Rangers last week appointed Graeme Murty as manager until the end of the season, with director of football, Mark Allen, confirming that he will be given the final say on any incoming signings in January.
The arrival of the former Manchester City academy director heralded the assembly of a robust scouting network for the first time since Rangers’ demise in 2012.
Unlike Ally McCoist and Pedro Caixinha, and to a certain extent, Mark Warburton, who relied heavily on associate Frank McParland’s English contacts, Murty will have a range of resources at his disposal.
Rangers have struggled to find the personnel to occupy the role of the most advanced midfielder, while the left wing berth remains an area of experiment since the departure of Barrie McKay. So the strong rumours that a deal for Brighton winger Jamie Murphy is in the offing comes as no surprise.
As someone who can operate as a conventional wide player on either wing of a 4-4-2, or in any of the three positions behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, as well as spearheading the attack itself, the flexibility he offers would give Murty a lot more options with his squad – one in which he clearly doesn’t trust those currently occupying the bench.
At 28, and likely to command a transfer fee north of £1m, Murphy does not represent the optimum profile for Rangers in terms of sell-on value, but this may be one of the markets they target: players with an emotional connection to the club who otherwise would be outwith their reach.
A crucial part of the squad that clinched promotion to the Premier League last season, the 51 starts he made in two Championship campaigns following his move from Sheffield United have been reduced to just four appearances this term.
The summer acquisition of £13.5m José Izquierdo has relegated him in the pecking order, while Izzy Brown and Solly March have also been preferred since making the step up to the top-flight, but he still possesses qualities that represent as safe a purchase as Rangers could make at the present moment.
Murphy has the right temperament and is a player that one imagines would have fitted into Walter Smith’s template of what he looks for in a wide player.
The complaint from many Rangers fans about lower league signings Warburton swamped the squad with was that their mentality had always been used to mid-table mediocrity at their former clubs.
Murphy, on the other hand, has been competing at the top end of the Championship for two years, ending in promotion, reached two play-offs and notched a goal and an assist in an FA cup semi-final with Sheffield United. At Motherwell, where he broke through as a youth, he helped the club to second and third place finishes, won a Scottish Cup runners-up medal, and played in a Europa League play-off match as well as a Champions League third-round qualifier.
Murphy won’t be the creative hub Rangers fans are craving now that Graeme Dorrans is set for an extended period on the sidelines, but he would add a consistency of performance absent in a large portion of the squad, an urgency often missing in the build-up play and a positivity missing in many of the attacking options.
The Scot is at his best in transition, where he can latch onto loose balls and drive into space, but Rangers’ difficulty is in breaking down packed defences so his skillset doesn’t represent the silver bullet to Rangers’ woes.
Under Chris Hughton, Murphy was utilised mostly on the left of a 4-4-2, where his starting position when receiving the ball saw him maintain the width of the side.
Naturally right-footed, he tends to cut inside more often than not, but he is not so one dimensional that his first touch automatically brings him inwards. He likes to receive it on the back foot where he can square up the full-back and draws pressure if he does decide to dribble into central areas.
Murphy has a similar physique and gait to that of fellow Rangers target Jamie Walker, but he is less explosive and doesn’t have pace that will regularly eliminate full-backs in 1v1 situations. The examples of when he does ghost by full-backs comes with a drop of the shoulder and a simple knock of the ball either side.
He relies on combination play and an intelligent perception of space, which presents an interesting dynamic when looking at how he would function with captain, Lee Wallace, who will become available for selection in the near future after a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury.
Since Warburton poached McKay, there has been an imbalance in the Rangers side in terms of the source of creativity. The cross-heavy tactics this season have seen Rangers attempt the most in the league with 421, but 66.98% of them have been from the right flank of James Tavernier and Daniel Candeias.
While the instructions to those occupying the opposite wing have been less focused on delivering from wide areas, Wallace and Josh Windass didn’t strike up a great partnership in the early part of the season, while Declan John’s partnership showed only fleeting moments of promise.
The addition of Murphy wouldn’t redress this disparity in one foul swoop as he averaged 3.11 crosses a game with a success rate of 29.5% last season compared to Candeias’ league-high 7.58, but it would add a variance to Rangers’ play, even if crossing isn’t his strength.
He is very one-footed and lacks trickery to create a yard of space 1v1. From a standing start his acceleration over a few yards can help him create room to deliver an inswinging cross, but if he goes on the outside there is usually a momentary delay to set himself before he chips in the cross with his weaker foot.
Wallace is a cerebral player who relies on connections with the inside central midfielder and an intelligent wide player who compliments his regular well-timed overlaps.
His crossing is one of the weaker parts of his game, but circulating the ball and reading the movement of his more skillful teammates is why he is so effective at penetrating the channel to reach the byeline. In order to get the best out of him, he needs someone who is direct to provide balance to his more considered approach.
