Go Go Nile Ranger…
Didn’t Paolo Di Canio always want to sign the elusive ‘nasty striker’? The Italian may have departed, but now a striker with an equally notorious reputation has joined Town as the No.9. The County Ground ‘welcomes’ former Newcastle United forward Nile Ranger. Writes Ron Smith.
Nile Ranger has some history. He started his career with the Crystal Palace youth academy before a move to Southampton. While at the south coast club, the 15-year-old Ranger was sentenced for his part in an armed street robbery – a reason why they let him go shortly after his release from spending 11 weeks in a young offenders’ institution. Afterwards, following a successful trial at Swindon Town – in which he scored in a win at Supermarine – Newcastle United reacted quickest to secure his signature in 2008. While at St James’ Park he would make 62 appearances, but had a return of three goals and even more off-the-pitch controversies, leading to his exit on Tyneside in March following this latest allegation.
Today, Ranger is on bail following a preliminary hearing having been accused and charged of raping of woman at a Newcastle upon Tyne hotel in January. The case has been adjourned until 21st October for Ranger’s plea; with a trial scheduled for the week commencing 20th January 2014. Nonetheless, Swindon Town have agreed to secure him to a one-year deal with an option of a second year, of course pending the court judgement…
With a signing such as Ranger’s there will always be a split between those angered by their club welcoming a player who they wouldn’t ever wish to see representing their community, and those solely concerned by the performances on the pitch and league position. Clearly no judgement can be made on the basis of the latest allegations as he’s innocent until proven guilty, but there is a degree of uncertainty whether Nile Ranger can mature as a man and a footballer and become a revitalised professional to perform to his natural ability.
Ranger made all but four of his 62 appearances for Newcastle United in his first two seasons as a pro between 2009/10 to 2010/11. It all went wrong in August 2011, as Ranger fell down the pecking order and by the end of the month he was arrested on suspicion of assault – a charge he was later found not guilty in October 2012. Thereafter followed a period of controversies: a conviction for being drunk and disorderly; an ill-judged pose in a photograph with a replica gun; and being fined by the FA for making homophobic comments on Twitter, to name a few. Of this long period out of the Magpie’s starting XI, Lee Ryder writing for ChronicleLive.co.uk says “Time after time he’d make a comeback through the reserves and time after time he’d make a vow to show the world he could change. Sadly, time after time, no sooner had his words appeared in print something else would go off in Newcastle.”
With a succession of issues over a troubled two years, this is the gamble which Swindon chairman Jed McCrory has been brave enough to take. Nile Ranger has again recognised he needs to change, saying “it is time to clean up my act” and that he wants “to channel my energies back into football and feel the discipline and environment of the club will enable me to do this”. However, can Swindon really help Ranger from ‘going off the rails’ again when Newcastle United couldn’t safeguard their investment when he was comfortably sitting on a five-and-a half-year contract?
McCrory seems, as ever, very confident in giving Ranger “a second chance” at Swindon and at least the key elements of the structure of the transfer deal are in Town’s favour having full knowledge of the likely trial in January. Town have secured the signing of a player with Premier League experience with Championship suitors on League One wages, with the get-out clause and no transfer fee paid should Ranger not be acquitted. If not, and he’s successful between now and then, Town will need a Plan B quickly. The problem is while eventful off the pitch, Ranger has been often elusive and found wanting on it, if goals are how you judge a striker.
Ranger’s debut for Town against Shrewsbury Town – replacing Andy Williams on 72 minutes – was his first competitive game since appearing as a second half substitute in Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat at Brighton in the FA Cup. This was one of four first team appearances in 2012/13 comprising 141 first team minutes. There are two crumbs of comfort from Ranger’s performances for his former clubs. Firstly, all of his five goals have contributed to team victories in games against Palace, Coventry and Chelsea for Newcastle; and versus Wycombe and Huddersfield for Sheffield Wednesday. Secondly, any general ill-discipline hasn’t extended onto the pitch, as his career contains six cautions and no red cards.
For a striker with five goals from 76 appearances the real question is whether Ranger can give Town what they’ve been missing in recent months: a complete forward who is able to stand his ground and equally comfortable pulling their own weight while being not afraid to shoot. With a handful of games over the past two seasons, it was no surprise that he was short of match fitness against Shrewsbury, yet he did provide a focus for the attack through his physical and aerial presence that was previously lacking. We’ll just have to wait and see how Ranger fits into the side as he gains match fitness over the coming weeks.
In terms of the decision of whether Town should’ve signed Ranger… it’s a gutsy decision and is somewhat a sign of desperation to fashion a competitive team under the budgetary constraints. Yet having met McCrory he certainly isn’t the type to wilfully watch one of his investments ruin the club’s chances, so the offer of the contract would’ve come with a cautionary warning to Ranger of the tightrope he’ll be walking, particularly in the lead up the trial.
On that point, hopefully Nile Ranger will obtain permission to change one of his bail conditions stating that he should live at an address in London. What he really needs is to move out of the big city with all of its distractions and his deal to play for Town gives that opportunity; perhaps taking up residence in Highworth or Wroughton could provide Ranger with that sleepy community to put his feet up in time away from the club to keep him away from trouble…