Todd Cantwell had no interest in celebrating with his teammates during the immediate aftermath of Abdallah Sima’s opener against St Mirren yesterday. Even if it was a moment he had created.

Rangers’ No.13 instead let out a roar in front of the Broomloan venting a blend of relief and frustration. Cantwell was under the spotlight having been substituted inside the first half by Philippe Clement against Aris that midweek and beginning to grow irate at the kicks and bruises stunting any momentum. Perhaps, an outburst or two in the direction of the referee was also provoked by his team’s tempo or lack thereof.

Yesterday’s 2-0 win against St Mirren did not see the best version of Rangers and nor did it witness Cantwell in full swing, despite providing the two goals Sima would seal all three points from. But that alone tells its own story. The creative midfielder was still able to provide match-altering moments and grow as spaces opened up.

Cantwell is at his best when at the very heart of the action and, most importantly, his team always look better for it too. On Thursday night, he was being withdrawn before the half-time interval for disobeying his manager’s instructions but days later the only reason Cantwell left the pitch before the full-time whistle was to enjoy the acclaim of all four stands. It was a clever act of symmetry from Clement.

While a first-half substitution will always prove a big talking point, Clement’s post-match comments were glossed over in the aftermath of Thursday’s frustrations. The Belgian admitted that his instructions had not been carried out by Cantwell while also reiterating that they had been up until now. “Sunday is a new game” he added, “I’m sure he will react positively”. A successful Rangers manager must have the authority to make decisions the crowd do not like and taking Cantwell off while keeping Sam Lammers in his favoured position was an example of just that.

After all, what is the line between disobeying instructions and the natural inclinations of your game taking over? Cantwell is a player who’s designed to move towards the ball, the one who should be benefitting from space, not creating it.

Was frustration not to be expected leaving the pitch? The 25-year-old has been playing out of his optimal position for weeks while doing a job for the team that failed to maximise his abilities. If supporters have been unfulfilled by his fluctuating levels throughout the season, you can guarantee Cantwell will have been too.

In one of Michael Beale’s final games against Celtic Cantwell was situated too deep on the right of midfield and although plenty of his best football has arrived outwith the No.10 spot at Ibrox, the accommodation of Lammers in that central spot has often perplexed those watching. Cantwell was left out on the opening day of the season against Kilmarnock and taken off at half-time in the League Cup semi-final. This has not been a season where everything has gone his way.

The Norwich City academy product has suffered from being misunderstood throughout his career. In an interview with the Rangers Review his youth coach at Carrow Road Jimmy Unwim spoke of the Englishman as a ‘maverick’.

“He is flashy. He is one of those who wear rubbish clothes in my opinion and he is eccentric, but like, so what? He's a maverick and he wants to be different. I love that he's brave enough to do that. Because he's so eccentric he never missed an opportunity to showcase his talents. That's what I loved about the boy.”

It was telling that Cantwell’s reaction to that Aris substitution was dialled in on instead of the number of games prior where he’d followed protocol, as Clement also suggested. After a one-to-one between the pair in midweek, the position wide on the right was fulfilled by the increasingly impressive Ross McCausland against St Mirren as Cantwell moved infield.

A role on the right was limiting the 25-year-old’s influence and this side is not good enough to live without such an impact. Rangers lack not only the technical qualities brought in that position but miss Cantwell's personality and ownership. While this team grows in identity on the ball under Clement the need for individual quality is all the more obvious.

Cantwell is a reactive dribbler who’s better at solving problems in tight spaces, not isolated in open yards. In an interview with the Athletic, he summarised: "I always base my touches off what defenders think I’m going to do. Dribbling is essentially moving while protecting the ball, keeping the ball close. I never really knock it and run as such because I feel like you lose a bit of the control.”

If able to move infield and face the play from the right his creative qualities could still shine but if glued to the touchline, as in midweek, the dynamic didn't feel suited to Cantwell's best attributes. 


The way in which Cantwell lost possession leading up to Aris’ goal on Thursday summed up the limitations of fielding him wide on the right.

Firstly, Cantwell is not a ‘two-way’ player on the right - by his own admission he is never really going to drive beyond his man with sheer pace and power, that’s not his game. Here, the run of Jose Cifuentes ought to have provided the outball but the midfielder cut inside instead.

Cifuentes’ run does create space ahead of the Aris defence but Cantwell doesn’t seem to play with his head up on the right in the same way on the left. The angles aren’t as natural moving away from his favoured foot and here, he fails to find the runs of Lammers or Danilo.

Perhaps most importantly for Cantwell’s dribbling style - in playing on his strong side there’s no other leg to protect the ball and ride challenges. It’s easier for a defender to poke the ball away, as opposed to a similar carry from the left. Cantwell loses control of this situation when forced to take a touch away from the defender and is then playing catch-up before losing it.

Compare the attempted passes Cantwell received in his previous league outings under Clement (left), to yesterday’s match with St Mirren (right). Notice the variation in areas where he received the ball across the width and depth of the pitch this weekend at Ibrox.

Football rhetoric can become caught up in rigid ‘positions’ that are too binary for the modern game. Indeed, this very writer argued just months ago that Cantwell’s role deep in the pitch against Servette busted the ‘myth’ about his best position.

Does Cantwell have a binary best position? Maybe. Does he have a best role in this Rangers team? Yes, and it’s right at the heart of proceedings. Beale’s system featured two free midfield roles and in a slower-paced style, a spot deeper in the pitch enabled Cantwell to dictate play deep before joining the attack.

In Clement’s more positionally-set system, with wingers often instructed to stay wide, the prime spot for Cantwell is at No.10. Just as we saw under Beale, the Englishman can prove his most effective when afforded license to drop deep or stay high, especially with a lack of incisive passers deep in the pitch.

It was movement across the pitch that worked against Cantwell in midweek. Yesterday's second assist demonstrated exactly why better angles and greater freedom for Cantwell benefit the team. It was a moment that summarised his game perfectly.

As John Lundstram plays the ball out of defence, it’s Cantwell who is on hand to receive the pass.

And here, we see the difference in his receiving angles from the left to the right. Cantwell is so much more comfortable taking the ball on his left and pushing onto his right as opposed to the alternative. "Basing his touch off the defender" instead of dribbling proactively, with the ability to ride challenges and move onto his right playing with his head up.

Having broken the first line of pressure, he can then pick out the angled run of Sima from deep to seal the points.

Now aided by the emergence of Ross McCausland who deserves to make the right-sided spot his own, this should be the start of Cantwell playing regularly in his favoured spot.

Rangers are not good enough to leave, what is likely, their best player out of his best position.

Far from bowing to player power Clement has managed the back end of this situation well. This is the reality of taking over mid-season with a squad of players not built to play with wingers, there must be compromise somewhere.

If Rangers are to hand anyone the freedom and responsibility associated with the No.10 shirt, however, it’s Cantwell.