It is coming up to that dreaded time of the year for Rangers fans. The January transfer window. In recent times where Rangers’ financial health is nothing to write home about, getting through January has been a big part of the season. It happens every season, at around a couple of weeks before Christmas, the top players at Ibrox are linked with all the clubs you can imagine (even Leicester!)
If you don’t get that last, unfunny, reference to the English city, then I am of course referring to the Foxes pursuit of Rangers’ star striker Nikica Jelavic. In the summer just past, they submitted a £6 million bid for the Croatian forward which Rangers rightly rejected. An agent made Rangers aware that Leicester would be willing to up their offer for the 26-year-old to £8m, plus a further £1m in add-ons dependent on several clauses. But no formal offer past the £6m was made and they kept their striker for the first half of the season at least. However, it is crucial to Rangers that they keep a hold of Jelavic, for more than one reason.
When Rangers were first linked to the Croatian, who played for Rapid Vienna in the Austrian Bundesliga, many supporters hadn’t heard of the guy. Some had though, and were very impressed that Walter Smith was chasing him. He had scored 40 goals in 93 appearances for Rapid, an impressive goals ratio. After a long and dragged out transfer saga spanning July and August of 2010, Jelavic finally put pen to paper in a £4m deal, the most expensive Rangers signing in 5 years. And the powerhouse striker has not failed to impress since moving from Vienna to Glasgow, scoring 19 goals in his debut season last year with 27 appearances.
That is even more impressive when you include the fact that Hearts’ Ian Black ruled him out for three months of the season after a lunge at him at Tynecastle in October, and that he was ineligible for all six of Rangers’ Champions League group games, and the four Europa League ties after that. He was a key part in Rangers securing their third championship title in a row, and scored an extra-time winner at Hampden to beat Celtic 2-1 in the Scottish League Cup Final. The 6ft 2in striker has been capped 17 times for Slaven Bilic’s Croatia side, scoring twice for the national team in games against Slovakia and Qatar.
In this season’s games he has notched up a goal 14 times in 22 games, including a brace in today’s fixture away to Hibernian. But some have been saying that Jelavic has been off the boil this season for the Gers. Some supporters have noticed a lack of enthusiasm from ‘Jela’, that his mind looks like it’s already in England and he is just playing through the motions until January. There is a case for that, with Jelavic not looking the same player that he was for Rangers, particularly in the title run-up in spring this year where he scored pivotal goals against Hearts, Motherwell, Dundee United and Kilmarnock.
But that’s exactly the point this article is making regarding Jelavic. His scoring ratio last season was magnificent even with three months out injured and all ten of the European games missed. Without setting the heather on fire this season he has still managed to be Rangers’ top goalscorer and get 12 goals, including an equaliser against Celtic on the way to a 4-2 victory. With Jelavic in the team, Rangers have a striker they can play the ball to on the ground, into the channels and onto his head. He can be a target man or a lone striker, he is that good. He is an all-round top quality forward and if Rangers lost him this January, it would have serious consequences on their quest for four-in-a-row.
This week English Premier League giants Liverpool have been linked with a £7.5m bid for him, as have West Bromwich Albion. There have also been reports that Leicester City will renew their interest with a similarly priced offer for Jelavic. But to go along with that, manager Ally McCoist and owner Craig Whyte have met to discuss their January strategy and have apparently agreed it will take an offer over £10m to get Jelavic out of Ibrox. Even though I agree that in the modern-day transfer markets, £10m for a quality striker like Jelavic is acceptable, I would not take it if that was on the table.
This may be for purely selfish reasons but having highlighted Jelavic’s qualities, how can Rangers afford to lose a player of his calibre? Granted, the £10m would help to fund a replacement striker and maybe go towards some other positions that need strengthening, but in reality most of that dosh would be set aside in case of the “doomsday” scenario of losing the tax tribunal to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Rangers would be left with Kyle Lafferty as their only available striker who can get goals, with Steven Naismith out for the season, young Kane Hemmings still a tad raw to step in and be Rangers “number 9” and David Healy widely thought of as past his glory days and not making it on the bench regularly these days.
Jelavic is central to everything good about Rangers, and along with key players Steven Davis and Allan McGregor cannot be sold if Rangers want to win their 55th Scottish title, and their fourth in a row.
By Alan Clark. You can follow Alan on Twitter here.