The Road to Rangers – Ryan Kent

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Well, he’s not started the season badly has he? Ryan Kent has stepped up this year to become the main man in this Rangers side and playing without a doubt the best football of his career. He is beginning to become the player we all knew he could be when he began his loan spell with Rangers in 2018 and the player we all wanted him to be when we signed him for £7,000,000 from Liverpool in 2019. Now in 2020, a year of uncertainty and chaos, consistency can be found in Kent’s performances that are increasingly going some way to both justify and repay the outlay.

But what made him the player that developed him into our second most expensive signing in our history? How did he develop through the academies of one of the biggest clubs in the world? And will you be able to stop singing his song in your head throughout this?

Welcome back to The Road to Rangers. Alexa – play Joy Division.

Early Life and The Liverpool Academy

Born in Oldham, Ryan Kent is the younger of two brothers (the older one might feature later – he took a slightly different career path). Kent grew up with a love of football, idolising the Brazilian legend Ronaldhino and joined the Liverpool academy at the age of seven In 2003 as a highly thought of young talent.

He spent the next decade rising through the ranks of the Liverpool academy until he made his debut for the U21 side in March 2014 as a 17-year-old against a Newcastle U23 side that included familiar face Jak Alnwick in goal. He marked his first appearance for the side with an assist as he set up Kristoffer Peterson to make the score 2-1 to Liverpool after just 13 minutes in a match they would eventually go on to win 5-2. He followed that up by appearing against Fulham U23s in early April, coming on in the 81st minute to play alongside more Rangers connections in Jordan Rossiter and Sheyi Ojo in a 2-1 defeat.

This introduction into the U21 side at the tail end of the 2013/14 season prepared him for breaking into the side regularly in the 2014/15 season. Having been left out of the squad for the sides opening two matches in the youth Premier League, Kent was reinstated into the starting line-up for a trip away to West Ham U21s. Kent immediately repaid the faith as he opened the scoring in the 13th minute and played the full 90 as Liverpool ran out 4-0 winners. Having dropped out the squad for a game against Southampton U21, he was brought back into the starting line-up and once again he announced his return with goal contributions managing an assist in a trip to face Fulham U23s and the opening goal in a 2-1 against Tottenham who had now-regular first team player Harry Winks in the starting line-up.

Ryan Kent, 2014
Ryan Kent, 2014

Aside from his domestic duties, Kent also featured for Liverpool in the UEFA Youth League, where he played against the youth sides of Ludogorets, Basel and Real Madrid. Kent put in some eye-catching displays in the tournament, as he managed two assists in the opening two games against Ludogorets and Basel, as well as managing playing in both games against Real Madrid, as Liverpool won 3-2 at Anfield before succumbing to a 4-1 defeat in Madrid. In terms of further Rangers connections, the match against Real Madrid at Anfield featured Jordan Rossiter (who provided the assist for Liverpool’s 88th minute winner), Ovie Ejaria entered the action as a substitute and Andy Firth was the unused substitute goalkeeper. Kent’s only goal in the competition came in a 3-0 win in the final group game at home to Basel, scoring the first goal in a 3-0 win.

Kent in action against Ludogorets in the UEFA Youth League, 2014.
Kent in action against Ludogorets in the UEFA Youth League, 2014.

Throughout the campaign, Kent was deployed in a number of different positions across the front-three, varying between both wings and playing as a second striker. Back to the domestic front, Kent’s season was disrupted because of an injury to his back but he returned to finish the season strongly as he managed six goal contributions in the final five games of the campaign, including a goal and an assist against Tottenham U21s followed up with a brace against Everton U21s in which he played as a second striker in both games. The season concluded with a barmy game at home to Norwich U23s. Despite Liverpool leading 3-0 at half-time (Kent managed the second goal), Norwich came back and levelled the scores at 3-3 with three goals in eight minutes. Liverpool took the lead again only to be pegged back again and the season ended with a 4-4 draw.

Kent’s performances with the youth team not only earned him a four and a half year long professional contract but they also caught the eye of Liverpool’s management team and he was invited to travel with the first team squad for a pre-season tour of Bangkok, Brisbane, Adelaide and Malaysia in which he came off the bench to play against Brisbane Roar.

Kent in action against Brisbane Roar, 2015
Kent in action against Brisbane Roar, 2015

The new contract and pre-season tour was topped off with a call up to the England U20s squad for a double header against the Czech Republic, cementing his place as one of the country’s best up and coming talents.

