RANGERS fans have been encouraged by the recruitment of their two latest signings, Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe, as the club look to push on in the second half of the season and make their first serious title tilt in years. Steven Gerrard has clearly prioritised bringing in experienced players as they attempt to break up Celtic’s seven-year Premiership dominance and, it must be said, his approach appears to be paying dividends.

This is probably a sensible idea, given the fact that Rangers are probably performing better than most punters expected at the start of the season; if you had offered Gerrard the option of Rangers being level on points with Celtic at this stage of the season, albeit having played one more game than their rivals, he would have snapped your hand off in all likelihood.

In the context of this season, then, bringing in seasoned professionals makes perfect sense. Rangers are desperate to pry the league title away from Celtic Park and this campaign has presented a fantastic opportunity to do so. Bringing in players in the twilight of their careers - particularly ones with plenty of big-game experience - is a pragmatic course of action.

Having said that, this approach continues a worrying trend that has become the status quo at Ibrox for the best part of a decade. Time and time again, promising youth prospects are denied a path to the first team, have their contracts terminated or are sold once they begin to demonstrate any sort of consistent ability to perform.

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There are exceptions, of course. Glenn Middleton has broken into the first team this season and has gave a good account of himself for a player enjoying his first season in senior football. Likewise, Ross McCrorie was thrown in at the deep end last campaign, making his debut in an Old Firm and has featured semi-regularly since.

But these cases are few and far between. Ever since their promotion to the Premiership, Rangers have consistently favoured bringing in players at the end of their careers, rather than giving their homegrown talents a fair crack of the whip. It’s easy to see why, given the absolute necessity from Rangers’ perspective to stop Celtic winning ten-in-a-row. It’s a seductive mindset; Rangers don’t have time to lose, and playing youth academy graduates is a gamble. Why field a player who might take 20 games until he’s performing consistently when you can bring someone in who’ll be up to speed after five?

The problem is, the situation isn’t as black and white as that. While some of the Ibrox club’s older signings like Allan McGregor have been undoubtedly successful, there are others like Joey Barton, Bruno Alves or Clint Hill who have failed to live up to expectations. In short, bringing in an older head works some of the time, but is no guarantee of success in and of itself.

In the previous decade, Rangers had a number of youth team players that graduated to the first team and held their own there, and in many instances ended up moving on in multi-million pound deals. McGregor, Chris Burke, Charlie Adam, Alan Hutton, Danny Wilson… the list goes on and on. Players were given an opportunity, and while they didn’t all work out, there are plenty of examples of those that thrived when given the chance.

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Now, it seems as if any promising prospect coming out of Murray Park will struggle to feature regularly for the Ibrox club and the ones that do end up leaving. Barrie McKay and Lewis MacLeod were moved on when respectable but hardly mouth-watering fees were dangled in front of the Rangers board and have both shown since that they are of a high enough standard to have featured regularly for the Rangers first team.

David Bates is another who caught the eye when he broke into the first team at Ibrox and ended up moving on, reportedly because the club wouldn’t offer him as much money as his eventual employers Hamburg. While finances undoubtedly play a role in negotiations like these, one can’t help but wonder how Rangers could find the cash to have Bruno Alves on board for a season, but couldn’t find the money to keep a highly-rated prospect at the club. Especially one who continues to develop at an encouraging rate and is now a fully-fledged Scotland international, capped a few months after leaving Ibrox.

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Then there are others, like Livingston pair Liam Kelly and Craig Halkett, who have proven to be excellent additions to the Scottish Premiership and are more than capable of holding their own at this level. Kelly moved for a nominal fee in the summer after spending an entire season without an appearance at Rangers last year and has been one of this year’s breakout stars in the top flight. Similarly, Halkett has only gone from strength to strength and is now one of the league’s most consistent defenders. Both could have made the grade at Rangers, yet both were moved on for next to nothing.

Ryan Hardie is another who has acquitted himself well in West Lothian and with his loan expiring at the start of the month, has returned to Glasgow. Time will tell if he’s given the gametime to develop, but with Defoe, Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty all ahead of him in the queue to the first team, it’s unlikely he’ll feature too much between now and the end of the season, if he remains at Ibrox at all.

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Even McCrorie, who performed admirably in his debut season for Rangers, looks to have been knocked down the pecking order after Davis’ arrival. Rangers have no shortage of central midfielders with Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack, Graham Dorrans, Lassana Coulibaly, Andy Halliday, Jordan Rossiter and now Davis all vying for the three starting positions available and one can’t help but feel that it will be McCrorie who suffers from this abundance of options for Gerrard. Last season, McCrorie started 19 league fixtures for the Light Blues; this season, he’s started six.

For as long as Rangers focus on bringing in experienced professionals, youth academy graduates will continue to struggle for precious experience playing for the senior side. Talents have been squandered or ignored for years and until there is a change in transfer strategy at the club, this will continue indefinitely. Bringing in the likes of Davis and Defoe will likely be beneficial in the short term - and, as already stated, is the prudent thing to do in the context of this season - but in the long term, only raises one question. What is the point in Murray Park if players aren’t given a chance?