Aged 21, his criminal rap sheet is as decorated as his football CV. Yet his contract with Newcastle lasts until 2016, having been given a three and half year improved five and half year contract in 2010.
With question marks still over Demba Ba’s future as January looms, Shola interesting the Nigerian African Nation’s Cup scouts and Papiss Cisse still to find last season’s form, does he have an important role to play for a club publicly committed to their youth policy?
For the majority, I suspect it would take a miraculous rehabilitation and permanent changing of the ways for a player who has become an embarrassment to his football club.
Or a hat-trick.
Ranger, along with Xisco, represents the last trace of Dennis Wise’s legacy as ‘Director of Football’ and the latter scored a hat-trick for The Reserves on Mondaynight. Cue a raft of jokes from the #NUFC. “Xisco can do it on a cold, soggy, mid-week game against Stoke. Can Messi?” (Thanks to @Geordie_Nick for that)
Yet in all seriousness, is there a future and return for these much-maligned strikers?
In terms of goal-scoring, Rangers hasn’t pulled any trees up so far in his Newcastle career with a strike rate of 2 goals in 49 games. Many of those games were as sub, some on the wing, and he can count Chelsea at Stamford Bridge among the teams he has scored against. As well as looking dangerous sprinting at The Arsenal defence and getting Koscielny sent off at The Emirates, when Hughton masterminded a 1-0 win there two years ago. The open goal he missed against West Ham in front of The Gallowgate in the 5-0 win in the same season didn’t cover him in glory yet given a run in the first team, surely he’d score more. Don’t forget either that he came on at 4-1 in the greatest ever 4-4 comeback versus Arsenal.
So with Xisco banging in a hat-trick and comebacks in fashion, what if Ranger came good as some part of him clearly wants to? I refer you to Exhibit A – The ‘ I’m A Changed Man’ message on the T-shirt he displayed when on scoring form with Sheffield Wednesday in The Championship. And Exhibit B from Twitter yesterday : “Minor setbacks, major comebacks!”
While I don’t want to sound all Coach Carter, it’s easy to dismiss Ranger as a headcase but perhaps there is an easily-influenced misunderstood young man from the wrong side of the tracks in there, who genuinely desires to fulfil his football potential. Don’t believe everything you read in the press or on Twitter, there’s been times when it’s been reported he’s out drinking etc. when I’ve noticed him sat watching the same cinema screen as me.
What has to be remembered is this is a very young man we’re talking about – he’s 21 years old – and until now, a very misguided 21, whether by his own instincts, the people around him or a society which puts being cool ahead of actual achievement. Former Newcastle rebel Joey Barton lamented in The Big Issue recently about a sub-culture in English football of the triers of the dressing room being ripped for being “busy”. Or doing your job.
A wise man once wrote, “… you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them”, and who knows the true motivation behind Ranger’s troubled actions and the circumstances of his past and the issues that drive him.
Early success and everything that goes with it can be as fatally damaging to potential as failure, yet sometimes it’s hitting a personal rock bottom that proves the turning point. It took one of Ranger’s heroes, rapper 50 Cent, being shot nine times to realise his potential as an artist instead of drug dealer.
So where there’s life there’s hope and understanding could be the key to Nile’s future.
Footballer’s careers are extended all the time – look at Ryan Giggs, 38, and still playing. Is it better to be a model professional and hide skeletons in the closet as you smilingly accept The Sports Personality of the Year award living a lie, or own the darker side to your character and revel in it in front of 38,000 followers on Twitter for attention?
A word to the streetwise – being a successful Premiership footballer, especially at a massive club like Newcastle United, will get you more fame and attention than you’ll ever know what to do with never mind small-time Reserves notoriety. Demba Ba thankfully has 100,000 followers more hanging on to his every word and for good reason.
The reason he gets so many ‘last’ chances is that despite Pardew’s protests to the contrary, the reality is talented players will get clubs no matter what baggage they carry. Look at ‘the new Gazza’ Ravel Morrison who was linked with a move to Newcastle before Sir Alex Ferguson got rid at Man U. He’s now on West Ham’s books and is currently enjoying a footballing rehabilitation at Birmingham under Lee Clark.
Yet if this latest comeback from Ranger is da realist deal, then we could yet have a future no.9 on our hands till 2020+.
What price the winner of The 2009 Wor Jackie Milburn Trophy filling the great gentleman footballer’s & Alan’s Shearer’s boots as club all-time top scorer?
Johnny Depp stars in a new film version of The Lone Ranger next year and I’d prefer a Hollywood ending like the above to Nile Ranger’s story, than to read about him being sent to prison or worse, especially as I suspect he has the ability he and others believe he has.
Over to you, Nile…
Thanks to Stuart Latimer @ultrastartime