ALFREDO MORELOS is now in the long goodbye stage of his Rangers career. It is a matter of when, not if, he leaves Ibrox and begins the next chapter in a tale that has had more than its fair share of twists and turns.
The Colombian has played the role of the main protagonist to perfection. He is both a hero a villain, a character that the opposition love to a hate but one that his own supporters wish nothing but the best for and from.
A Rangers journey that began with two uninspiring showings against Progres Niederkorn during Pedro Caixinha’s ill-fated spell in charge will end with him having earned a place in the affections of the Rangers support. His loss to the team will be felt, but it is now time for a clean break for both the player and the club.
Only time will tell if the two goals Morelos scored against St Mirren on Sunday prove to be his final ones for Rangers. If so, it is a shame that those fans that have witnessed every high and low, praised him and condemned him, were not there to see him doing what he does best.
Steven Gerrard dismissed suggestions that Rangers had rejected a second offer for Morelos from Lille in recent days. Whatever the status of the negotiations and the paperwork, it is surely inevitable that Morelos will move on sooner rather than later.
He will do so having become the best Rangers forward since the days of Nikica Jelavic and having left quite a mark on Scottish football. Controversial and colourful yes, but undoubtedly clinical.
When Gerrard revealed after the defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in midweek that Morelos’ head had been ‘turned’ by talk of a big-money move to Lille, there were doubts whether the 24-year-old would even start against the Buddies.
An excuse, of sorts, can be put forward for Morelos’ performance in Germany in so much that Rangers, as a whole, were well off the pace. He has so often been the saviour for Gerrard’s side but in the BayArena he looked as if he had already checked out and would rather be anywhere else than half-heartedly chasing lost causes in a game that was well beyond Rangers.
There was a shot across his bows from Gerrard before the game yesterday when he insisted that Morelos was not guaranteed his starting spot once his attacking arsenal is at full strength. Jermain Defoe will return to training in the coming days following an injury and Kemar Roofe is nearing full fitness following his move from Anderlecht, while Cedric Itten made his debut as a late replacement for the man whose brace had just won the game.
After being denied on a couple of occasions, and just as St Mirren sensed a late fightback for a draw, Morelos showed why he is the man for the big moments and why he will leave such a sizeable hole in Gerrard’s side when he heads for pastures new.
“He hasn’t got the same communication levels as the rest of the boys, he’s still learning English,” Gerrard said as he revealed he had held one-to-one talks with Morelos in the aftermath of the defeat in Germany.
“But he knows and understands. We use different ways and can show him clips.
“But you know yourself when you are a footballer at this level and have been around for as long as Alfredo. You know when you have played well and when you have maybe fallen below your level. He knew on Thursday night – along with quite a few others – that we never hit our level as a group.
“There was no finger-pointing individually but I do speak to the players and get a feel for what they are feeling. Alfredo was well aware that he needed to perform a little bit better.”
Communicating with and cajoling Morelos has been the ultimate test of Gerrard’s man-management at Ibrox but he got this call right. His faith in Morelos was rewarded and Rangers got the victory they deserved from a commanding performance.
At times Gerrard has looked exasperated with Morelos, while at others it is clear to see there is an affection for the person and huge respect for the player. He couldn’t live with him, but now he will have to live without him.
With Roofe and Itten on board, the Rangers attack will have a different look about it for Gerrard’s third shot at the Premiership title. If that attempt proves successful, Morelos will still have played his own part in it.
There was praise from his manager for his focus and his all-round approach but there has always been more to Morelos than his distances run, goals scored and cards collected.
A misunderstood character in many ways, his rise and rise continues to inspire those in his hometown of Cerete and for all the flaws when the red mist descends, it cannot be argued that he not is a hugely dynamic forward that could go on to play at the highest levels of the game.
The task of replacing Morelos is an unenviable one. In truth, Rangers couldn’t have done it on a one in, one out basis because sourcing a forward with the required skillset and scoring record would take a huge chunk of the £20million or so they hope to recoup when their prized asset moves on.
That is not to say that Rangers cannot improve despite the loss of their main man and Gerrard now has options and alternatives, both in terms of personnel and shape, in the final third.
Rangers fans always knew they would have to enjoy Morelos while they could and now they may not have the chance to do so for very much longer.
Like the man and the player, his exit will provoke mixed reactions and opinions. Scottish football will certainly be a duller place without him.