BY his own notorious standards, failing to turn up to training is hardly a serious offence for Swindon striker Nile Ranger. For a guy with more court appearances to his name than OJ Simpson, it’s a bit like Al Capone indulging in a bit of shoplifting.
Granted compassionate leave to prepare for an upcoming court case, Ranger was supposed to attend a team meeting last Saturday and a training session on Wednesday.
He wasn’t at either, with Robins manager Mark Cooper publicly admitting he had “no idea”of the striker’s whereabouts.
Swindon have now extended Ranger’s leave indefinitely, but by then the damage was done. All anyone will see is another dark mark on an already murky reputation.
Now 22, Ranger has been kicked out of three clubs. While at Palace – and aged just 15 – he was sentenced to 11 weeks in a Young Offenders Institute for his part in an armed robbery.
And though Southampton attempted to rehabilitate him upon release, he was fired after stealing some kit.
Remarkably, Ranger then ended up at Newcastle, blessed with the chance of a lifetime.
According to coaches at St James’ he was streets ahead of Andy Carroll at 17. Tall, wiry, difficult to mark – nobody complained when manager Alan Shearer handed him a five-year contract in the dark days of early 2009.
Six goals in 11 games for the England Under-19 team served only to underline his potential.
But with the money came the temptation. Ranger would spend every weekend back in London with his old friends.
They were, by his own admission, “scary people, bad people, people who did the wrong thing”.
Between May 2011 and March 2013, he was arrested six times on charges ranging from assault and criminal damage to being drunk and disorderly.
He was fined by the FA for homophobic tweets, breached his bail conditions and even posted an online photo of himself holding a replica handgun.
Then in July this year, he was charged with rape. He denies the charge and will stand trial next year.
By then, though, Newcastle had also decided to cut their losses and in August Ranger was living off £30 a week until Swindon offered an unexpected lifeline.
At the time, Ranger claimed he had turned over a new leaf. “It is time to clean up my act,” he said. “I feel that Swindon will give me a platform to realise my potential and help me from going off the rails. I know exactly what is required of me and I look forward to getting my career on track.”
There again, he said the same thing at Newcastle in 2010 after a heart-to-heart with Kevin Nolan and Sol Campbell.
“They said to me: ‘Come on, you’ve got the ability, don’t waste it’,” he said. “That had a big impact. Last season, I wasn’t the best off the field. I was still doing silly things. This season I have matured – I’ve seen the bigger picture and I’ve settled down.”
If the subsequent two years have been settled, God knows what Ranger classes as wild.
Of course, we must give Ranger some leeway. His background was poor. His childhood was rough. He grew up in crime-blighted Wood Green where his only role models were criminals.
He grew up fighting and his impulses and reactions have been shaped by those experiences. He has none of the inhibitions we do.
Simply being a footballer won’t change that, so it is wholly unfair to view Ranger’s actions through our own moral compass. It’s like calling someone thick because they haven’t been taught to read.
But what’s so sad is that Ranger could have escaped. He had the money, the opportunity, help and advice from the best coaches in the game. He was even dragged 200 miles north of London. His destiny was in his own hands.
He has had five years to seize the amazing chance that football gave him. Five years to realise how much more fortunate he is than the kids he grew up with. He had the means to cut his ties. He couldn’t do it. Now, Swindon truly is his last chance.
And that’s the real tragedy here. Regardless of the outcome of the court case, it is difficult to imagine Ranger escaping the people and places of his youth.
With every arrest and every negative story, he edges closer to a permanent return. Maybe then he will realise how lucky he was.
CERTAINLY NOT SUB PAR
BEST set of subs in the Championship? How about this lot from the clash between relegated pair Reading and QPR last week:
On the bench for the home side: Adam Federici (Australian International), Alex Pearce (Ireland international), Adam Le Fondre (scorer of 12 goals in 34 Premier League games last season), Jobi McAnuff (38 top-flight appearances last term) and Billy Sharp (114 goals in 311 games, almost all in the Championship).
For QPR: Andy Johnson (Eight caps for England and the Premier League’s second highest scorer in 2004-05), Jose Chevanton (Uruguayan international who has played his whole career in La Liga and Serie A), Karl Henry (title winner with Wolves) and Niko Kranjcar (played Champions League with Spurs and a World Cup with Croatia).
Now, who said parachute payments don’t skew the competition?
MENDIETA PERFECT TO SHOW HIS LOVE FOR BORO
GAIZKA Mendieta never did much at Middlesbrough. Signed barely two years after a £40m move to Lazio, the flaxen-haired Basque managed just 31 games in four years.
Yet while the north east never fell in love with Mendieta, the man himself couldn’t get enough of the place and to this day still lives with his family in Yarm, a picturesque town on the banks of the Tees.
Now, it could be time to give something back. It goes without saying that new manager Aitor Karanka isn’t exactly a Boro aficionado.
A European Cup winner with Real Madrid and assistant at Los Blancos under Jose Mourinho, he is a man more used to Galacticos than Parmos, the local delicacy of breaded cutlets.
So who better to hold his hand than Mendieta, a bilingual Spaniard living just down the road?
Does he want it? “A fresh start like this is overdue,” said Mendieta this week. “But it is still Middlesbrough and they should not forget that. There has to be at least one person who understands the league, the academy – everything about the club.”
Sounds like a job application to me.