When Pedro Caixinha lavished praise on the latest Murray Park graduate to break into the Rangers first-team back in September, his comments were taken with a pinch of salt by most in the mainstream Scottish media.
The Portuguese manager built up an unwanted reputation during his short spell in charge at Ibrox and was well known for his peculiar proverbs, none more so than the now infamous saying ‘the dogs bark and the caravan keeps going.’
But after Ross McCrorie’s impressive debut for the senior side in a League Cup quarter-final match against Partick Thistle just eight months ago, Caixinha may just have stumbled upon the real lasting note of his reign.
“Ross McCrorie is going to be one of the best centre-halves in history, not just for this club but for this country,” Caixinha emphatically pronounced.
While potential legendary status for a player with less than 45 minutes top-flight experience at the time was far-fetched to say the least, McCrorie has certainly displayed the qualities which led his then manager to tip him for the very top of the game.
The 19-year-old has gone from academy prospect to first-team regular, establishing himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet and an important part of former interim boss Graham Murty’s plans before he was removed from his position near the end of season.
McCrorie is sure to be a mainstay in incoming manager Steven Gerrard’s new look team next season and his development has been remarkable.
Since his brief introduction at Firhill as a late substitute for Bruno Alves, McCrorie went on to feature in 23 games in his debut season, starting all but three.
His early form at the base of a narrow midfield diamond helped Rangers to four successive wins for the first time in 2017 before Christmas, bringing solidity and skill to the middle of the park that had been sorely missing.
A near three-month injury lay-off after the winter break, coupled with a dip in form on his return to fitness, followed what had been a very promising start to his Rangers career.
However, the teenager has excelled as a ball-playing centre-half capable of stepping into defensive midfield and his physical presence combined with his ability on the ball complements the talents of Jason Holt and Ryan Jack, while allowing Josh Windass greater attacking freedom.
The Rangers midfield has already been strengthened further with the addition of Scott Arfield, while the return from long-term injury of Graham Dorrans and Jordan Rossiter adds to the options, but McCrorie was undoubtedly the standout in an uninspiring 2017/18 season.
Strength in the air, fearlessness in tackles and an excellent range of passing have excited fans and drawn plaudits from across the country. The youngster was voted fans player of the month for November and rewarded for his consistency with a new four-and-a-half-year deal, along with his twin brother, goalkeeper Robbie.
A disappointing red card in the 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic in April could have forced the youngster’s season to peter out. Instead, he bounced back with an important equaliser against Aberdeen at Pittodrie three weeks later, a sign of his strength of character and determination, traits which have endeared him to fans desperate for a glimmer of hope in a season bereft of positive results and performances.
Having spent time on loan at Dumbarton in 2016/17, the jump-up from Championship level to Old Firm games has not fazed McCrorie with several assured performances belying his age.
Since the Mark Warburton era, it has been clear that Rangers have been crying out for a commanding midfielder. Joey Barton’s ill-fated spell has been well documented after he was brought in to fill that exact role. Other names were linked with moves to fit the specific profile; a strong, powerful and imposing figure.
In McCrorie, Rangers may just have found the answer to their problems and although international stardom remains a long way-off, the latest talented teen to come out of the much-maligned Auchenhowie definitely has a bright future ahead of him for club and country.
Pedro Caixinha might just have been right about something after all…