By David Herd
When I was wee, there was a very popular series of children’s books by Enid Blyton called The Famous Five. Ignoring the fact that one of them was called Timmy, hearing that Rangers have confirmed the first famous five departures of the summer reminded me of a couple of those books from my childhood.
For Allan McGregor, Filip Helander, Scott Arfield, Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent it all looked like Five Have A Wonderful Time, as they all played a massive part in the unforgettable 2020/21 season when Steven Gerrard’s team delivered one of the most longed-for championships in our history. But here we are two years later, and it’s time to instead go with Five Run Away Together, as Ibrox says farewell to a group of players whose time is up.
Rather than think of them all together, though, it’s probably fairer to consider each player individually to sum up their achievements and legacy at Rangers. And when doing that, it’s surely beyond dispute that the goalkeeper deserves top billing as the player who most deserves our appreciation.
There will still be some who struggle to give Allan McGregor the club status he deserves because of how he left the club in 2012. For me, it’s fair to say that I still don’t know the exact ins and outs of what went on at that horrendous time, but I’m willing to give the benefit of any doubt to a man who has never hidden his love of wearing our shirt and who has been a genuine club legend as a player. 504 appearances, his debut coming over 21 years ago and a man mentioned in the same breath as our goalkeeping giants like Goram, Dawson and Brown. I still can’t decide whether Bremen or Prague was the venue of his greatest European save, but I do know that he has played more European matches for Rangers than anyone else, and that he was a massive reason why Rangers reached 2 European finals in the last 15 years. He is the one player of the 5 who can claim the description “winner”. The newly-inducted hall of fame goalkeeper will get his own individual farewell in July when Rangers play Newcastle United in his testimonial, and I’ll most certainly be there to pay tribute to an Ibrox great.
At the other end of the appearances scale is Swedish centre back Filip Helander. Unlike McGregor, he cost a fee to join, and he has unfortunately been a far more regular sight on the treatment table than on the pitch in his 4 seasons as a Rangers player. He joined in the summer of 2019, and in the 4 seasons since then Rangers have played in 232 competitive matches at home and abroad. Helander appeared in just 60 of them. He did play his part in some great victories in Europe over teams like Feyenood, Porto and Galatasaray. Domestically, was it a coincidence that his one season of more consistent fitness coincided with us winning the title with the best defensive record in Scottish top flight history? He played in 22 of the 38 games in that iconic and unbeaten season, with most fans regarding him as the best defender in the squad. Then to add to the feelgood factor from that Covid-blighted season, it was Helander who scored the only goal in the first Old Firm match after crowds returned. Sadly, he hasn’t been seen in a Rangers shirt since hobbling off at Paisley last April, so his is a goodbye that is undoubtedly a case of “how can you miss what you never have”. What isn’t in question is Helander was a quality player with a terrific attitude when he played, but a player unavailable for 74% of matches can’t really be sadly missed.
A player who will be missed by the vast majority at Ibrox, and probably by many inside the dressing room too, is Scott Arfield. Steven Gerrard’s first confirmed signing on a free transfer from Burnley has been a player whose effort and desire to make Rangers a winning team has never been in doubt. A player of proven EPL quality prior to his arrival, Rangers were good for him and he was good for Rangers. He has put on the Rangers jersey 231 times since his debut against FC Shkupi in Gerrard’s first match in charge, with over a third of these coming off the bench. A player with drive, aggression, no little ability, and a great knack of popping up with a goal from midfield. It was perhaps fitting that his first-ever Rangers goal came on a big occasion when he grabbed a vital equaliser in a 2-2 Europa League group stage game in Villareal, as his Ibrox career has been punctuated by important goals at important times. He scored against Celtic at Ibrox and Hampden, he scored in the Europa League and Champions League group stages, and he scored the first goal of this season as well as the most remarkable injury time double I can remember. 43 goals in total, a very good return for a midfielder who only started 146 matches. He has been limited to a few minutes from the bench in recent times, and the manager and player have obviously decided that it is better all round if he ends his stellar career somewhere he can play more often. Scott Arfield will never make the hall of fame, but he will be a man this generation remembers with great affection.
