Alfredo Morelos’ stop-start season took another twist on Saturday when the Rangers striker was omitted from the squad that beat Kilmarnock.
Was it an injury? No. Is a transfer imminent after Lille’s interest earlier this year? No.
Rather, it was a lack of “hunger” according to manager Steven Gerrard, who now has summer signings Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten at his disposal as well as soon-to-return Jermain Defoe.
So, what now for the 24-year-old Colombia international?
What the manager said?
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Morelos failed to appear on the teamsheet to face Kilmarnock. However, there was little doubt left as to why by the time Gerrard spoke after the game.
“I only want players who are hungry for the shirt,” the Englishman said.
“If I see people who are not focused or who have taken their eye off the ball and not really, really hungry to get this football club results, I have to make easy decisions and Alfredo made it easy for me this week.
“We need players who work hard every single day and who are ready and focused for the challenges coming up.”
What do the stats say?
Since arriving from Helsinki’s HJK in 2017 for a fee of about £1m, Morelos has scored 79 goals in 142 appearances and been Rangers’ top scorer three years in a row.
However, his goals-per-game ratio in 2020 has dropped, with only three goals in 16 appearances. Of course, no-one was scoring between mid-March and August because of the Covid-19 shutdown, during which time Lille had their £16m offer rejected.
Roofe, who scored his first Rangers goal against Kilmarnock, netted 40 goals in 139 club appearances across his spells at Leeds United and Anderlecht, while Itten bagged 36 goals in 63 games for Swiss side St Gallen.
Defoe finished last season as Rangers’ top scorer in the league and has a respectable 25 goals in 52 games for the Ibrox side.
Former Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart says that, although Morelos has been “a talisman” for Rangers, the club “need to start looking at alternatives”.
“He’s been a huge player for them,” he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound. “He’s not set the heather alight this calendar year.
“They need to find somebody that’s going to play at the top end of the park whether it be a fully on-form Morelos or somebody else to bang the goals in because if they don’t they have absolutely no chance of winning the title and challenging Celtic.”
‘He doesn’t look a happy chappie’
Barring his starring role in the 3-0 win over St Mirren earlier this month, the body language of Morelos has not been that of a prolific striker.
And former Rangers player Derek Ferguson says the constant speculation is “certainly unsettling for everybody concerned”.
“He doesn’t look a happy chappie,” Ferguson said. “He’s been far from his best.
“Since they came back from the winter break, he just seems an unsettled player. It looks as if he wants to be playing his football elsewhere.”
Will Lille come back to the table?
But playing elsewhere currently seems unlikely with his form dip and prospective suitors in no rush to make signings during a transfer window that has been extended until October.
Former Scotland forward James McFadden says the Colombian will wonder why Lille’s offer was not accepted.
“If Lille have bid £16m, the player himself will think, ‘well that’s a good offer’,” McFadden said. “He’s maybe thought, ‘I don’t know why the club aren’t accepting it’. Lille look like they’ve cooled their interest. Maybe that’s been the final straw for him.
“Now, he looks disinterested. He’s not running about as much, there’s no intensity to his game. He doesn’t look like he’s going to score goals. He just looks like he’s seeing out his time and he wants to go.
“Rangers want their valuation, so he should just knuckle down. Just be a bit patient and then go with the best wishes of everyone and then move on to a new challenge.”