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Nils Koppen – The Missing Piece in The Puzzle?

As I write this piece we are entering the post-split phase of the SPFL, with Rangers sitting 3 points behind Celtic with a goal difference of 5 behind.

It doesn’t feel that close going into the last 5 league games, probably, mainly due to our capitulation against Ross County in Dingwall, where the Highland side bagged their first-ever win against us, then 3 days later, at the 3rd time of asking, we stagnated at Dens with a stale 0-0 draw. That was, for many, including me, the nail in the coffin for our title challenge. Not because it was mathematically over, because it wasn’t, it was the fact we were playing so poorly that we were going into the post-split fixtures without any sort of confidence. We have to play better sides than Ross County and even Dundee, who made the top 6 due to Hibs being Hibs.

Looking back to October though, we were a mess. Languishing 7 points behind Celtic before Halloween had even reared its head, had pretty much written off the title for most.

Beale was out the door. We were on the hunt for a manager, however it wasn’t just a manager we needed. There needed to be a new structure for our footballing operations. We hadn’t had a Director Of Football since Ross Wilson departed for Nottingham Forrest in April. That gave Michael Beale free rein with signings. Not something we as fans were too disappointed with. Think we all wanted Beale to get the players he wanted. However, that’s why we don’t manage or run Rangers Football Club…..

So no manager and no Director Of Football. The club had some work to do.

Clement arrived with a decent CV. A likeable man too. A man with a ‘death stare’ that would put the fear up underperforming players. Just what we needed.

The next piece of the puzzle. The DoF. Or more specifically in this case, a Director of Footballing Recruitment. The club understandably didn’t want to rush into making an appointment, however, after what happened with Beales’s summer of spending, it was clear we needed a structure in place.

Not long after Clement took up his position, it was apparent that Nils Koppen, a 38-year-old head of scouting at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, was the front-runner. I liked this. This was ambitious. PSV had some brilliant players come to the club under Koppen. That worked with our dire need for the Player Trading Model to be kick-started once again after it stalled. Also, the fact Clement and Koppen had worked together before was a bonus.

Now what do we know about our DoFR? Well, Koppen joined PSV as a youth scout in 2018. In a short space of time at the Eredivisie
club, he helped identify and recruit current Belgian international Johan Bakayoko from the Anderlecht academy in 2019. This was a great bit of scouting. Bakayoko had been in and around the youth teams of several Belgian clubs, such as Club Brugge & Mechelen among others. However, it was when he was at Anderlecht that he was noticed by Koppen and Co.

Now we’ve seen Bakayoko in action ourselves. For PSV against Rangers in the Champions League Qualifiers. He was different gravy. What I do like is the fact that it didn’t take long for Bakayoko to go from a talented prospect to a brilliant footballer. He’s a first-team regular now and has bagged 13 goals in 44 appearances. Obviously, interest started to turn to the 21-year-old and a few bids did come in for him. PSV turned down Burnley’s £17.2m bid for the Belgian due to them qualifying for the Champions League. Incredible money, especially for a club in the Edrivise. They know he’s worth more to them in the team than what Burnley offered. It wasn’t long before Brentford put in a record-breaking £34m bid for him too! Bakayoko has also been locked down to a contract until 2026.

Now this is what we want to see. As a club that has to rely on a decent player-trading model, you need to be able to sign low, get a season or 2 out of the player and then sell on for a decent profit. It’s how it has to work in Scotland. We’ve had some success in the past with players like Calvin Bassey, however we seem to sign more injury-prone players who end up having stop-start careers. That has to stop.

Now with Koppen just in the door in January, he had little time to identify players to bring in that would fit with what Clement wants to achieve while balancing the ‘buy low sell high’ ethos. Now we understand that’s not always going to be possible. You do need some experienced players in the team who can add calm and stability. You pay for them and rarely recoup. It is what it is. That’s why the player trading model has to work. We got to work quickly as we needed striking and midfield options. Let’s look at who we brought in and compare them to Koppen’s previous signings.

