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Big interview exclusive: Rod Wallace reckons Jermain Defoe can be Rangers’ top striker and fire them to his first title

© SNSJermain Defoe with Rangers teammates Alfredo Morelos and James Tavernier
Jermain Defoe with Rangers teammates Alfredo Morelos and James Tavernier

Rod Wallace reckons Jermain Defoe will be the No. 1 striker at Rangers next season – as long as he gets a full pre-season under his belt.

The 36-year-old arrived at Ibrox in January on loan from Bournemouth with huge expectation surrounding him.

But a stop-start period followed, due to his lack of game time down south in the previous five months, and the form of Alfredo Morelos.

While the Colombian striker was banging in the goals throughout the campaign – 30 in total – suspensions were never far away.

And when Morelos was sent off again, this time at Celtic Park at the end of March, it opened the door for Defoe, and he was impressive, scoring three goals in five games as Morelos sat it out.

Wallace made a similar impact after joining Rangers in 1998 on a free transfer from Leeds United.

While Defoe has turned out at three World Cup Finals and one European Championship en route to winning 57 caps, Wallace never played for his country at full international level.

But his goal in the Old Firm Scottish Cup Final 20 years ago won a Treble for the Light Blues, and the Englishman a permanent place in the history of the club.

He knows that Defoe’s contribution in the coming campaign could prove to be the difference between Rangers taking Celtic all the way or not as the Ibrox men try to stop their rivals from doing nine-in-a-row.

The 49-year-old said: “Jermain is a quality striker, and he will be itching to get back playing again for Rangers.

“He was in really good form in the final five or six weeks of the season, and it probably all ended too quickly for him.

“I’m sure he would have loved for there to have been another four or five games to play.

“You could see he was getting his sharpness back, and his eye was right in. He scored a few goals and also helped create many chances for his team-mates.

“He will just want to get a good pre-season schedule under his belt, and not pick up any niggles or serious injury.

“It’s important he finds a rhythm coming into August and, all being well, he will.

“Nobody is certain yet what the future may hold for Alfredo Morelos, so it’s vital to have Jermain ready and raring to go.

“The importance of the next 12 months doesn’t need to be spelled out.

“There will be no room for error and full commitment and desire in every game will be required.

“Jermain has had a brilliant career at the likes of Spurs and West Ham – but he hasn’t won a league title.

“That’s why I’m sure he will be as determined as anybody else to get Rangers over the line next season.

“He has the ability and the game intelligence to make a huge difference to Rangers.

“It’s all about getting up to speed as quickly as possible.

“And I expect Jermain to be ready because he is an excellent professional.

“I want to see him doing well, and I want to see Rangers succeeding.

“I was fortunate enough to win five trophies in my first two seasons with the club, and that was unbelievable.

“To be a league champion is an incredible feeling, and to see and feel what it meant to the Rangers supporters will never leave me.

“But if a title was to be achieved in the next 12 months, then that would be something extra special, for obvious reasons.”

Rod Wallace with Andrei Kanchelskis after Rangers had clinched the Treble in 1999

Wallace was signed by Dick Advocaat on a Bosman from Leeds United.

Along with the likes of Arthur Numan, Barry Ferguson, Gio van Bronckhorst and Jorg Albertz, they helped the club to plenty of successes.

Wallace loved his three years at the club, and smiled: “I have some of the best-ever memories of my time at Rangers.

“When I signed in the summer of 1998, Celtic had just won the title and we needed to get back to the top.

“But it was going to take time to gel as we had eight or nine new players – and many different languages – in the dressing room.

“We just needed to get on with it, and find our way with one another.

“We quickly realised we weren’t going to be given six months or a year to bed in.

“We were fortunate enough to have a squad full of international players, and we got into our stride fairly quickly.

“For me to top off the first season by getting the winner against Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final was really what dreams are made of.

“I hope the current squad can go on and have plenty of success in the coming year or two.

“Steven Gerrard has improved the club and the mentality of the team.

“They now need to take the next step of turning that improvement into silverware.

“I wish Steven and the players all the very best. He has some really good men to work with, and he will want to add two or three more pieces of quality in the coming weeks. That’s only natural.

“Off the park, they know they will have the full backing of the Rangers supporters, and a full Ibrox Stadium every other week.

“It’s an environment that every player should want to play in, and every opposition player should dread the 90 minutes.

“The Rangers supporters are amazing, and they deserve to see their club back on top.

“It’s going to be an incredible campaign, that’s for sure.

“Nobody will want to miss it and the interest will be phenomenal.”