The actions spoke louder than words for Fashion Sakala. In the end, he didn’t even get to say goodbye to Rangers as his Ibrox love affair ended in an abrupt divorce.

Four months on from his exit, the manner of the move to Saudi Arabia still hurts. Sakala believes that he deserved better, and it is hard not to agree. The Zambian is as aware of his limitations as a player as the supporters who took him to their hearts but both parties were denied the chance to bid farewell at the end of a career that could have delivered much more.

There is no point in holding grudges given the passing of time, but Sakala still harbours regrets. His first major interview since that exit - held exclusively with the Rangers Review - feels like the chance for him to get some issues off his chest.

The trademark wide smile fills the screen as Sakala joins via a video link. You don’t have to be close to the 26-year-old to know of his endearing personality, the lust for life that made him such a boisterous presence within the dressing rooms at Auchenhowie and Ibrox.

Yet there is a serious side to Sakala, too. He is ebullient when the conversations centres on his relationship with Steven Gerrard, the way he bonded with the fanbase and the achievements during his time in blue. He does, though, adopt a more sombre tone when addressing his final weeks spent in Glasgow.

Sakala returned to pre-season training in the summer with a renewed vigour and focus, determined to become a mainstay of the new-look forward line that Michael Beale was assembling. The reality quickly dawned as the dream turned into a nightmare. Sakala was part of the squad that Beale took to a training camp in a German forest. He was not part of the plan, though, and he soon found himself in the wilderness.

“I went back to pre-season in Germany and it was a big surprise because my pictures were not taken,” Sakala tells the Rangers Review. “I was scoring beautiful goals and my goals were not published. I could see my friends celebrating goals. When we had a team meeting, my answers were not allowed to be published. People started asking if I was there in pre-season. I was there from the beginning to the end. It was a hard one to take for me. Even if there was a club that wanted to buy me, I could have at least been respected a little bit and left the club in a good way. To be told not to train with the team for no reason… I have never had a discipline issue with the club. It was hard for me. Rangers was a club that I felt was like my home and receiving that treatment was so hard for me.”

To many, Beale included, the sale of Sakala made sense from football and financial perspectives. The former KV Oostende forward was deemed surplus to requirements in the Ibrox attack and Beale utilised some of the £4million fee received, and decent profit banked on a free transfer recruit in the summer of 2021, to complete moves for Danilo, Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers.

The point has been made on more than one occasion in the months since that Sakala would have offered just as much, if not more, than those that Beale put so much faith in. The chance to prove it never arrived for Sakala. Beale rhymed off platitudes about his rapport with Sakala – describing it as ‘really close’ and ‘maybe even stronger than with anyone else in the group’ – but the man himself lived a very different reality.

“That was the hard one,” Sakala adds of his deteriorating relationship with Beale. “When I was coming back for the new season, I thought the coach would trust me and want me there for the new season. He didn’t talk to me about anything or any transfers. He clearly showed me that I wasn’t part of his plans without telling me anything. The time I received a call from Mick Beale was when he told me not to come to the training ground anymore. That was hard for me because I didn’t do anything. Players leave clubs but they are not told not to go to the training ground, not told not to be part of the team. You can have clubs that can come in for you but still, you are training with the team. I stayed without training with the club for almost two weeks.”

By the time that call arrived, Sakala knew that the writing was on the wall. Rumours of Saudi interest had been persistent over the summer and the deal eventually suited all parties as Sakala packed his bags and started a new life in one of the most talked about leagues in the world. His move to Al-Fayha may not have been greeted with the same fanfare as the ones that saw Cristiano Ronald join Al-Nassr or Karim Benzema leave Real Madrid for Al-Ittihad, but it was another notable transaction in an intriguing window. He laments the loss of fitness he suffered as a result of being banished by Beale and admits that it impacted his start in Saudi as he had to ‘start again’.

Now, life for Sakala is good. He beams that he is having fun and that - ‘by the Grace of God’ – things are ‘moving fast’. He has become well accustomed to quick changes on and off the park. His only wish is that he could have had time to take stock.

“I think I deserved much better, I deserved to be respected at least,” Sakala says. “I can leave the club, but don’t tell me not to train with the team, don’t tell me not to go to the Rangers Training Centre anymore, as if I did something wrong. I understand you want to sell me to get money to buy new players, that is fine. But let me just be part of the team, let me say goodbye nicely to my teammates. When I received a call that I shouldn’t go to the training ground anymore, I didn’t see any of my teammates anymore. It was hard to say goodbye in such a bad way to people who looked after me so well – Tavernier, Goldson – I had to talk to them on phones when it was time to leave. It was hard for them to believe that I wasn’t allowed to go to the training ground anymore.”

Sakala has not been back in Glasgow since. Given the affection that he has for the club and the supporters, it is clear he would love to pull on the blue jersey once again in the future. That fate is not in his hands, but neither will it be Beale’s decision.

The Englishman was the third and final manager that Sakala played under at Ibrox. His relationship with the second, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, was not exactly smooth, either but the man that signed him still has a place in his affections. Indeed, when he was reunited with Gerrard earlier this season, the warm words and warm embrace said it all.

It was Gerrard who took a chance on Sakala, who offered him the platform to progress in a career that had taken him from the poverty-stricken streets of Chipata to Ibrox. His first season with Rangers delivered 13 goals and three stand out. It was a sliding doors moment, but not in the manner that Sakala hoped it would be.

