Will Ridvan Yilmaz Bounce Back To Greater Things At Ibrox?

Ridvan Yilmaz Rangers
Photo Credit: AP

Injury is the ruination of form and momentum, which young Rangers defender Ridvan Yilmaz recently found out. The full-back received the news in late October 2022 that he would probably be out of action until after the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The injury blow was a big hit for the young Turkish player. He looked to just be getting his game together with the Ibrox club.

Ridvan Yilmaz Injury Hits Progress At Rangers

Moving to a new club is not always the easiest of things for a player to go through in his career. A change of environment is bigger than just pulling on a different shirt. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. That includes getting integrated into a new culture, finding accommodation and language barriers.

It is not just a matter of a player strapping on a pair of boots. Getting up to speed with new tactics and getting on the same page as teammates isn’t something that always happens overnight. There are examples of players just clicking in a new set-up like. Erling Haaland on his move to Premier League champions Man City made it look easy.

However, it doesn’t happen for everyone. For Ridvan Yilmaz, there was a bit of extra pressure on his move to Ibrox in the summer of 2022. That’s because he was the most expensive player that Rangers had purchased in a couple of years. It wasn’t a straightforward transition for the Turkish player.

Rangers Wins Bidding For Ridvan Yilmaz

Had Yilmaz stayed with his former club Besiktas, then he would be currently in his last year of contract with the Turkish side. But because he was entering the final twelve months of his term, it sparked some fierce competition for the signature of the young full-back.

At one point it looked as if he was going to the German Bundesliga. Eintracht Frankfurt had apparently agreed a deal with Besiktas for the player. But then something happened. Reportedly Besiktas tried to change the terms of the agreement and it all fell through.

Scottish top-flight side Rangers were already interested in the player but didn’t have a clear path to him. There was a Yilmaz Torino link as the Serie A side were keen. Belgium side Royal Antwerp were also reportedly eager to make a move for the player.

But it was the Glasgow club that became the preference of the player. Rangers didn’t do too badly on the upfront payment fee either. In the trade with Besiktas for Ridvan Yilmaz, Rangers paid less than what Eintracht Frankfurt had initially agreed to shell out for him.

Early Struggles For Yilmaz

Yilmaz, because of relationships back in Istanbul and having to learn English following his move, faced a tough challenge on his move. The 21-year-old was a big purchase as well. He came in with a transfer tag of £3.4 million. Of course, that seems like a drop in the ocean of transfer fees in the modern age.

But for Rangers, it was the most that they had shelled out in a transfer fee for a player in two years. That would be broken not soon after as they signed centre-half Ben Davis from Liverpool for £4m. But at the time the move put a little more pressure on Yilmaz.

He was, after all, a relatively inexperienced player from the Turkish Süper Lig. He’d only had one full season under his belt there. Suddenly Yilmaz was pitched into a club whose expectations, especially in challenging for a place in the UEFA Champions League, were high.

Slow Start To Life At Ibrox.

Ridvan Yilmaz Besiktas
Rıdvan Yilmaz of Besiktas, left, and Antalyaspor’s Enzo Crivelli fight for the possession during Turkish Super Cup between Besiktas and Antalyaspor in Ar Rayan, Qatar, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

Following the move, things were not settled immediately for the full-back. He signed on a five-year deal at Ibrox, so clearly Rangers saw enough in him to invest.

They would get a good, solid full back to bolster their defensive ranks and one that had a high enough ceiling of potential to cash in on in the future.

Rangers had been shipping players like Calvin Bassey out during the transfer window. Borna Barisic also saw a decline in form in the position during the previous season.

So Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst was pushed into making a move in the transfer market, which is where Ridvan Yilmaz came in.

Another of the early struggles that Yilmaz had was a direct comparison to the player on his opposite flank. Full-back James Tavernier is one of Rangers’s most proficient, productive players. He is a direct full-back who just drives forward and can sneak into those deadly positions from nowhere inside the opposition box. It is what Rangers wanted on the left.

Rangers Debut Comes And Goes

Forgettable is perhaps the best word to describe the debut that Ridvan Yilmaz had with Rangers. He was installed into his first home debut in front of the big Ibrox crown against Kilmarnock in early August.

