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Spiers on Sport: The lost generation of young Rangers players

Despite the cultivation of youth appearing to be a necessity at Rangers FC, the club continues to toil in that area, as events repeatedly show.

This week there is angst among some Rangers fans at the prospect of Charlie Telfer, a gifted young midfielder, ditching the club in favour of a move to Dundee United.

"Okay, so we are a feeder club for Dundee United now, are we?" one Rangers fan commented caustically.

Jackie McNamara, the United manager, is perfectly clear in his view: he believes Charlie Telfer is an outstanding prospect. At Rangers, the same view appears to be a bit more hazy.

At 18, and despite an age of financial cuts at his club, Telfer has made only a negligible impression on Rangers manager Ally McCoist in terms of his Ibrox first-team opportunities.

Instead McCoist has favoured tried-and-tested ex-SPL yeomen, such as Jon Daly, Nicky Law, Ian Black and Stevie Smith, as Rangers attempt to steamroller their way to a place in the SPFL Premiership. For some Rangers fans it has been an abysmal policy.

Telfer today is said to be on the brink of joining Dundee United, and has already been to visit the Tayside club and speak to McNamara at United's training complex in St Andrews.

Whether the young player's starring role in Tuesday night's Scottish Youth Cup final for Rangers will make McCoist or his parent club change their attitude towards him is a moot point.

Rangers' argument is, they want Telfer to stay, and plan to offer him a new contract. The youngster's view appears to be, well, if this club wants me, they've gone a funny way of showing it.

This Telfer saga cuts right to the root of a recurring theme about Rangers under McCoist. The manager, admittedly in a dire situation at the club, has a safety-first policy, within which youth gets little chance in his Rangers teams.

Upon the re-launch of Rangers FC following liquidation many Ibrox fans saw the chance for a clean slate: a team built on youth, which could be organically grown from within, with an Ibrox fanbase appreciating what they saw in front of them and giving the policy their full backing.

But that philosophy appeared to be lost on McCoist and the club. Instead, the sign went up: 'Wanted: tried and tested journeymen for the road ahead. Experience essential. Must have miles on the clock."

As Rangers beaver their way to the top flight, it has left many of the club's supporters looking on in dismay. If Telfer duly leaves it will be one further last straw.

Admittedly, these arguments around Rangers and McCoist are not completely straightforward. Had McCoist gone with youth far more, he might have run a greater risk of slowing the club's progress on the field.

A youthful Rangers team would be fitful, erratic, and learning as it went along. Its performances, almost without question, would have lacked "consistency", to quote Walter Smith's all-time favourite word. At times, as gifted as they can be, youth players can perform naively on the field.

On the other hand, Rangers have found themselves in the lower mudflats of the Scottish game. They have hardly been taking on Manchester United every week.

The question is, was a youth policy not worth trying at Rangers? For one thing, it would have saved on some of these ludicrous salaries at Ibrox. Second, it is hard to believe that a Rangers team of one or two Charlie Telfers would have played any worse than the current, grim lot.

McCoist chose not to take the risk. Instead of winning the lower league races by 10 or 12 points, he wanted the sheer security of 25 points-plus margins. That was his chosen path. To be risk-free.

Well, it's too late now. Barring a sudden eruption of young talent at Ibrox, next year's fraught Championship race will be no place for any wet-eared Rangers youngsters. The chance of youth has been squandered.

Next season at Ibrox really will be about the Blacks, Dalys et al attempting to boss their way into the top flight.

The young and talented Charlie Telfer, meanwhile, is wondering where to go next.

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Football

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