“I don’t expect anything. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe a lot, you never know. We will see where we are as a club at the end of the window.”
GIOVANNI van Bronckhorst’s admission after the 2-0 win over St Mirren at Ibrox on Boxing Day that Rangers might not conduct any transfer business during January will have dismayed and even concerned a fair few of their followers.
Many fans of the Govan club would like to see their heroes’ bid to retain the Scottish title and secure a lucrative place in the Champions League group stages given a fillip in the coming weeks with the timely arrival of one or two quality additions to the first team squad.
With their nearest challengers Celtic, who are just six points behind them in the cinch Premiership with 18 games to go, looking to strengthen extensively again next month, bringing in fresh faces is viewed as vital to their chances of success.
But is it really that important?
In the 19 years since FIFA made “registration periods” compulsory across the world Rangers have signed just a handful – 10 to be exact – of players in January who have gone on to lift league silverware that term.
It is certainly true that Alex McLeish, Walter Smith and Steven Gerrard all made some excellent acquisitions midway through the season during their tenures.
Steven Thompson (2003), Barry Ferguson (2005), Kris Boyd (2006), Davie Weir, Ugo Ehiogu and Kevin Thomson (2007), Neil Alexander, Christian Dailly and Steven Davis (2008), Glen Kamara, Jermain Defoe and Davis again (2019), Ianis Hagi (2020) and Scott Wright (2021) went on to do well.
However, Rangers have spent over £11m and brought in a total of 54 players – 32 on permanent deals and 22 on loan – in January since transfer windows were introduced to the professional game back in 2002/03 season.
Very few of them have proved pivotal to a league triumph in the following months.
After sealing a £200,000 move from Dundee United at the start of 2003, Steven Thompson scored twice in eight Premier League appearances, including in the final day 6-1 triumph over Dunfermline that secured the trophy on goal difference.
Two years later, Buffel, Ferguson, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Ronald Wattereus were among six players who McLeish landed in January.
They played a total of 56 matches between them in the second half of the 2004/05 campaign and were all on the field at Easter Road as Hibernian were beaten 1-0 on “Helicopter Sunday” and their city rivals were once again pipped to the trophy.
Kyle Bartley, El Hadji Diouf and David Healy were all involved enough to earn winners’ medals in the 2010/11 season after switching to Rangers from Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland respectively after the New Year. But none of them was exactly a talisman.
The same was true of Jack Simpson and Wright last term. Simpson featured just five times in the Premiership after joining from Bournemouth and only when Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey and Filip Helander were all unavailable.
Wright, meanwhile, was involved on eight occasions as Gerrard’s men were crowned champions for the first time in a decade amid widespread rejoicing.
So the common assertion that a club must strengthen in January in order to bolster their prospects of lifting the Premiership come May is something of a fallacy. Yes, bringing in new players can help to lift a squad and increase back-up. It has, though, rarely had a significant bearing on the outcome of the title race.
There is, of course, a counter argument here. Namely, that Rangers could have fared better in the league in years gone by if they had spent more money after the first half of the season. Would they have finished first in 2008, 2019 or even 2020?
But the underwhelming impact that so many mid-season captures have made over the years suggests that further investment would have made a negligible difference.
Van Bronckhorst, whose men have won all seven Premiership games they have played since he succeeded Gerrard at Ibrox last month, is probably more concerned about his squad being depleted than improved in January.
He currently has decent options in just about every position in his side. Centre half has been, with Balogun and Helander currently sidelined, something of a concern in recent weeks. He has only Bassey, Connor Goldson and Simpson available.
Still, Balogun has returned to training and been included in the Nigeria squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon next month along with his team mate Joe Aribo. Helander is now working on his recovery from knee surgery by himself at Auchenhowie.
Many of Van Bronckhorst’s charges have been linked with moves down south and abroad in recent weeks – Aribo, Nathan Patterson, Glen Kamara, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos could all be the subject of tempting multi-million pound bids in January.
Having posted an operating loss of £23.5m in the last financial year due to the devastating effect which the Covid-19 pandemic had on revenue streams, the Rangers board could, even with a place in the Champions League group stages within “tangible reach”, be prepared to accept a sizeable offer.
If anyone does move on after the window opens then their manager will have to compensate for their departure by bringing in suitable replacements. Failing to do so could prove costly, catastrophic even. The Dutchman admitted as much at the weekend.
“As a coach you don’t want to get to the end of the window with a smaller squad than when you started,” he said. “So we have to be prepared to decide what to do whatever comes our way.”
Celtic supporters will unquestionably get a lift if Ange Postecoglou lands more new players during the January transfer window.
But their Rangers counterparts should not be downhearted if Giovanni van Bronckhorst has to go with what he has already got.
History shows it will be no impediment to their pursuit of Premiership glory.
RANGERS’ JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW SIGNINGS
Steven Thompson (Dundee United, £200,000), Jerome Bonnissel (Bordeaux, free), Dan Eggen (Alaves, free).
Gavin Rae (Dundee, £250,000), Frank de Boer (Galatasaray, free), Barjam Fetai (B.93, £200,000).
Bojan Djordjic (Manchester United, free), Thomas Buffel (Feyenoord, £2.3m), Jukka Santala (HJK, free), Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Panathinaikos, loan), Ronald Wattereus (Manchester City, £100,000), Barry Ferguson (Blackburn Rovers, £4.5m).
Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock, £400,000), Moses Ashikodi (West Ham, free).
Andy Webster (Wigan Athletic, loan), David Weir (Everton, free), Ugo Ehiogu (Middlesbrough, free), Adda Djeziri (Frem, loan), Kevin Thomson (Hibernian, £2m).
Neil Alexander (Ipswich Town, free), Christian Dailly (West Ham United, free), Steven Davis (Fulham, loan).
David Healy (Sunderland, free), Kyle Bartley (Arsenal, loan), El Hadji Diouf (Blackburn Rovers, loan).
Mervan Celik (GAIS, £240,000).
Remie Streete (Newcastle United, loan), Gael Bigirimana (Newcastle United, loan), Haris Vuckic (Newcastle United, loan), Kevin Mbabu (Newcastle United, loan), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle United, loan).
Harry Forrester (Doncaster Rovers, free), Maciej Gostomski (Lech Poznan, free), Billy King (Hearts, loan), Michael O’Halloran (St Johnstone, £500,000).
Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth, loan), Jon Toral (Arsenal, loan), Jak Alnwick (Port Vale, £250,000).
Declan John (Cardiff City, £300,000), Greg Docherty (Hamilton Academical, £600,000), Glenn Middleton (Norwich City, free), Sean Goss (Queens Park Rangers, loan), Jamie Murphy (Brighton, loan), Jason Cummings (Nottingham Forest, loan), Russell Martin (Norwich City, loan).
Andy Firth (Barrow, undisclosed), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire, free), Glen Kamara (Dundee, £50,000), Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth, loan), Steven Davis (Southampton, loan).
Ianis Hagi (Genk, loan), Florian Kamberi (Hibernian, loan).
Jack Simpson (Bournemouth, undisclosed), Scott Wright (Aberdeen, £200,000).