24 July 2020 18:41
Leon Balogun has been tipped to provide Steven Gerrard with the missing ingredient as he looks to perfect his Rangers line-up next season. The 32-year-old centre-back has agreed a 12-month deal at Ibrox after leaving Wigan, with Rangers holding the option of another year. And former Latics recruitment analyst Dougie Wright is convinced Balogun is the final piece in the jigsaw Gerrard needs as he looks to halt Celtic's quest for 10 titles in a row. It was on Wright's recommendation that Wigan boss Paul Cook signed the Nigeria international on a six-month loan as the clock ran down on his Brighton contract back in January. The defender had registered just four appearances for the Seagulls in the year previous but quickly settled into the Championship.
(Looking forward to my next football adventure – news coming very very soon) — Leon Balogun (@LeonBalogun) July 23, 2020 And had it not been for a 12-point penalty imposed for going into administration, Balogun would have helped lead Wigan to a safe mid-table finish. The severe punishment dished out following owner Au Yeung Wai Kay's surprise decision to place the club into administration means they are instead looking at relegation, with Cook's hopes of signing Balogun permanently also crushed. That has allowed Gerrard to make his move to replace Nikola Katic, who will miss at least six months with a serious knee injury. And Wright believes Balogun can be the man who provides the attacking impetus from deep that Rangers so badly lacked as their season came off the rails in the second half of last season. The former Livingston analyst – who was made redundant by Wigan's administrators earlier this month – told the PA news agency: "If you look back when we played Stoke at the DW a couple of weeks ago, he took the ball out from the right-hand side of defence, marched forward then did a pirouette on the half-way line as he went past a Stoke attacker.
I also want to say thank you and goodbye to Paul Cook and his staff, the team and the whole Tics Family @LaticsOfficial It's been a very short & super intense time and I'm happy to have played my part in it. pic.twitter.com/2wevYd8zGc — Leon Balogun (@LeonBalogun) July 23, 2020 "That shows how confident he is in possession and I can see why that will be a big attraction for Steven Gerrard. Is he the missing ingredient that he's been looking for? Potentially, yes. "Looking back, I don't think there was a better centre-back in the Championship than Leon last season. "He was so comfortable and absolutely strolled it. He made those around him better by how good he was." With 32 caps for Nigeria, the Germany-born centre-back has the kind of international experience Gerrard will be keen on as his side look to make strides again in Europe this term. And Wright expects the defender to handle the hectic schedule as Gers prepare for a season that is likely to have little breathing space given the effects of the Covid-19 crisis. "We brought in Leon at the end of the January window and he very quickly broke into the first team," he said. "He hadn't played much for a few months but he adapted to the Championship very, very quickly. Rangers travel to Germany next month for the delayed second leg of their Europa League last 16 showdown with Bayer Leverkusen (Andrew Milligan/PA) "Everyone knows what that league is like – Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday – and he took to it straight away. "He was very composed in possession, could play left or right side at centre-half and brings the ball out really well. "Defensively, he's not the most aggressive but he's very intelligent in terms of his positioning. "He will win most aerial duels just because he knows exactly where the ball will go. "He has good recovery pace so you can't really play it in behind him and in terms of his discipline, the last time I checked at the start of July he hadn't committed a single foul by that point at Wigan. "We were losing so many goals from set-pieces but once he came in that stopped as he was just so intelligent at winning the ball back. "He's a brilliant guy too, very intelligent, very articulate and popular in the dressing room. Paul Cook couldn't speak highly enough of him. "We had looked at bringing him in permanently before things turned out like they did at Wigan." A glowing reference from Albion has helped Leon Balogun secure a deal at Rangers. Steven Gerrard moved for extra cover at the back after losing Nikola Katic to a serious knee injury earlier this month. Balogun ended the season at Wigan and earned high marks in their valiant bid to stay up despite a 12-point penalty. He had his one-year Rangers contract tied up before Gerrard's men went on a pre-season trip to France. Gers sporting director Ross Wilson added: "We quickly targeted Leon after adapting our transfer plan when Niko Katic suffered an injury a few weeks ago. "We agreed terms with Leon shortly before going to France, enabling Leon to give Wigan his full focus particularly in the situation they found themselves in. "Leon impressed Steven and I with his enthusiasm and excitement to join Rangers from the moment we first spoke. "The staff at Brighton and Wigan couldn't have spoken any higher about his personality and abilities." Gerrard believes the 32-year-old Nigeria international will provide the solution to his defensive concerns. He said: "I am pleased to secure the signature of Leon. He is an experienced centre-half who will add strength and depth to our squad. "His experience in the Premier League as well as his international pedigree strengthens our squad and will assist in the development of our young defenders. "Leon has just finished a round of competitive fixtures with Wigan so will hit the ground running. "He's a positive and bright character and we are looking forward to his influence around the group." Balogun could get a first look at Ibrox today when Rangers take on Coventry in a closed-door pre-season friendly - but he cannot wait to see his new home packed out. He told RangersTV: "I'm coming to a club with incredible history and incredible fan culture. "Unfortunately I've not been able to witness it but I'm looking forward to it."