Speaking to the This Is Ibrox podcast, former Rangers manager Mark Warburton has made some remarkable claims about Niko Kranjcar’s fitness and ability levels leading up to and during his stint with the club.
Warburton brought the 81-cap Croatia international to the club from New York Cosmos in 2016, in the hope that he would be able to help the Gers close the gap to Celtic.
He stands by the transfer on the basis of the player’s high ability levels, yet, admits he knew he was well short of prime fitness.
“I went to New York to get Niko, and I knew he was a stone and a bit overweight,” said Warburton on the This Is Ibrox podcast. “I wanted him to come back and get fit to impact – but the best technician, one of the very best Rangers will have seen, of all the great players they’ve had. Niko was, technically, outstanding.”
“We did the first pre-season session in Charleston and Kenny Miller said to me ‘What a player this boy is, the best I’ve seen.”
“But, of course, he was past his best. He had 80-odd caps for Croatia. If he wasn’t past his best, would we get him on a free on really low wages? It wouldn’t happen.”
To his credit, Warburton speaks very openly in this interview. Nonetheless, it’s a major claim to assert that Kranjcar was up there with the likes of Gascoigne and Laudrup in terms of his technical ability.
For Rangers fans, that may be hard to imagine given that they didn’t see a great deal of him on the pitch across his 18-month stint in Glasgow.
Kranjcar suffered a series of injuries and made only eight league starts, scoring a solitary Premiership goal against Partick Thistle in October 2016.
It will also be difficult to stomach that a Gers boss settled for bringing in a player he knew was some way off peak condition. Yet, Warburton points to a very tight budget as a major limiting factor in the transfer market and defends Kranjcar’s professionalism after his arrival as second to none.
The Croatian was certainly an impressive Premier League midfielder in his 20s but he simply wasn’t able to inject enough quality into the Rangers ranks during his time with the club.