IF the past year proved anything about Europe’s footballing eco-system, it’s that cross-association parity is a myth and something of the past.

UEFA’s governance combined with the lingering effects of multiple Champions League reforms has left European football stratified between those who can spend what they like and those who can’t. Rangers firmly find themselves in the latter and there is little that they can do on a short-term basis to shift the needle.

As such, and to continue with social science jargon, it is paramount that they exercise decisions through a technocratic lens. One in which knowledge and expertise are above all, and just then, they might have a chance to break the glass ceiling. There is no sector more obviously suited to this approach than recruitment.

If we take stock of those clubs which can compete at a UCL level, it is not necessarily the biggest teams with the best fans; instead, it is the those who are most prudent and effective in their player-trading model, with RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax the most notable.

Emulating the success of said clubs is not simple and in the immediate short-term is unrealistic. However, that doesn’t stop Rangers’ fans from demanding sensible and intelligent recruitment, which has been evident during Gerrard’s tenure.

The graphic below makes the in-house recruitment habits abundantly clear since the Englishmen’s arrival, with free transfers the most common cause of arrival.

Rangers Review:

The returns of Steven Davis and Allan McGregor and the arrivals of the likes of Leon Balogun, Scott Arfield, Fashion Sakala, and John Lundstram have all come with no fee.

This penchant for free transfers coupled with the increasingly efficient and practical nature of outward-looking footballing recruitment means that there are a series of player’s whose contracts come to an end during this coming January window - meaning they could arrive at Ibrox for free.

There are a plethora of players who find themselves in this scenario. This article will showcase three individuals who in my opinion, Rangers should be targeting at the turn of the year.

READ MORE: Rangers' long ball vulnerability and the aggression drop that's causing it - analysis

Ayumu Seko

Although not season-ending, Helander's injury has exposed that the club is somewhat light in the centre of defence. Especially if you are less than confident with the presence of Jack Simpson.

Given that both Balogun and Goldson have contracts that expire this summer, Rangers will realistically be in the market for at least one centre-back with likely two or three wanted.

John Souttar is a name that many are enthused with, and it is easy to see why. He qualifies as home-grown, is still relatively young, and has the ability to be in the squad. However, some might argue a more immediate answer is required. 

This is where Ayumu Seko comes in. The 21-year-old former J-League "Rookie of the Year" will become a free agent come the 31st of January 2022.

A necessary preface is that defensive stats are perhaps the most flawed of all the readily available player stats in football and often represent the player's system instead of their skills.

They have merit; however, don't expect stats to provide a holistic summary. Nonetheless, the graphic below shows us how Seko compares to both his J-League peers and his positional-mates in the Scottish Premiership.

The most notable positive of Seko's game is his ability on the ball, which at this point is effectively a requirement for any prospective Rangers defender. Seko ranks highly across the board when it comes to passing stats; however, he ranks in the 80th percentile and above for long passes, smart passes, passes to the final third, and forward passes per90. 

His defensive stats are somewhat misleading and suggest that he is a far poorer defender than he is. Admittedly he is slightly weak in the air; however, he has good ability in the tackle and is not easily bullied despite his tender age.

Rangers Review:

When directly compared to Rangers existing right-footed centre-backs, he comes out unfavourably, though this should be no surprise given their performances last season and the natural inflation that every Ibrox player experiences in a statistical sense. Regardless, Seko doesn't pale in comparison - he is able to compete with both Balogun and Goldson, profiling similar to the latter, albeit just worse in each category.

Rangers Review:

Rangers Review:

Whether it is in the form of Seko or not, I expect to see considerable change at the back within the ranks in the coming 12 months. A mix of natural cycles coming to an end and contracts makes departures inevitable and paramount that the club get recruitment right.

Brian Ocampo

The right-wing, in all honesty, is the only area in which Gerrard's side have not had a nailed-on starter in the past few years. Hagi and Aribo often take up the position but lack the pace to make the role their own - not to mention that both are better centrally.

Daniel Candeias is probably the last first-choice right-winger the club has had which is poor given the fact he left over two seasons ago. 

READ MORE: Beni Baningime scouted: Should Rangers target the Hearts' midfield powerhouse with action-man hips?

There is an obvious individual available on a free come New Year's eve who would fit the role perfectly and end up landing the club masses of profit, Nacional's Brian Ocampo. The 22-year-old Uruguay international has spent the totality of his young career in Montevideo, but he looks set for a move aboard come to the expiration of his contract.

The graphic below shows how he profiles statistically, with Ocampo producing some insane creative stats, placing in the 95th+ percentile for assists, xA, and shot assists per90.

The Nacional winger is a fantastic dribbler, finding himself in the 65th+ percentile for all three movement stats. Ocampo would seemingly provide the perfect remedy for a Rangers side who lack creativity when either Kent or Hagi is out of form or not on the team sheet.

He has an eclectic mix of raw pace, technical ability, fantastic work rate, and set-piece threat. In a universe in which Ocampo has a longer contract, Nacional would expect to get at least £6million for the winger; however, no such extension has been agreed.

Rangers Review:

Compared to the aforementioned Kent and Hagi, Ocampo compares well, which is no mean feat given the form of the pair last season. Interestingly, Ocampos's profile is unique compared to both Hagi and Kent, appearing far more creative than the pair. The lack of a clash is encouraging and would suggest that all three could play together which would be a formidable three between a striker in the occasionally used 4-2-3-1.

Rangers Review:

Rangers Review:

In my opinion, Ocampo is the most outstanding option this winter and a chance that Rangers should pursue with vigour. I believe that the upside for any Ocampo transfer is equal to if not more significant than any transfer completed during the Gerrard tenure. If not in Glasgow, expect Ocampo in the future to play on TV channels found in Scotland.

Rafael Navarro

Despite the arrival of two striker's in the past 18 months, Rangers may be in the market soon given the persistent rumours around Alfredo Morelos, Cedric Itten's buy-option, and Defoe's likely retirement.

I doubt that we see a situation in which all three of those happen. However, I wouldn't be surprised if two occur this summer and thus the club finds itself in need of at least one forward.

Strikers, probably more so than any other position require assimilation time. As such, signing a player for free this winter and giving him six months to familiarise himself before he is needed to replicate the exploits of a departure is the most logical and frugal solution. Botafogo's Rafael Navarro could be that man.

The 21-year-old striker has impressed during his first full season in Brazil's Serie B, with the graphic below supporting that statement. Navarro's game is similar to another forward whom many on Twitter would like to see at Rangers, FC Kobenhaven's Jonas Wind. Both are tall forwards who have the technical ability not associated with their stature and decent physicals, which all combine to make them a challenging prospect for defenders to contend with.

The unique part of Navarro's game compared to Wind and, for the most part, Rangers attacking contingent is that he has been a fantastic creator of chances this campaign.  Laying on 0.26 assists per90, a figure which most wingers and attacking midfielders fail to put up, let alone a young striker. Those underlying number suggests that this is an unsustainable overperformance, the feat remains impressive.

Rangers Review:

When compared to Rangers' main man, Navarro profiles well. Morelos to no surprise appears to be the better goalscorer as on a per90 basis he has better numbers when it comes to xG, non-penalty goals, and goal conversion. Despite this, Navarro either contends or better Morelos when it comes to the creative side of the game, as well as movement on the ball.

Rangers Review:

The idea of Navarro trading Brazil for Glasgow is not entirely unrealistic when you consider the standings of each club. However, I would be surprised if a move to one of Brazil's top Serie A clubs is not on the cards and as such his likely next move.

If he doesn't end up in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janerio, or Santos, Rangers should chase down all avenues to attract the Brazilian to the club.