Even though Rangers kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory, the performance of Yilmaz would have left Gers supporters scratching their heads. Yilmaz played like a player who was unsure of himself. His decision-making and positioning certainly didn’t scream of warranting the hefty sum that the club had paid for him.

But there was also the understanding that this was a young player in a new situation. There were some tough moments for Yilmaz through the early stages of the season with Rangers. The club were also dealing with the pressure of trying to qualify from the Group Stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Rangers made it, only to land in a terrible draw against Liverpool, Napoli and Ajax. The season’s campaign in the group stage looked like a level above the current operating status of the Glasgow club.

Tough Champions League Return For Rangers

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Rangers’ James Tavernier, centre, reacts after Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scores his side’s fourth goal during the Champions League Group A soccer match between Rangers and Liverpool at Ibrox stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

The return of Rangers to the UEFA Champions League in the 2022/23 season was such a big moment for the club. It was their first appearance in the main draw since bowing out of Group C action in 2010/11.

Rangers arrived having come through a couple of qualification play-off rounds, getting past Union Saint-Gilloise and PSV Eindhoven. But things were on a different level of difficulty once Rangers hit the group stage.

The goals started flowing heavily against them. The Rangers defence was found out time and time again in big defeats. That included a 7-1 blowout at Anfield against Liverpool. The heavy defeats saw Rangers blow their qualification hopes very early on.

But along the way, because they were under so much pressure from the power attacking sides that they were facing, their defensive players were really put through their ropes. It may have helped Yilmaz discover improvement in his quality of performance.

Getting It Together

That was a hint in his UEFA Champions League performances that things were getting better for Yilmaz. Certainly not perfect by any means from the left-back. He was guilty as much as the rest of the back line of being pulled out of position time and time again.

But he was beginning to look like an asset driving forward down the left flank. Rangers, under Giovanni van Bronckhorst, are a team that thrives off crosses into the box for their forwards to get onto. So having excellent providers of the ball out wide is crucial to their set-up.

In particular, during a 3-0 away loss for Rangers in Italy to Europe’s form team this season, Napoli, Ridvan Yilmaz showed some of his attacking qualities out wide. They were real glimpses of a player that was starting to find a bit of rhythm and confidence.

Along with interactions with his teammates like Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos, Yilmaz showed that an understanding was happening.

Hamstring Hindrance Hits Yilmaz

But at a cruel time, along came the Yilmaz injury. It was a hamstring problem that hit Yilmaz as he went down during a 4-1 league home win for Rangers against Aberdeen at the end of October. The injury blow happened in the early minutes of the match. It’s expected that he won’t return until after the World Cup break.

So the player and the club are going to have to go back a couple of steps when he returns. Yilmaz is going to have to work his way back up to full speed following his rehabilitation. It is almost like going back to scratch with less than six months spent at the club.

Future Positives

But there could also be positives of course. Turkey is not going to the FIFA World Cup 2022 so Yilmaz is not missing out there. He made his international debut in 2021 and at the time of writing has earned six caps.

Missing a big chunk of the season, when the domestic season is on shutdown, could be a benefit to Yilmaz in building up strength without missing vital game time. By the time the Scottish top flight resumes in December, he could be on a level playing field with most of the other players in the division.

Yilmaz stands at only 5’ 7” and is small in frame. Rangers were committed to bulking the player up a bit and giving him extra strength training upon his arrival at Ibrox. Extra time during the break could be further used to strengthen and condition.

Despite Yilmaz regularly facing bigger, physically stronger players, it hasn’t been a barrier to his success in his career. He has, after all, made it to a UEFA Champions League main draw.

He only made his professional debut in Turkey in the 2018/19 season, getting on the pitch just once. Across four seasons with Besiktas, Yilmaz played only 52 matches. It was the rapid progress of his 2021/22 campaign that put a transfer target on his back.

There’s time and a potentially good future ahead for Ridvan Yilmaz. Despite the late 2022 injury setback, Rangers fans were starting to see that their club could have a nice asset on their hands.