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“When I look back when Gerrard was there, I became an important player immediately when I joined the club,” Sakala suggests. “I remember I watched a few games on the bench and Gerrard told me ‘I want you to keep watching because I know you will start playing. I want you to understand how we want to play as Rangers’. He called me into his office and said he thought that I was ready and that tomorrow I would be starting. That was the game against Motherwell and I scored a hat-trick. It was special, it was special for me. I believed that this man got me for a purpose, without knowing that he would be leaving in the next few days. When he left, the new manager came in, I was back to the bench and that was it.”

Gerrard believed that Sakala was a rough diamond that could be polished into a Rangers player. Van Bronckhorst, and then Beale, had different opinions on him as a forward and Sakala was never able to hold down a regular starting spot, and certainly not in his preferred role as a striker.

His term ended with the joy and pride of a Scottish Cup medal and the sense of what might have been in Seville. Introduced as a substitute against Eintracht Frankfurt, Sakala believed he would be a penalty taker. As it transpired, he was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. No further details are needed.

A dozen goals were netted in the second season. Sakala was on the scoresheet as Beale’s side beat Celtic at Ibrox and finished the campaign with a strike against Hearts and brace in the victory over St Mirren. It proved to be his final minutes in blue.

“When I look at my statistics, I was coming from the bench but I was scoring goals or making an assist,” Sakala reasons. “It was sad the way I said goodbye to Rangers, it is very sad. I know the fans didn’t understand the role they were playing with me, but they really helped me a lot. The favour I wasn’t getting from the managers, I was getting it from the fans, I was getting it from the players. Sometimes I was going to games very frustrated but knowing that the fans were there. I was pushing myself every day and working hard every day to do it for them because when I did it, I knew they would be very proud of me and would be singing my song and pushing me. They played a bigger role for me there than some of the coaches I worked with at Rangers, to be honest. For me, the fans were more important than some of the coaches there. Except Gerrard, he was special.”

The bond that Sakala had with the man who masterminded 55 proved to be short-lived. Regardless of whether it was Gerrard, Van Bronckhorst or Beale in the dugout, Sakala had an affinity with the Ibrox crowd that lasted until his emotional departure.

The Zambian was serenaded to the tune of ‘Waka Waka’ by those on the terraces throughout his time in Glasgow. The Shakira hit was a catchy addition to the repertoire, and it meant a lot to the man who lapped up the adulation.

“That was special, that was special,” Sakala smiles. “I love Rangers fans. I have played for a few clubs and I have never felt the love that I felt in Glasgow, that was special. I have seen players be there for years but never get a song but I went there for only a few months and my song was already out. It was very special and I love them. I would like to go back to Ibrox and say goodbye nicely to them because they played such a big role in my life and my career. Honestly, I am here today and I still respond to Rangers fans, I respond when they send messages because I am in love with them. They did so much for me.”

Many supporters will still keep tabs on Sakala’s fortunes as he plies his trade in the Saudi Pro League. From his base in Al Majma'ah, Sakala is a regular viewer of the action at Ibrox. Another change in the dugout resulted in Philippe Clement’s appointment as manager and Sakala is well aware of what the Belgian will bring after seeing his successes at Genk and Club Brugge at close hand.

Silverware is non-negotiable for Rangers this term. Sakala only had that single medal to take with him from Scotland to Saudi as he arguably found himself in the right place at the wrong time. He wishes nothing but success for those that he has left behind.

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“There were times when I had bad moments on the pitch, maybe I didn’t deliver the way they expected,” Sakala admits. “That is what I could have done for them at that moment. I was moving because of them putting confidence in me. I wasn’t trusted by the coaches, I could play two or three games good and then if I played the next game bad I would be out. That shows that I wasn’t trusted. They didn’t see it that way, they played a big role for me because the players and the fans were the main targets for my hard work and my confidence. The coaches, since Gerrard left, it was the fans and the players that were there for me.”

Sakala believes Clement will deliver silverware to Ibrox as the Belgian prepares for his first shot at glory at Hampden this weekend. Clement will look to guide his side into the knockout rounds of the Europa League when Rangers face Real Betis in their final Group C clash on Thursday evening. But it is the showdown with Aberdeen that takes precedence for Rangers this week as they seek to end their long wait for League Cup glory.

Sakala watched on as Clement delivered Pro League titles with Genk and Club Brugge during his time on the continent with Oostende before he made the move to Glasgow. And the Zambian believes the 49-year-old is the man to bring titles and trophies back to Ibrox.

“When I saw that Rangers had signed him, I said ‘They have got the right man, they have got the right man’. He is what was missing,” Sakala explains. “He needs time, of course, but I think everything will change at Rangers.

“I follow Rangers, I can see the results, see the way they are playing. It is not the same Rangers. I think he needs time to make his own signings and things will be much better. It is a club that deserves to win.

“I would be proud to see the club win again, as a former player I would like to see them win every season. I check the results and if I see they have won the game, I am happy. For the new coach, I think Rangers have got the right person and he will give them the results they deserve. He will bring back the smile on the fans.

“Being there, it is special. The love of the fans is far better than other big clubs. When you go to Ibrox, even for a friendly game, you have pressure like it is a final. The fans always want to win, the passion they have for the club, the love they have for the club is just massive.

"They just want the club to win and hopefully, Rangers keep winning and win trophies. I would be very happy to see them lifting more trophies.”