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Walter Promises Youth – Who to look out for?



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Rangers manager Walter Smith has admitted youth will get its chance next season at Ibrox as the SPL Champions face tough times with debt problems. The exact figure of the debt has been disguised in recent months after reports suggested Rangers could face a huge tax bill from HMRC which could double, maybe even triple, Rangers’ debts which were around £25m about 6 months ago.

With the Rangers supporters growing increasingly frustrated and angry at the current major shareholder Sir David Murray, a small ray of positive light could shine on Edmiston Drive next season with the promise of some new talent emerging on the Ibrox pitch.

On Sunday afternoon, Rangers took part in their opening pre-season match against Queen of the South in which Kenny Miller’s goal was all that separated the two teams, but the overall result was shadowed by the fine performances from a few youngsters making the step up in the Rangers first-team.

Nine Rangers youngsters made an appearance yesterday with them all coming off the bench at Palmerston Park. With Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Chris Burke and Steven Smith just some of the names who have progressed from the Rangers youth teams, here are some of the players to watch out for in the famous Rangers shirt next season:

Danny Wilson – Defender

The 18-year-old central defender made his first-team debut back in 2009 against Unirea Urziceni in the Champions League and produced an excellent performance when just 17. Wilson replaced Bougherra for a large spell of last season in the heart of the Rangers defence and had a solid partnership with captain David Weir.

The classy centre-back, similar to Frank De Boer in his attributes, made his second appearance in the Champions League against VFB Stuttgart and stifled the £10m Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak. He also made his first appearance in the hotbed Old Firm atmosphere as the Gers went to Celtic Park with a few regulars missing and Wilson showed real character to survive a Celtic onslaught to leave with a 1-1 draw.

Wilson has recieved strong interest from Liverpool this summer, but since Rafael Benitez departed for Italy, that speculation has cooled down and the young defender will be hoping to challenge Weir, Bougherra and Webster for a first-team jersey this season.

John Fleck – Midfielder

Fleck has been in and out of the Rangers first-team since emerging back in 2008/2009 and scoring his first Rangers goal against Dundee United at Ibrox. It was a situation which optimised Fleck as a player, collecting the ball at the halfway line and marauding through the Dundee United defence before being fouled inside the box and the fiery midfielder showed immense character to slot home the penalty.

The 18-year-old is your typical “No.10” and he has real potential to make the grade at Ibrox this season. Perhaps, you could argue he is being halted in his progression by the pragmatic boss Smith, but Fleck has became a growing favourite at Ibrox for his creative displays. In the first-team, Fleck has mainly played as a left-sided midfielder but naturally he is a second-striker or attacking midfielder and this is where his glowing performances made him one of the most highly-rated youngsters in the UK.

His sturdy and stocky build, combined with quick feet and good movement make him a handful for opposition defences and Fleck has contributed with numerous assists whenever he has featured in the first-team. Many punters are claiming this is make or break for Fleck, but as an 18-year-old with bags of ability and a real desire for Rangers, time is most certainly on his side.

Gregg Wylde – Defender

The 19-year-old has already made two sub appearances for the first-team against Hearts and Hamilton last season. Wylde naturally is a left full-back and has played there regularly for the Rangers Under 19s but Walter Smith deployed him as a left-sided midfielder on both occasions he featured in the first-team.

Wylde has blistering pace and his directness in possession has grown on the Rangers support with many fans asking for him to be played as a left-winger regularly next season. Having seen Wylde a number of times, both for the first-team and the Under 19s, he definitely has a big future ahead of him and could find himself a regular next season at left-back with Bosnian defender Sasa Papac’s contract running out next summer.

Wylde could be compared with Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra in terms of size and attributes and his ability to support any attack from left-back is something which has caught the eye in his early career.

Thomas Kind Bendiksen – Midfielder

The Norweigan midfielder can be viewed on YouTube casually showing his ‘keepie-uppie’ skills with a tennis ball, but the highly-rated youngster finally made his Rangers debut yesterday in the 1-0 pre-season win. The 20-year-old, who joined Rangers in 2007 from Halstad, is a cultured midfielder who was rewarded for his fine performances in the youth side with a spot on the bench against Hibernian in April.

Bendiksen was part of the U19 squad which lifted the Scottish Youth Cup against Celtic at Hampden, but a long-term knee injury stalled his promising career and he returned to competitive action last season. It is highly likely the talented midfielder will fly out to Australia with the first-team squad for pre-season.

Alongside these four youngsters are the talented midfielders Jamie Ness and Stephen Stirling, who are likely to find themselves further down the pecking order. Ness and Stirling have already featured in the Rangers squad with several appearances on the bench and are ones to watch for the future.

Ness has a very tidy left-foot and excellent passing ability, while Stirling has good timing in making runs into the penalty area and is a fine striker of the ball. With more experience through going out on loan, Jordan McMillan and Andrew Shinnie return for pre-season with high hopes of pressing the current regulars for a first-team shirt.

McMillan signed a new 2-year-deal this summer and after stints with Queen of the South and Hamilton, the defender will be looking to become Steven Whittaker’s replacement if he picked up any injuries. Shinnie had a successful spell at Dundee but finds himself in a tough tussle for a central-midfield start.

For sure, the future looks bleak for Rangers off the pitch and action must be taken against the major shareholder Sir David Murray, who seems to be killing the SPL Champions month by month like a bad illness. The future of the club could lie within the hands of the supporters, who are weighing up a potential fan ownership model but on the pitch the signs look bright despite a number of high-profile players leaving the club as a talented group of youngsters will be determined to fill their positions.