Rangers striker Fashion Sakala needs more than a smile and a song to make his mark at Ibrox

FASHION SAKALA sat in the Hampden auditorium last month and did his best to convince those who knew otherwise that he had just become an Old Firm goal hero.

On Sunday, his feet had already done his talking by the time he stood in front of the camera. There was no dubiety or doubt at Parkhead as Sakala committed a strike that meant plenty individually and collectively.

The record books will deny Sakala the winner in the Scottish Cup semi-final. He had put claim to it with a typical, almost trademark, smile and laugh but the replays that showed the ball deflecting in off Carl Starfelt told of a different version of events.

In the end, it didn’t really matter that day. Sakala had played his part in the goal and a famous win for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side and the significance of the achievement was clear as every picture of the celebrations told a thousand words.

A couple of weeks on, Sakala finally had a moment that was his in every sense. No replays were needed, no questions asked after he scored the goal that earned Rangers a point and maintained their momentum ahead of a date with destiny on Thursday evening.

The combination with Ryan Kent was slick and his movement decisive as a scoring opportunity presented itself. The finish was composed as Joe Hart was beaten with a driven effort that was perfectly positioned just inside the near post.

It was another insight into what Sakala can accomplish but the other side of his game soon became evident. The next time he only had Hart to beat, he would strike the woodwork as the chance to win the game with a derby double was spurned.

Sakala cannot be described as a natural, reliable scorer. It was no surprise that he found the net when he did, but equally it came as no shock that his second opening was not converted.

It leaves Van Bronckhorst facing a quandary as attentions turn to the second leg of the Europa League semi-final with RB Leipzig. On a night when Rangers simply must score, can a player who is as exciting as he is erratic be trusted when the stakes are as high?

Such a dilemma is not new for Van Bronckhorst. Sakala offers solutions to specific problems, but he raises as many questions as he answers and his debut campaign for the champions is one of contradictions.

His performance at Parkhead encapsulated his season in many ways. He is capable of moments that spark celebration, but too often provides those that leave supporters with their head in their hands.

When the ball broke to him in the middle of the park and Rangers had the chance to overload and counter-attack Celtic, Sakala wasted the opening as he put his head down, the blinkers on and ran himself into trouble down the right. It was a phase that has been seen throughout the campaign as his decision making has been exposed.

One of the few predictabilities about Sakala is his unpredictability. It is one thing opposition defenders do not know what he is going to do, but there is often a sense that he is not sure either as he picks the wrong passes or charges down blind alleys in hope more than expectation.

He doesn’t possess the strength or the nous to operate as the lone striker. His touch is not of a level that allows him to hold the ball up with his back to goal and moves too often to break down prematurely when he is asked to be the central figure in attack.

His best moments consistently come from the left as he runs outside to in. He is not a winger as such, but his role as a wide forward brings out the best in him.

He trails Ryan Kent in terms of assists with five compared to the Englishman’s 18, but Sakala’s return of 11 goals is impressive. Kent has just three and Rangers have suffered this season due to a lack of firepower coming from other areas of the side.

As a character, the Zambian is affable and likeable. He is the kind of person that fans would like to see succeed as a player, the sort of personality that it is easy to get behind.

His willingness to challenge himself and to embrace opportunities to learn has been a theme of his first season at Rangers. Sakala is aware of his limitations at present, but never seems content to settle and that humility is not a bad trait to have.

His route to Ibrox – one that took him to Moscow from his homeland and then on to Oostende in Belgium – has not been straightforward. He has had to adapt to new countries as well as clubs but the long-term deal he signed with Rangers gives him stability and a foundation to build upon.

At 25, he is not an up-and-coming young talent anymore, but he is still raw and rough around the edges. Given the right environment and the right instruction, there should be improvement to come from him.

That is the challenge for Van Bronckhorst, and perhaps more specifically Roy Makaay, as the Rangers coaching staff attempt to refine Sakala’s game. He has qualities that can be honed, attributes that should be beneficial to Rangers at home and abroad next season.

That trademark smile and the catchy song – to the tune of ‘Waka Waka’ by Shakira – have made Sakala a favorite with fans this term but that is not enough to really make a mark at a club like Rangers. To do that, the diamond must be polished, the potential unlocked.

Sakala has still to convince he has what it takes to be a reliable and regular forward at Ibrox and there are skeptics to be won over and doubters silenced.

Old Firm moments – even those he cannot solely lay claim to – will help his cause. Come Thursday night, he could be talked about for all the right reasons once again at Ibrox.

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