THE clock is ticking for Rangers. Time will tell whether the January window can be considered an opportunity seized or one missed.

It is not a case of sticking or twisting for the champions. It is more one of speculating to accumulate and the business that must be completed in the final hours of the month is the same that was evident in the opening days of it.

The unfortunate loss of Ianis Hagi may have focused minds amongst supporters but money always had to be spent on the Rangers attack. In the coming days, we will see just what outlay the Ibrox board sanction to give Giovanni van Bronckhorst the best possible chance of finishing what he has started so impressively.

Rangers would move swiftly to add James Sands to Van Bronckhorst’s ranks as he completed a loan switch from New York City earlier this month. Midfield may not have been a pressing area of concern in terms of numbers, but Van Bronckhorst had long sought to add a different kind of option to his squad and the signing of Sands has only increased the competition for places.

That same scenario could play out at centre-back before the window closes and Rangers remain keen to bring John Souttar to Ibrox a couple of months ahead of schedule.

Agreeing terms with the Scotland centre-back was a coup for the champions given the interest that Souttar had south of the border. Doing a deal with Hearts may prove trickier but it still seems a natural arrangement to come to and the defender could now have the title in his sights this term.

Rangers would certainly be stronger with Sands and Souttar on board but the final deal could be decisive in the title race. Given what is at stake – both in terms of the silverware and the financial ramifications – it is a move that Van Bronckhorst and Ross Wilson, the sporting director, cannot afford to get wrong.

As it stands, Van Bronckhorst’s squad is still the best in the Premiership. Right now, Rangers are still favourites to go on and retain their title this term.

But there is little margin for error and nothing can be taken for granted at Ibrox. As a result, it was no surprise that Van Bronckhorst would open the door for another signing to be made after seeing Hagi forced to go under the knife this week.

It has been clear for some time that Rangers needed an alternative option to be utilised on the right flank. That has – regardless of form or injuries – not changed.

Hagi has filled that role more often than not during Van Bronckhorst’s first matches as manager but the Romanian has never been a natural fit for the position.

While Ryan Kent has provided width and pace down the left, Rangers have at times felt lopsided in the final third. Hagi has his qualities, but they are different to those of Kent.

The 23-year-old has never been blessed with natural speed. He is rarely seen bursting beyond an opponent over a couple of yards and he is not as electrifying a presence as Kent, Fashion Sakala or Scott Wright in the final third.

He does have a touch and a vision that sets him apart from his fellow forwards, however, and there is no doubt that he is a gifted operator, a player who can make the difference in a split-second and become a match winner.

Yet he has become a frustrating figure this season. A return of four goals and four assists from 27 appearances is not poor, but there is no doubt that Hagi is capable of better.

He possesses the talent to be a hugely influential figure for Rangers but a lack of consistency has permeated his Ibrox career and the cruel knee injury sustained against Stirling Albion last Friday has now temporarily halted it.

“I’m excited and motivated to start this journey that lies ahead of me,” Hagi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening, just hours after Van Bronckhorst had revealed the news that he had played his final game of the campaign for club or country.

“I know there will be some tough times ahead of me as well but I definitely see this as an opportunity to discover and develop myself as a person and football player, and will come back better than ever. The road to recovery begins.”

There have been times when his form has clearly troubled him and that mentality, the desire to strive and to succeed, will continue to stand him in good stead as he now embarks on the road to recovery and aims to return to action next season.

Supporters have had reason to criticise Hagi – for his decision making, for his passing and for his finishing – at times this term. His fortitude can rarely be questioned, however, and he has the character and the attitude that is a prerequisite of all integral players at Ibrox.

Such qualities will now have to be present in the man that takes Hagi’s place and Rangers can lay down a marker of their top flight intentions with their next bit of business.

January can be a notoriously difficult time to recruit quality instead of quantity. In an ideal world, cash would have been saved for the summer when Rangers are set to face an extensive rebuild and begin the next phase of the squad evolution.

The Ibrox board cannot afford to gamble, however. If Hagi is not replaced and a clear issue addressed, the risk is that it will all backfire spectacularly on the champions.

For so many reasons, that is a situation that Rangers simply cannot afford and that is why the work of Van Bronckhorst and Wilson in the coming days is so important, both for the remainder of the campaign and the next few seasons to follow.

The deadline is fast approaching. Come Monday night, Rangers’ destiny will be set and placed in the hands of those within the Ibrox squad.