DEAN SHIELS had the footballing world at his feet.
Or at least he was a free agent who had clubs such as Danish champions Nordsjaelland and Bundesliga 2 side SSV Jahn Regensburg vying for his services. At 27, he is approaching his peak as an athlete, and last season saw him secure a rare major trophy with Kilmarnock, receive a nomination from his peers as the finest professional in Scotland and secure a well-earned international recall. So why yesterday was he committing to spending possibly the next four years of his professional life in the lower reaches of the Scottish game?
"I have joined because of the club it is and it is Glasgow Rangers," Shiels said. "They are one of the biggest clubs in the world and they also have one of the biggest fan bases in the game. Yes, we had options but I didn't have options with clubs the size of this if I am being honest.
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"It is a great opportunity for me to try to take this club back to where it belongs. One of the reasons why I signed a long-term contract is because I want to be playing in the SPL with Rangers. By signing for the four years, hopefully, I will get the chance to do that."
It is only in recent times that the transfer situation at the club has been clarified, but Shiels had no shortage of advice heading in his direction as he weighed up his decision this summer. He has been in touch with Michael O'Neill, the Northern Ireland manager, "all summer", with the former Brechin City coach "nothing but supportive throughout the process".
Then there were regular chats with his club manager, confidant and father Kenny. "He kept telling me to sign for Kilmarnock," Shiels said. "No, obviously, because of the financial constraints at Kilmarnock they weren't in a position to offer me a contract that put them in more debt, or one they couldn't afford."
But this was much more than just a hard-headed business decision for a player who was a boyhood fan of the oldco Rangers and spent his childhood surrounded by many more. He went to matches and admired the abilities of his manager, not to mention the Jorg Albertz and Paul Gascoigne eras.
"I am from a Rangers community," said Shiels. "I have friends who are fans and I grew up in a Rangers area. I have some friends who are season ticket holders and come over on the boat every weekend. I have grown up with Rangers. My memories of the manager are mostly of him celebrating all the time – he seemed to score every week and I want some of that myself.
"The one thing that stuck in my mind is that, when I was at Kilmarnock last year, we played Rangers just after they went into administration. We were beating them one nil, we scored in the first half – but I've never seen an atmosphere like that. They were bouncing for 90 minutes. That always stuck with me and I thought that, if they were going to be like that at a time like this, it would be great to be part of the club one day."
One last piece of advice came from family friend Steven Davis, even if the latter's departure for Southampton deprives the two international team-mates of the chance to share an Ibrox midfield together. "Steve and me have been very good friends since we were nine," Shiels added. "He's only got good things to say about this club and I know, from speaking to him all summer, that it was a big wrench for him to leave."
Shiels follows Ian Black as the second signing at The Rangers Training Ground – newly named – this season, and is likely to have some more company sooner rather than later. With the clock ticking until the club's year-long transfer embargo kicks in on September 1, Ally McCoist – who has already re-signed Andy Mitchell, Chris Hegarty and Kamil Wiktorski – confirmed last night that the club had made a contract offer to Craig Beattie, and were hopeful of keeping hold of Carlos Bocanegra and Dorin Goian, two international centre-backs, while talks would continue today about a number of transfer targets.
One of them may yet be Robbie Savage, after the Strictly Come Dancing star and BBC pundit tweeted that he would be meeting McCoist today to discuss a move as an emergency loan signing.
"If anything did come out of it, it would be for emergencies [such as] suspensions, injuries, but [I] still don't think it will happen!" Savage wrote. "If it does I'll hopefully be doing Rangers a good turn in a time of trouble and it won't cost them a penny!"
"Charles [Green, the chief executive] has spoken to Craig Beattie's agent and he made him offer," McCoist said. "As yet I have not heard back from him or from Craig but hopefully I will do in the next 24 hours."
Shiels, who deserves huge credit for having such a career despite playing with a glass eye following a childhood accident, may not have envisaged joining the club under these circumstances, but feels the third division trophy may not be the only silverware the club will be lifting this season.
"Whether it is the Ramsdens Cup or the Scottish Cup we will be trying to win it," the Northern Irishman said. "There is already quality in the dressing room and I am sure we can compete."