As part of a weekly piece (ok, ok – I missed a week, my apologies!), I’d like to reflect on players who should have been better for us – with everything that’s went on in the past 5 years, and the barrels we’ve scraped in terms of players in the shirt, we may even find that some of these “failures” will be seen in a different light!
This week, as we enjoy all the transfer rumours and new signings, we’ll go for some happy memories and remember Michael Mols.
Mols was a £4m signing from FC Utrecht in 1999. Dick Advocaat had swept all aside in his first season, but despite spending loads on various areas of the pitch, the fans at the time still felt we lacked a top class striker. Rod Wallace had exceeded all expectations, but Amato hadn’t shown consistency, and Durie was never the sort of player we were looking for. We wanted that number nine.
The signing of Mols is almost a lesson in how we as fans should approach every signing. It was before the days of easy Youtube judgements and full knowledge of a player being discussed months before they’ve even signed. Most fans didn’t know much about the player before he joined us. I remember an article in the old Rangers News in which the reporter went to one of his last games for Utrecht to see him in action. At one point, a Utrecht fan told him “you have no idea what you’re signing”, and it proved to be absolutely correct.
Mols had won the Golden Boot in Holland, their equivalent of the Writers Player of the Year at this time. If most of us had seen him play beforehand, we’d have been very excited. However, given what we believed we were capable of signing, I remember there was a sense of almost disappointment, as we wanted a bigger name. In that sense, he came in with next to no expectations. He was allowed to show us what he was capable of, rather than be judged on what people felt he should do. That’s the lesson we should learn from it all. Players are too often brought in with a sense of what they should be doing before they’ve even kicked a ball, and good work can be ignored as they don’t do what’s expected in some way. I believe Ryan Jack will suffer from this from many, as he’s not tough tackling or aggressive, but he’s expected to be.
The competitive debut for Mols was a game away to FC Haka in the Champions League qualifiers. He scored twice, one of the goals giving us a glimpse of his ability. He scored on his league debut away to Hearts, and put four past Andy Goram for Motherwell at Ibrox. It was the games in Europe, though, where we really got excited by him.
We’d drawn Parma in the final qualifier for the Champions League. They had players like Buffon, Cannavaro, Thuram, Ortega, Dino Baggio – they were world class. We managed to beat them 2-1 over the tie, and Mols in particular gave them nightmares. His touch, pace, ability to turn (more on that later), link up play, all of it was amazing. He may not have scored in those ties, but he was one of the main reasons we got through. Whilst we struggled against a great Valencia side in general, Mols was excellent against PSV and Munich, especially in the home games.
After 9 games, by September, Mols had 9 goals. He was only to make another 11 appearances and score 4 more goals that season before everything changed.
We were away to Munich in the final Champions League game of our group. A draw would have seen us pip the German side to qualification. At 0-0, with Mols playing well and the team looking good, he chased a through ball. Oliver Khan came out of his box to get there too. The big keeper went in stronger, Mols tried to ride the challenge, and his knee buckled as he landed.
That injury cost him true legend status.
He should have went into the challenge harder. Maybe he should have just let the keeper clear it. Either way, any Rangers fan who remembers those days will look back with real sadness at that incident.
In the season after that, we started to struggle under Advocaat. Despite signing players like Ronald de Boer and Shota Arveladze, we tried to rush Mols back and it didn’t work. He scored 7 goals in 21 appearances, didn’t look as confident or effective, and got sent off in an Old Firm League Cup game in February and wasn’t seen for the rest of the season.
2001/02 wasn’t much better. Sporadic appearances, with injuries and his knee causing him to struggle. Only 2 goals scored over 24 appearances, and big changes as Advocaat “moved upstairs” and McLeish came in to try and salvage things.
Everything in 2002/03 was better, and that included Mols. He finally seemed to get himself fit enough to play regularly around the end of October that season, and became an integral part of a side which scored loads of goals and played good football. We won the treble that season, and Mols managed 14 goals over 35 appearances. One particular memory was a game against Dunfermline at Ibrox where he turned Scott Wilson inside out about 5 times before scoring. Wilson, who had trained with Mols during his time with Rangers, told the media that there was simply no way of stopping Mols even when you knew what was coming. Despite not being as good as he was pre-injury, he was still a joy to watch a lot of the time.
His final season with us was a bit of a struggle, for both Mols and the team. He kept himself fit enough to play more games than ever, but he managed only 12 goals in 46 appearances, even getting himself red-carded in his last match. That was almost a microcosm of his time with us – a frustrating, abrupt end when he deserved so much more.
When players come to Rangers, they’ll often be looked at as the new version of players past. Bruno Alves is already being compared to Amoruso, for example. One thing I don’t believe we’ll ever hear is a player described as the next Mols, though. His ability with his back to goal and the way he could turn was a gift I’ve never seen in any other player. Even after his injury slowed him down, most defenders had no answer for it. Without having to actually touch the ball, he could send a defender two steps in the wrong direction. If you tried to mimic his turn when you were dreaming of making it as a youngster, you were prone to hurting yourself. If we found a striker like that these days, he’d be a superstar.
And that’s what Mols could have been. He managed 6 caps for Holland, and could have had more. After leaving us, he went back to Utrecht and had spells with Den Haag and Feyenoord, but none of them really worked out well for him. We got the best of Mols, and even that was hampered by his unfortunate injuries.
It’s worth pointing out that maybe his initial form was something of a purple patch in terms of goalscoring, but his ability just wasn’t in question. The goals did slow down from those first 9 games, but his influence was huge. Many still believe if he hadn’t got injured, we’d have got the result we needed in Munich, and went even further in the Champions League.
Mols makes the “What Should Have Been” list because he deserved a better career than he had. He had the ability to be the striker we were crying out for back then, that one missing link that would have taken us further in Europe. If you consider that Negri was still at the club then as well, and the way he turned out, it’s even more of a missed opportunity. We could have had two very talented strikers playing together who would have complemented each other in playing style and scored loads. Instead, we got a brief glimpse of both with regards to their full ability. Whilst Negri just seemed to take the huff, Mols kept plugging away. He played through injuries and what must have been huge frustration to help us out. He never got the rewards overall that all of that should have provided.
What’s your memories of Michael Mols? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!