Fashion Sakala sets Rangers target as he looks to fill void left by ‘special’ Alfredo Mores absence

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Learning on the job is never ideal.

And the lessons that Giovanni van Bronckhorst is about to experience over these next few days may ultimately determine the outcome of his first season at the helm.

So even though it feels as if there’s still a touch of the getting to know you about the Dutchman and his Rangers squad, harsh reality dictates there’s also little margin for error.

For example, just when it seemed the new man in charge had mastered the art of getting a tune out of Alfredo Morelos, he now finds himself scrambling to find a replacement for his star striker at perhaps the most critical stage of the campaign.

On top of that, van Bronckhorst will take a look into the eyes of Joe Aribo this morning before working out if his playmaker is the sort who can be rushed straight back into action following the crushing disappointment of being sent home early from the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria.

Or if he’s in need of some extra recovery time.

Is youngster Alex Lowry a ready and able stand-in following his impressive debut against the part-timers of Stirling Albion? Or does Lowry’s long-term development require a more gradual approach?

And then there are the likes of Ryan Jack and Filip Helander to assess, two players who are on the verge of full fitness for the first time since van Bronckhorst arrived as Steven Gerrard’s replacement in November.

Should they be thrown back into the heat of battle with only a week to go until he takes his team to Celtic Park?

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Or would that be expecting too much, too soon?

One by one, the manager has to work through all of these issues, all the while knowing one wrong call at the wrong moment could have near catastrophic consequences against the backdrop of a toe-to-toe title fight with the noisiest of neighbours.

Plenty then for the Ibrox gaffer to consider.

But first and foremost, van Bronckhorst has to figure out how to do without Morelos now that the Colombian’s rejuvenation has been rewarded with an international call-up.

At the most inconvenient moment.

In Kemar Roofe and Fashion Sakala, van Bronckhorst has familiar options. In Cedric Itten, another player he is only just getting to know after recalling the Switzerland international from a loan spell in Germany.

The good news where van Bronckhorst is concerned is that, between them, they appear to realize what is about to be required of them over the course of three games in eight days against Livingston, Ross County and Celtic.


As Sakala said: “It’s always sad when some players are not part of the squad. We will miss him, for sure – he is a special player for us – but we have to deliver.

“It is our time and we have to help the team and get the result.

“We are always there to push each other in training and games. Whether you are on the bench or starting, the good thing is we are always there to motivate and encourage each other.

“That’s what I like about us as a group of strikers. We don’t really do things as a competition but we all try to work together and help the team.”

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Sakala’s performance in that Scottish Cup clash with Stirling – capped off with a stylishly taken goal – may have nudged the Zambian to the front of that particular queue for the central striking position.

Not that he’ll be overly bothered if he has to make do with a place on the wing.

It takes a lot to wipe the smile off Sakala’s face after all.

He went on: “I don’t really have a special position. Whatever position the boss has given me, I’m very comfortable with any position playing as a striker, left winger or right winger.

“Sometimes it is more important to get the chances to play. I’m comfortable with any position.

“To score on Friday was special. I promised the fans I would only cut my hair when I scored in 2022, so it was a special goal. It was a good motivation to start the new year! I’ve had it cut and I’m looking fresh!”

But while this smiling assassin appears to be having the time of his life, van Bronckhorst may feel like the weight of the world is on shoulders given the calls with which he is about to wrestle.

At least, the early return of Aribo gives him a more pleasant problem to solve. Speaking yesterday, he said: “For me it’s good to have Joe back.

“Of course, he didn’t get a good result at the weekend so it’s bad for Joe that he couldn’t play on in the tournament.

“He’s traveling back from Nigeria today and will be back in Glasgow tonight. We have to assess if it’s smart for him to be in the squad for Wednesday but he will for sure be available from the weekend.”

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If Aribo is given time off tonight, as seems likely, could Lowry be let off the leash again, this time against hardened top-flight opposition?

Van Bronckhorst said: “We have to keep assessing him over the coming weeks and months but he is a player who trains a lot with us, he’s made his debut and is part of the squad.

“The best thing to concentrate on is to make sure his development will get better.”



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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