Despite there being a great need for an influential midfield player at various times towards the end of the old year, Big Eck resisted the temptation to ask too much of him and I’m beginning to have a few worries about ever seeing the top quality playmaker we hoped he might be.
There can be no doubt that anything we have done this season has been despite our midfield shortcomings, rather than because of our strengths in this vital area. Sure, Ricksen’s forward runs have been great, Alex Rae and Big Bob have done what they have to do and Stephen Hughes has even shown an occasional glimpse of fulfilling earlier potential. But genuine class has been conspicuous by its absence.
Mladenovic has this quality and more, or at least he did when I checked out one or two videotapes of him in action for Red Star Belgrade and Serbia Montenegro. Whilst looking a little lightweight (I had the same reservations about Arteta!), his control of the ball was excellent, he had the ability to glide past challenges and, most significantly, he had the vision to deliver the killer pass which should be making life so much easier for Dado and Nacho.
Of course, he arrived at Ibrox nursing an injury (surely not!!!) but, with the UEFA deadline looming, I understood the Freckled One’s decision to take a chance. A couple of fleeting appearances later, the new man was sidelined for a while and the phrase ‘pig in a poke’ was mentioned over the course of a few shandies. However, Rangers assured us all would be well (eventually) and it was good to see him begin to figure among the subs.
But the manager appears to be reluctant to throw the Dragan into the heat of the battle. Old Firm games are hardly the place for players who are less than 100% ready but I couldn’t help thinking that, when we beat Them 2-0 in November, such a cultured player would have been quick to exploit the space against nine man Sellick. Then again, one of them might have broken his leg!!! Never mind, sooner or later Big Eck has got to start asking questions of the man - or will he?
At various times Rangers have looked very flat and my view is that the superior talents of a genuine class act would have dragged us out of a dogged battle and allowed our better quality to flourish. Clearly the Freckled One does not agree and, having seen Mladenovic just go through the motions when he has been called upon, I’m not going to give the manager a hard time about this particular decision. It may well be that, with the arrival of Djordic and Buffel, the Serb is already yesterday’s man.
Hopefully, I’m fretting over nothing here and Dragan Mladenovic, having put all his fitness concerns aside, will emerge as a valuable asset in the second half of the season. But I can’t help thinking that the longer he lingers on the fringes of the team, the more the doubts will grow and the player himself will lose the confidence which was so evident in his pre-Rangers past.
He ain’t quite in the Rozental, Thern, Prodan (joke!) class yet - but he has got me thinking.
LITTLE BOY BLUE