Mohamed Diomandé – a young player with considerable quality, who is tipped for the big time. Now, lots of players are tipped for stardom. Not all make it. However, Mohamed is held in such high regard. The Danish and indeed Nordic markets have produced some brilliant players over the years. He cost FC Nordsjaelland 25k via the Right To Dream Academy in Ghana. FC Nordsjaelland Head Coach Flemming Pedersen said “Mohamed covers a large area of the pitch…. he’s a good dribbler and physically strong. When he adjusts to the Superliga, he will also become one of our most important players.”. And that he did. The club negotiated a loan to buy deal, worth around €5.3m. Hopefully, we can replicate a deal in a similar vein in a season or 2. Obviously for a greater fee.

For me, this is a big statement. Investing considerably in a quality, highly touted player. Getting in there before other academies is big too. So many big teams can buy any player with an inkling of ability so they can be farmed out on loan, built up and sold on for a profit without even playing for the team who bought them.

Another January signing is one in the same vein. However with a slight twist. Oscar Cortez – a highly rated Columbian U-20 international player who was plying his trade at Lens. He transferred to the French Ligue 1 club for around €4.4m from Columbian side Millonarios in July 2023. He had only been there mere months, racking up only 4 appearances and a single goal in that time, before Rangers were able to snap him up on a loan to buy deal for an undisclosed amount. The move to Rangers coming at the right time I think as he has progressed internationally and is now part of the Columbian first-team squad. Clearly not suited to the set-up at Lens and isn’t shifting Przemyslaw
Frankowski or Andy Diouf who seems to be preferred in that RW role. Now I say this transfer has a slight twist, mainly due to the fact Cortes wasn’t playing or featuring for Lens not long after signing, which is a bit peculiar. Lens had high hopes and called Cortés a ‘future prospect’, which is why they tied him up on a 5 year deal worth €4.5m. Now, I’m not sure why Lens have made a U-turn on Oscar, however, maybe he just didn’t work with what manager Franck Haise was looking for.

Either way, I liked the look of him. It felt like we had the first decent nailed-on right winger since Daniel Candeias. He’s dynamic, not afraid to take someone on and gives Ross McCausland a bit of competition and someone to develop alongside. Granted, like most, we haven’t seen all sides of Oscar as like all great players who come to the club, he was inured very quickly and we aren’t likely to see him this season. Which does put a question mark over whether we trigger the clause to buy, or do we try and loan him for another 6 months? I hope we do peruse him in some way. He’s only really featured out on the left for us in the few games we’ve seen him in, however has changed flank a few times mid game. I do see more of a future for him out on the right, however he is very comfortable on the left. 

Now the last signing will split opinion. The loan signing of Fabio Silva. Good with the ball at his feet. Sold for €40m when the Premier League came knocking for the Portuguese playmaker, however, was that overinflated?

His rise through the youth system was fast and meteoric.
He started with the Porto youth system, went to rivals Benfica and then went back across the divide.

Notably, he was part of the Porto under side which won the UEFA Youth League back in 2018/19. Scoring 20 goals in 26 appearances. He broke the record for the youngest player to play for the Porto First team and broke the European record for the youngest player to feature in European competitions. The last player to hold that record was none other than Ruben Neves. His career had a lot of promise, however, maybe he was thrust forward into first-team football too quickly.

It wasn’t long before he found himself in Porto’s reserves. He was in and out of their reserves side until the Covid outbreak turned the footballing world upside down.

Now his move to Wolves at £35m was a club record fee for Porto.

While at Wolves he broke another record or two. He became the club’s youngest Premier League scorer in a 2-1 defeat to Burnley AND the first player born in 2002 to score in the EPL. After scoring his fourth goal of the 20/21 EPL season against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns in May of that season, he became the second-highest-scoring Portuguese teenager in Premier League history (with CR9 being the top one). He seemed ahead of other players of his age. There was still a little bit of rawness as he could never hold down a first-team start at Wolves, struggling to get in ahead of Raúl Jiménez. He featured in 62 games and only netted 4 times. A very poor return.

