The Scottish Mail on Sunday


Ibrox boss sees patient philosophy pay off with Edmundson

- By Graeme Croser

OF all the players signed on Steven Gerrard’s watch, none has been handled with quite so much care as George Edmundson. Recruited from Oldham Athletic for a fee of £700,000 last summer, the defender came highly rated but was never likely to be pitched into competitiv­e action too early.

Aged 21 and used to playing to English League Two standard in front of crowds of around 4,000, Gerrard knew Edmundson would need time to settle and acclimatis­e to his new, intense environmen­t.

And so, for the first few months, he slotted in as the club’s fourth-choice centre-back behind Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic and £3.5million Swedish internatio­nal Filip Helander.

‘With the level he was coming from, his age and the size of the move, it was important we didn’t toss him in and just say: “Go on, off you go”,’ explained Gerrard.

‘We did similar for a shorter period with Filip because you want them to see the astroturf games, have a look at what Pittodrie and Celtic Park are like.

‘They can get a feel and experience on the eye before they go in.

‘Centre-backs are slightly different to attacking players, where you can maybe take a risk with someone at that end of the pitch and put them in earlier when they’re not 100-per-cent ready. You don’t get away with that in central defence.

‘So I’m very conscious and protective of centre-halves at that age. I don’t want to ruin them, I don’t want to put them in too soon.’

And so, after being eased in with starts in the Europa League qualifiers against St Joseph’s and Progres Niederkorn, Edmundson retreated to the role of squad player.

His first Premiershi­p start was not until October 6 when he strolled through a 5-0 home win over Hamilton. His second, against Hibs in midweek, was a bigger test and he came through impressive­ly, netting Rangers’ first goal in a 2-1 victory. He also played 90 minutes in yesterday’s Scottish Cup win over Accies.

‘George has been so patient and he was solid,’ said Gerrard. ‘He made a couple of minor mistakes, one where he was a bit rash giving a free-kick away and another where he passed one out of play — which was unusual because passing is his strength.

‘But there’s no doubt that over the past four or five months, George is a lot more ready than when he first came through the door.

‘He’s aware of the size of the demands, he’s aware of everywhere in the league, he’s used to playing with Connor, Niko and the full-backs, so he’s a lot more prepared.

‘He’s got everything in front of him. Centre-halves can go on and on, they probably cover the least distance in the team so they’re the ones that need less of a rest.

‘I’m looking forward to seeing how he blossoms.’

Now 22, Edmundson is probably the best natural footballer of Rangers’ four central defenders and an injury to Helander has allowed him to climb the pecking order.

With Goldson establishe­d as first choice, it has been Katic who has benefited most from the Swede’s absence but the Croatian is an altogether different propositio­n to the young Englishman.

A combative, physical defender, Katic was an obvious fit for Scottish football following his own move from Slaven Belupo during Gerrard’s first transfer window but Edmundson’s skill-set offers more to the style of play the former Liverpool captain has deployed at Ibrox.

‘George is extremely quick and he can play,’ continued Gerrard. ‘When teams camp in, we have at times lacked speed in our ball circulatio­n. George makes us move the ball an awful lot quicker.

‘We just felt for Hibs that George was the right man because he moves the ball well. Instead of going from A to B, George can get it from A to C. He’s that type of player.

‘I love his attitude. But I want George to challenge me. I don’t want him to be happy to be No 4.

‘Everyone should push and want to play. That’s exactly what he’s doing.

‘He’s given me food for thought every time I name an 11 or an 18. If you judge solely on training his performanc­es have been as strong as the other three.

‘He probably deserves more appearance­s under his belt but I’ve got four good centre-backs. One is injured. Niko has trained ever so hard and deserved to come into the team.’

Rangers faced some competitio­n to land Edmundson, with Derby, Portsmouth and Stoke all strongly linked with the defender. Gerrard’s name itself would have helped Rangers’ offer stand out but, as with his equally successful pitch to Charlton’s Joe Aribo around the same time, the manager believes the club sold itself.

‘They were both in demand and into double figures in terms of interested clubs,’ he said. ‘First and foremost, the size of Rangers is a big pulling factor.

‘It helps when I’m in a position to say: “Look, you’ll experience all levels of football, it’ll be great for your developmen­t”.

‘You play cup competitio­ns where the demand is to win, not progress. Play in a league where we have the opportunit­y to close the gap and do something special. Play in European football. Obviously, Premier League teams have a financial advantage and a lot more pull, but are these kids going to go straight in or become one of 23 and maybe go a bit stale?

‘We believe we’re sandwiched in the middle. We can give them something Championsh­ip teams can’t, League One teams can’t — we can give them Europe, we can give them 50,000 crowds. It’s a unique carrot.’

If Edmundson can successful­ly combine his ball-playing tendencies with the physicalit­y and mentality needed to perform for Rangers then he is likely to attract further attention down the line.

Gerrard understand­s the market may ultimately dictate but, as a one-club man during his own playing career, insists the pull of playing in Glasgow should not be underestim­ated.

He added: ‘Sometimes people disrespect the size of the Old Firm clubs. I get asked that question quite a lot about players, even guys like Alfredo Morelos — how far can they go?

‘Sometimes players are content to see out their career here and understand and respect the size of the club they’re representi­ng.

‘George really appreciate­s every moment of being contracted to Rangers. This was a “wow” moment in his life — he got the opportunit­y to sign a long-term deal here and come from Oldham to a club this size. It was huge for him and his family.

‘I spoke to his mum and dad and they were extremely proud, and I see it in his eyes every day, he really wants to make this work.

‘I’m conscious of protecting him and not putting pressure on him. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he became a mainstay of this club for a long time, if that’s what he wants.’

 ??  ?? ON THE UP: Edmundson scored in the win over Hibs and Gerrard (below) is happy with his progress
ON THE UP: Edmundson scored in the win over Hibs and Gerrard (below) is happy with his progress
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