’t looking good when early in the match Kyle Lafferty pulled up with an injury and was substituted, leaving David Healy as the only striker on the park. However this turned into a blessing in disguise, as the team abandoned punting aimless long balls up field and actually played some impressive pass and move football, sweeping aside a lackluster Motherwell side 3-0 with an excellent team performance.

It was a confidence boosting result and Ally McCoist showed this was no time for messing about as he put out a strong side against Arbroath and the team eased into a 5th round tie at home against Dundee Utd. It was important to get back to winning ways, regardless of the quality of the opposition as too often Rangers have struggled against lesser teams this season. The winning trend continued of course as the Gers scraped past a formidable St Johnstone side at McDairmid Park, with Nikica Jelavic again proving how invaluable he is by netting a brace and ultimately securing the victory.

If the team can continue playing like this there is no reason why they cannot continue on this run of victories and put the pressure back on Celtic. However, consistency is the key to this.

That said, the nature of recent performances has been encouraging, with Lee Wallace and Sasa Papac developing a dangerous combination on the left wing and Allan McGregor proving again and again why he is easily the best keeper in the country. It’s also nice to see lifelong Gers fan David Healy getting a run in the team, a chance he hasn’t really had since joining the club. However, Sone Aluko deserves to be singled out for praise. He is a real creative spark for the team at the moment with Davis currently stuck in a rut. His enthusiasm to take on a man and beat him is refreshing, and he certainly gets the fan off of their seats. He was badly missed during his suspension and after making such a positive impact it is hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve a new two year contract.

The limitations of this positive aura around Rangers could of course be hampered by the club’s dealings in the transfer window. As usual, our prized assets have all been linked with moves away, but it is almost halfway through the month and so far the only concrete bid has been one for Mo Edu. Rightly or wrongly, many people would like to see this player leave the club, but the Rangers fans are united in support of the club’s plight to retain the services of the talisman Jelavic.

Undoubtedly he has the ability to play at a higher level, and deserves his chance to test his skills in a higher quality league, however it’s difficult to see the team winning the league without him. Hopefully the board realise what a negative message it would send out by selling him. The situation bears stark resemblance to the Kenny Miller fiasco this time last year. In that instance, McCoist’s men managed to do without the striker and go on to win the league, but given the threadbare nature of the attacking options available in reserve this time, it’d be a far more daunting task to repeat the process by allowing Jelavic to leave.

It would make more sense to keep him now, give Ally the best shot possible of winning the league, then let him go to Euro 2012 with Croatia and hopefully impress, adding a few million to his price tag before s  then looking to sell him. Sadly though, money talks, and a sizeable bid could see the Croat leave for pastures new before the end of the month, with little realistic hope of seeing any transfer fee received for Jelavic being reinvested into the team.

For the same reason, expect to see few arrivals this January, instead younger players like John Fleck and Kyle Hutton will be expected to step up and impress.

These obstacles alone would be trying enough for most modern day football clubs, but when you throw in the current HMRC tax case, the situation becomes all the more perilous.

It’s difficult to discuss this in any real detail, with cowboy blogger’s, continual whispers of administration and innuendo in the media the only real information to go on in the place of cold hard facts. To put it plain and simple, no one really knows what’s happening, how much the club could owe, and what outcome is likely to happen. It is an ongoing case, neither party will discuss the facts and so fans unfortunately are left to feed on scraps and half truths. It’s infuriating for supporters, given how serious a matter it is. I feel that all we can really do is sit back and wait for the judgement in the coming months. This is far from ideal, but there is nothing left to do but stay positive and focus on the team’s performance on the pitch, as has been standard for the past three or four years. This isn’t the “burying your head in the sand” attitude that plenty of Rangers fans have been accused of over this issue, I accept how serious the situation is, but with little real facts to go on what else can fans do other than get behind the team?

So, what to make of all this then? It’s hard to ignore the off field issues, transfer talk and general negativity surrounding the club, but we’ve been here before year after year and every time we have defied expectations and won the league. I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible for the year ahead for Rangers. If we can keep our best players at the club and maintain our recent league form then it will be a close title race. As for the bigger issues, all we can do is continue to support the team and deal with any further issues that may come our way.