Kent makes the step up to the England U20s squad, 2015

The then Liverpool U21 coach Michael Beale (If you would like to read more about his Road to Rangers I refer you back to the first article in the series) was discussing Kent’s form from the previous season when he claimed:

“Ryan is a really exciting player and can play in a number of positions. When he got injured, we were devastated for him because at the time Ryan was getting quite a bit of interest in terms of going out on loan and was a star player in the U21s.”

Coventry City: 2015 – 2016

That loan move came to fruition for Kent in this season with a number of clubs interested in his services. The Swindon Chairman spoke openly about his desire to land Ryan Kent on loan, claiming to BBC Radio Wiltshire:

“I said to Brendan [Rodgers] I was going to put him [Kent] in the boot of my car and keep him here for a month! Yu could see the talent the boy has and the problem is there are many teams in the Championship that want him”.

It initially however was a move to League One for Kent as he signed a four-month loan deal for Coventry City who were managed by figure-of-fun Tony Mowbray, who said on Kent’s arrival:

“Ryan is a player we’ve been tracking for some time and we’re really excited about his potential. With the injury to James Maddison, I felt it was important to bring in a player of a similar ilk and someone who possesses that technical ability in forward areas. He can handle the ball, play off both feet, play anywhere behind the main striker and has plenty of pedigree having featured for the England Under-20s last week. There is a lot of competition in the squad at the moment, but we hope he can come here and enjoy the environment we’ve created, and flourish”.

Kent himself said he took advice from the likes of Gary McAllister (whatever happened to him?) and Jordan Henderson – both of whom had played for Coventry (McAllister was of course both player and manager) – before signing the deal. He spoke on his arrival saying:

“There’s a few people at Liverpool who have been there previously. They all told me good things about the club and I’m sure I’ll find out a lot more good stuff while I’m here. Coventry are a club with a lot of pedigree, with a lot of good players and I can’t wait to get started. I hope I can bring a lot of flair and energy to the team”.

He was handed his first professional competitive debut in a 1-0 away defeat to Scunthorpe on the 12th of September 2015, coming on in the 54th minute. He followed this up with three starts in a row against Chesterfield, Bury and Shrewsbury. His first goal contribution came in the opening three minutes of Coventry’s 4-3 win against Barnsley in November of that year and he grabbed an assist in his next game against Gillingham as Coventry won 4-1

Ryan Kent plays for Coventry against Swindon, 2015
Ryan Kent plays for Coventry against Swindon, 2015

Upon his return to Liverpool, new boss Jurgen Klopp threw Kent into action against away to Exeter in the FA Cup. Kent managed a run-out for 57 minutes before being replaced by Pedro Chirivella, as Liverpool rescued a 2-2 draw and a replay courtesy of an equaliser assisted by Sheyi Ojo.

Barnsley: 2016 – 2017

Kent’s Championship move materialised in the 2016/17 season as he signed for Barnsley on a season long loan deal, playing under Paul Heckingbottom who said of Ryan Kent:

“He is fearless, loves to take on his man and gets balls into the box. Not only that, he can finish. He’s one of the most highly rated youngsters in the country and now he has a great opportunity to step up and show us what he can do in the Championship”.

He was handed his debut in a 4-2 defeat to Ipswich but despite the defeat his performance merited another start at home to Derby in the following match as Barnsley won 2-0 as he began to cement himself as a regular starter for Barnsley as he was deployed consistently on the left wing for the first time in his career.

His first goal for the club came as he put the cherry on top of a superb display as he scored in the 91st minute to secure a 4-0 win against Rotherham. His next goal contribution would come as Barnsley ended six consecutive games without a win as Kent provided the assist for Barnsley’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Brentford. He continued to impress with back-to-back goal contributions in wins against Leeds and Rotherham (a goal and an assist) being just the pick of many eye-catching performances. These performances earned him Barnsley’s Young Player of the Year award.

Freiburg and Bristol City: 2017 – 2018

After featuring in seven out of eight of Liverpool’s pre-season friendlies off the back of his best-ever season, Kent was rewarded with another contract with Liverpool. Speaking to Liverpool’s club media upon signing the contract, he said:

“It’s a big achievement. It’s pay off for all the hard work that’s been put in over the last few years, so it’s a big achievement for me, my mum, my bad, my family and friends that have been with me throughout this journey. I’m looking forward to kicking on in the future now”.

His next move to continue his development came out of leftfield as he got the passport out and headed off for his first top-flight club on loan as Germany and Freiburg came calling. Liverpool U23 boss Neil Critchley paid tribute to Kent’s mentality for taking on the challenge:

“He had lot’s of other options in this country, but to go and play in Germany’s top league is a real challenge. I think that tells you a lot about Ryan’s mindset. He’s grown up so much in the past two or three years”.