Wolves clearly saw promise (or rather didn’t want to take a huge loss on his hefty transfer fee) and extended his contract while loaning him out to Belgian side Anderlecht. He scored 11 in 32 games for the Belgians. However, halfway through his loan spell, he allegedly fell out with the club’s manager Brian Riemer. At this point, Fabio had caught the eye of Nils, who was a scout at the club. He knew he could offer Silva a get-out from Anderlecht and get a fairly raw decent player on loan.

This was allegedly the reason behind his loan to PSV. He netted 4 goals in 14 appearances. Not exactly amazing stats, however by all accounts he was a big part of that team. His time in the Netherlands and Belgium rejuvenated his career, however he wasn’t quite ready for Premier League football. That still seemed a step too far.

Koppen clearly saw what Silva brings to a team which on a loan deal is a no-brainer. Yes, his time at Rangers to date (still 3 games of the season to go) hasn’t been phenomenal, however, we haven’t really utilised him as an out-and-out striker.

Wolves did clearly still see him as a future prospect, however, I do feel he may be a player they want off the books, but he still doesn’t seem EPL-ready. It wouldn’t surprise me if we are offered him on loan for at least a chunk of next season. Even if a bit part player, he may be handy, however, I’m sure Wolves would want him playing week in, week out, plus his wages would probably be too high for a bit part player.

Now that was it for our January dealings. Quality over quantity. It was good to see us looking at and signing young players who are tipped for big things. Not only does it work with our player trading model, but it gives the team a well-needed burst of dynamic energy. Rumours are circulating about signings for next season. The players we are linked with do seem to be of a similar age (like Córdoba who is 22 and currently at Levski Sofia). I do love that we are looking at players with youthful dynamism.

Now we do see a common theme with Koppen signings. Players in their 20s who have potential and don’t cost the earth to purchase. Granted PSV did have a bit more money to spend than we would, the highest they spent was around €15m (£12m) on a single player during Koppen’s time, which is fairly reasonable for a Champions League club like PSV. So Koppen is used to working with budgets. Granted ours is a little tighter than most. Across his time at PSV, they rarely ran into ‘negative’ with transfers. Ie. Always made more than they spent. In his first season as ‘Scout’ at PSV, the club spent €17.6m and received €10.4m. Now Koppen was just in the door so he wouldn’t have been time for a player trading model to take effect. The next season however (2021/22) PSV spent €12.1m and made a whopping €53.6m due to the sales of Donyell Malen to Dortmund (€30m) & Denzel Dumfries to Inter Milan (€14.3m). Season after (2022/23) PSV once again were quids in after only spending €9.3m and amassing an incredible €94.4m. Eye-watering. The biggest chunk of that was of course Cody Gakpo heading to Liverpool for €42m. Midfielder Noni Madueke went to Chelsea (with what felt like most of the world at that time) (€35m) & Ritsu Doan to Freibjrg (€8.5m). Season after (23/24) PSV loosened the purse strings and splashed some of that cash they had burning a hole in the account. Still though, sensible buy/sell model. Even though they spent €50.6, which was way more than usual, they still made €57.2m (mainly due to the sale of Sangaré to Nottingham Forest for a cool €35m).

Now I know not everything is down to Koppen, however, that was a massive change from when he took up the scouting position at PSV.

With Nils, the facts are simple. He has a proven track record of talent spotting. We need someone to unearth the level of talent he has in his career to date. We have been so poor with our transfer strategy under Ross Wilson previously. Injury-prone players, wrong side of 30/40, wrong stages of their career. A trend that seems to follow him around.

Now of course the proof will be in the pudding, just because he was successful elsewhere, doesn’t mean he will be here. However, thus far, I have liked what I’ve seen. We’ve shown our intent by headhunting Koppen. His appointment shows that we mean business. I will go out on a limb and say that the players we have bought under Koppen so far will make us profit.

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Andrew can also be found on Twitter @ojmiester87

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