Ryan Kent and Michael Beale have only ever had two phone calls despite knowing one another for more than a decade.

One of those conversations came in 2018 when Beale asked the Liverpool youngster if he was joining Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox revolution. The other was a fortnight ago when Kent returned the favour before Beale was confirmed as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s successor at Ibrox.

"People think it’s all about tactics but it’s actually about the relationships you have, and the feeling you have towards the other person in that relationship," said Beale speaking at his Ibrox unveiling nearly two weeks ago on the topic of improving underperforming players.

"Make that journey very personal. I’ve lived that with Ryan Kent for example, from 14 until now. To be fair with Ryan it’s a look. If I give him a certain look and then he gives me a look. We have known each other for so long. Ryan and I have always been at complete ease with each other. I have always been a strong guide on his journey. There is an honesty.

"I think sometimes he wants to do so well that he does too much. Confuses himself. He is sensitive. He thinks a lot and he cares a lot. That probably comes out sometimes in his body language.”

After starring on the Road to Seville, Kent has suffered a season of stagnation alongside many of his teammates. Not helped by the proximity of his contract expiry date next summer and the dependence placed upon him to break down deep-lying defences, his frustration has often been visible. Despite this, he's not a player to hide away from responsibility, shirk ownership of the ball or miss matches.

A 1-0 win against Hearts just before the World Cup break painted a picture of the situation. In the first half, Kent struggled against an opponent who doubled up down the wings and looked visibly weighed down by the circumstances. So much so that during a pause in play James Tavernier sought out his teammate, trudging around the park with his head down.

After half time his moment of invention was responsible for creating space in the defence that earned the opener. The confidence boost was visible. To quote the Rangers Review’s colour piece from the game, Kent played “lighter and brighter” so clearly buoyed by his own impact.

Van Bronckhorst tried to provoke better numbers in press conferences semi-regularly, but on the basis of Beale's messaging, you have to question whether the Dutchman's approach was the best option.

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“Ryan has to bring more,” he said in the month before his Ibrox exit.

“He’s an exceptional player with a lot of qualities [but] I think his qualities haven’t been there every game, he just needs to be consistent and get into the best positions on the pitch to be dangerous, to either have an assist or score from a chance he creates himself.”

Beale’s arm-around-the-shoulder style feels deliberate due to the length of relationship enjoyed by the pair and stress-tested man-management methods.

Van Bronckhorst was able to catalyse some of Kent’s best moments during last season’s European run. Who could forget that performance in Dortmund? Domestically his role, much like van Bronckhorst’s overall approach, didn’t feel best suited to requirements despite an initial upturn in underlying numbers. Kent was at times isolated from his own teammates rather than isolated against an opponent.

The evidence would suggest goals aren’t likely to flow for the Englishman when stationed wide on the left. His strength is not found when cutting inside and finding the far corner and his best goal-scoring season came playing centrally in 2020/21.

That appears to be how Beale will try to use the 26-year-old. Speaking to Sky Sports on Saturday he said Kent’s at his best playing in a “completely free” role.

It’s the polar opposite of the positionally-restricted role fulfilled under Van Bronckhorst, who wanted Kent to stretch the pitch, hug the touchline and engage in as many one-on-one duels as possible. When up against a full-back the winger can excel playing into space but that was a rare occurrence towards the end of the previous era.

“I think Ryan does want to be here. He wants to be part of an exciting Rangers that is moving in the right direction. So let’s see,” Beale added on the topic of a contract extension.

"The important thing is he looks like he is all in. He looks like he is ready and committed for this period right now so let’s deal with that. I’m really hopeful with Ryan."

There comes a time when squads need to be refreshed and players need new challenges. Despite all of Beale's positive noises regarding this team, it's hard to argue against the fact that more change was required last summer.

And yet, Beale will believe if anyone can get the best out of Ryan Kent it's him. With trust, building up and new tactical instructions. 


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