Steven Gerrard has taken a swipe at his Rangers predecessors Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty after accusing them of risking Ross McCrorie’s development by playing him out of position last season.
The 20-year-old made his first-team breakthrough last term at centre-back but Gerrard has decided the Scotland Under-21 international should only be considered for a midfield berth.
However, that was not the role that Caixinha envisioned the youngster, claiming McCrorie was “going to be one of the best centre-halves in history, not just for this club but for this country”.
The Portuguese coach handed him his first start in an Old Firm game last September while Murty was also forced to deploy the academy graduate in the heart of his defence as Rangers shipped nine goals to Celtic in two derby pastings at the end of the campaign – including a William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final drubbing which saw McCrorie sent off.
But Gerrard feels that was irresponsible and could have had grave consequences for the player.
The new Rangers boss – speaking after his first game in charge ended with a 2-0 Europa League win over Shkupi – said: “He is a baby and when you are coaching babies you have to protect them from ruining them.
“If you toss them into huge Old Firm derbies out of position, there is a risk you can damage people and scar them.
“Thankfully he is a very tough kid and he bounces back. He is desperate to play for this club and he loves the club. I believe the club have a gem if he is coached and given the right guidance.”
Jamie Murphy put Rangers ahead in their opening European qualifier midway through the first half before James Tavernier gave Gerrard’s side breathing space ahead of Tuesday’s return clash in Macedonia.
But the pressure could have been taken off an underwhelming display had Josh Windass, Alfredo Morelos and Connor Goldson not all wasted golden chances to increase Rangers’ lead.
Morelos in particular looked more and more frustrated as the evening wore on but Gerrard has backed last season’s top scorer to rediscover his killer touch.
He said: “He scored last week here against Bury and he is scoring in training so I have got no worries about him.
“Strikers sometimes need three or four games to really feel sharp and feel themselves and I have got no doubt that goals will come.
“He is a proven goalscorer so it is not a concern.”