Murphy is a similarly efficient player in the sense that he is rarely wasteful, but he also commonly drops into full-back positions to pick up the ball.
Under Warburton, Wallace occasionally took up a midfield position or drifted forward into the half-space when the left centre-half had split to receive the ball, allowing the winger to drop into the full-back area. Rangers are too comfortable conceding possession through long balls as their structure when building play leaves them little options other than to go back to Wes Foderingham, so this is a detail I hope is incorporated back into the side.
Murphy judges his movements smartly in relation to his full-back as his sense of space sees a variation in the way he gets on the ball.
Brighton were big advocates of the diagonal switch from their centre-halves, and Murphy was often the recipient of these. With Bruno Alves and Danny Wilson possessing a good range of passing, this could be the situation where he is give the most space rather than getting bogged down against a low-block.
As noted, during conventional build-up play he will stick to the touchline, but as the full-back progresses forward he will often drift inside and check backwards to receive if the space has been vacated centrally.
If the centre of the park happens to be crowded but the full-back pushes up out of possession, he will curve his run inside to offer a passing option and free up space in the channel as his movement drags the full-back inside.
Murphy likes to constantly force his opposite number to make decision as to whether they should pass him on or follow him into alien areas of the park, which is why he often continues such runs parallel to the direction of the play.
His lateral movements between the midfield and defence offer the chance to receive the ball facing goal and on the run, but the fluidity of these movements will usually see these evolve into penetrative runs.
Windass is the only player who offers a threat in behind for Rangers, and teams find it too easy to defend in a low block at Ibrox as the play is always in front of them.
Murphy, much like Steven Naismith, does a lot of his good work as the third-man runner, but he is very much a selfless runner.
On the counter, his speed over long distance is a potent weapon when in possession, but his decision making is rational when he is a pawn in a move too.
His innate awareness of space and understanding of how to exploit openings is displayed in the decoy runs he makes which go unappreciated.
Murphy’s movement extends to penetrating runs where he will spin in a deep position and purposefully run into space. His appreciation of distance is shown too when he sets off on the outside of his full-back is driving forward.
On the rare occasion Murphy finds himself on the right wing, he tends to drive inside and link up with the striker rather than driving down the outside as may be be logically expected.
He is effusively positive, and while he may not possess great individual skill, his natural inclination to play forward and pass into the striker’s feet would be a welcome addition to the Rangers squad.
The rotation between he and Windass could be effective as the latter has show that he is capable of flashes in both areas, but it is Morelos who needs more service into his feet and Murphy could thrive off the angles created when he plays the ball into the Colombian at the edge of the box and continues his run.
If he is playing as the lone striker or even as one of two, he shows a deceptively good use of his body to hold the ball up by making his base wide and lowering his centre of gravity before tensing as the contact comes from behind.
Murphy is difficult to knock off the ball and he relies on his sharpness to aid him in that regard. His dribbling technique sees him continually taking small touches to manipulate the ball out of reach of the player confronting him, which often draws the foul.
On a defensive note, Rangers’ Achilles heel this season has been their inability to defend crosses. Tavernier’s athleticism helps him rank as the best of the bunch, but the struggle to stop it at source isn’t helped by the wide players deployed in front of the full-backs.
Candeias is lauded for his supposed workrate but a lot of his running is for show and ignores his tendency to ball-watch and allow the overlap in behind. Windass doesn’t enjoy that side of the game and has since been shifted to a forward position, while Niko Kranjcar contributes little going backwards.
The dearth of options at left midfield had seen a midfield diamond work well, but Murty strangely scrapped that formation to revert back to the 4-4-2 that had been Caixinha’s system. Last weekend, Murty resorted to pushing John forward one and shoehorn Lee Hodson in at full-back against Kilmarnock.
Murphy is diligent in carrying out his defensive responsibilities and is as intense in his workrate tracking back as he is when going forward. His role on the left of a mid-block under Hughton would be very similar to the one he would occupy at Ibrox and would offer much more protection to Wallace or John.
Murphy would be expected to take on the mantle of being one of the senior players and with it, make an immediate impact. His match sharpness may need a bit of work due to his lack of playing time this season.
He is nowhere near prolific, as his 9% conversion rate attested to last season, and he can be guilty of telegraphing his finishes or getting the ball caught under his feet, and has only reached double figures in two campaigns: in 2014/15 when he bagged 11 for Sheffield United, and in 2012/13 when he scored 10 in the first half of the season at Fir Park before moving to England in the January.
Nevertheless, he is as talented a homegrown player as Rangers are likely to afford and he would add a solidity to the shape and a directness that has been lacking at Ibrox.
Murphy would represent a similar purchase to Dorrans in that he understands the stature of the club and has developed in a tougher league than the one he will be entering.
His age won’t help Rangers to become self-sustainable but if they wish to reduce the gulf between themslves and Celtic on the park while the astronomical financial chasm exists, then this may be the best tactic to accompany the purchases of high-potential players like Morelos.