Kent’s debut in Germany came as Freiburg were battered 4-0 by Bayer Leverkusen, although it should be noted that Kent was introduced at halftime when they were already 3-0 down. He played an instrumental role off the bench in the next game against Hannover as he came on to play a crucial role for Freiburg’s equaliser to rescue a point late on. The most amount of minutes Kent managed in his six appearances for Freiburg came as they travelled to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich. Kent played 66 minutes as Freiburg were comfortably beaten 5-0.

Kent challenges Jerome Boateng for the ball, 2017

A theme of Kent’s time in Germany was a lack of game time matched with being played out of position when he was given the opportunity. This didn’t sit well back in Merseyside and Kent was recalled from his loan in January to further his development back in England.

Just four days after he returned from Germany, Kent agreed a loan deal until the end of the season with Bristol City, with Lee Johnson the manager claiming on his arrival:

“I’m delighted to bring in a player of Ryan Kent’s quality, he did very well at Barnsley last year and he’ll bring genuine speed, athleticism and ball control in our squad”.

Kent’s kiss of death continued as once again it was a debut-day defeat (genuinely, we’re the only club where his debut has been met with a win) as he came on for the last 21 minutes in a 1-0 defeat at home to Norwich. He managed two goal contributions during his time at Barnsley, both assists, coming in a 2-0 win against QPR and 3-3 draw at home to Sunderland. He began to stutter between the first eleven and the bench before he was dropped from the squad completely.

Kent is unveiled at Bristol City, 2018

Once again, Liverpool were not happy at the treatment of their player and in fact fined Bristol City £300,000 for breach of contract regarding Kent’s agreed playing time.

Rangers (loan): 2018 – 2019

For a series first, we’re going to talk about a player’s time at Rangers as part of his Road to Rangers as it would be absolutely remiss not to discuss the loan spell as part of his journey.

Joining Rangers on loan in 2018, Kent said:

“This move had to be the perfect one and when Rangers came around, I think it is. I think when the opportunity came around to join a club of the magnitude, it was a bit of a no-brainer. They have got a person in charge now in Steven Gerrard who has played at the highest level and achieved many great things. I would say I am an exciting player and I never hold back. I don’t fear getting on the ball, even if I’ve lost the ball. I am hopefully going to bring a lot of excitement to the fans here at Rangers”.

Gerrard welcomes Kent to Rangers, 2018

Kent finally made a debut in a game his team won, as he played the full 90 minutes in Rangers 1-0 win away to Osijek in the Europa League Second Round Qualifier. His first goal contribution came in the next round, as he provided the assist for Morelos’ opener against Maribor in a memorable night at Ibrox.

He opened his account for Rangers in terms of goal in a 4-0 win at home to Dundee as some superb play put Rangers 2-0 up inside 15 minutes. He then managed three goal contributions in as many games, with back to back goals against Hearts and Hamilton as well as an assist against Kilmarnock. It was at this point that Kent picked up a Hamstring Injury that kept him out for a large part of the season leading up to the winter break. He made a memorable return to action against Celtic at Ibrox, as his magnificent cut-back took Lustig out the game and he cut the ball back for Ryan Jack to score as Rangers recorded a memorable 1-0 win.

Following the winter break, Kent recorded six goal contributions in the first six games. His final goal of the season came at Parkhead as a brilliant solo-effort drew Rangers level after playing the majority of the game with 10-men. Kent was however retrospectively banned for a shove on Scott Brown following Celtic’s goal.

His performances throughout the season merited Kent being voted the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year, beating fellow nominees David Turnbull, Jake Hastie and Lewis Ferguson for the award.

Kent with his PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year

Rangers (permanent): 2019

Be honest, you’ve been desperate to get to the Casper Kent bit haven’t you?

Gerrard said immediately after the conclusion of the 2018/19 season that he would be aiming to get Kent back at Ibrox. It became the saga of summer. A better will they? Wont they? than Ross and Rachel. You could read one article one moment saying a deal was agreed and another one a moment later saying the clubs couldn’t be farther apart in their positions.

It didn’t stop and it was relentless throughout the window until deadline day. Kent was sitting in Manchester Airport ready depart for Belgium to play for Club Brugge when he got the call to say Rangers had made a bid that was accepted by Liverpool and he was free to return home.

It became one of the most memorable evenings on Rangers social media. As Rangers teased the fans and made us wait until midnight to formally announce the deal, fans found other ways to pass the time… Mainly through jokes at the expense of the other Kent brother – whom it is fair to say has chosen a rather different career path than Ryan.

Eventually, Rangers finally announced the Kent brother we all really wanted. He became the second most expensive signing in the club’s history. As of right now, you couldn’t put a price on him.

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