That takes us to the remaining departures, two players whose legacy at the club has been tarnished by a terrible final season and their leaving without the club earning a penny for them. Two players who at their best in our shirt have been responsible for some wonderful memories, and who were both regarded as players worth transfer fees in 8 figures at their rampaging peak.
Alfredo Morelos is the top European goalscorer in the history of Rangers, and for that one statistic he deserves to be hailed as a Rangers star. Considering he cost just £1 million and has given the club 6 seasons, maybe it is churlish to snipe at his leaving for free. 268 games and 125 goals, just one of those goals a penalty. That is a fine record, which becomes far more impressive when you mention 29 European goals in just 53 starts and 10 substitute appearances. I never thought I would see a Rangers forward consistently score against such top quality European opposition, with the likes of Porto, Feyenoord, Benfica, Red Star and Dortmund all failing to stop him as well as so many “Europa League level” teams like Rapid Vienna, Legia Warsaw, Young Boys, Sparta Prague, etc. He was a force of nature in these games, bullying international defenders and looking a genuine superstar. But we can’t ignore the red cards, the late returns from Colombian trips, the petulance and the lack of fitness that blighted parts of his Rangers career. Every Rangers manager he played for both loved him and dropped him. Maybe true to say that if he was better disciplined he would never have spent 6 years in Scottish football. But we should expect Rangers players to have that discipline, and he will leave as a player who achieved much, but should have done a lot more.
That leaves Ryan Kent. Including his year on loan before arriving for over £7 million from Liverpool, he racked up 218 appearances and was a massive part of our attacking threat in almost every big game since he joined. He beat defenders, he won penalties, and he scored some big goals. But 33 goals represents a ratio of a goal almost every 7 matches. In a Rangers team who dominate 90% of their domestic games, is that enough? It’s perhaps unfair to compare him to players given a similar role in the team across the city, but their usual players in this position hit more like 1 in 3. And, like it or not, they are who were will always get compared against. Kent’s departure is probably the most frustrating of the 5, given how much he cost and how much the manager obviously wanted him as part of the team going forward when he took the job last November.
So, Rangers are saying goodbye to 1,281 appearances. However, 4 of the 5 players only have that 1 league title to show for their time at Ibrox, and that number is the one that many will see as the most important. To complete the Enid Blyton comparison, she once wrote a book entitled Silver and Gold. Rangers players will never reach the gold standard without delivering plenty of silver in their careers. Sadly, that means this a farewell that could and should have been a lot fonder.
Some very different overall Rangers careers, some very different player attitudes, and some very different levels of supporter admiration. The big questions beforehand was what Ibrox would make of saying goodbye to them as a single group after a season of failure, and how many (if any) would get to start. Just over an hour before kick-off, the second question was answered when the starting eleven saw the return of the 2 players with most club appearances, McGregor and Morelos. The bench saw the usual presence of Arfield, with the injured Helander and the (presumably) injured Kent not asked to change out of their club suits.
The second question was answered emphatically during and after the match. The names of McGregor, Morelos and Arfield got extra loud cheers when the team was announced, and all 3 were serenaded by song and paid tribute by banner. Once the match ended, with a typical comedy goal conceded in injury time to sum up the season, the rest of the squad formed a guard of honour to put the famous five in the spotlight. At least 75% of the 48,428 crowd stayed behind, and as David Bowie’s “Heroes” blasted over the tannoy, the players were given their individual acclaim. A lap of the stadium was then completed, with plenty pictures taken in front of the Union Bears who chanted their love of their former favourites.
As the big screens showed Ibrox career highlights of each player, all 5 must have wondered whether they will ever feel such adoration again, wherever they now go. In the after match press conference, manager Michael Beale heaped praise on the fans for providing a fitting and emotional tribute to 5 men who had given the club great service, and he spoke of how nights like that make his job of selling Rangers to prospective signings that bit easier.
All at Follow Follow wish our famous five well in their future adventures.