It’s been a tough season for Rangers and SPFL top scorer Alfredo Morelos. The young Colombian has scored 17 league goals making him a target for opposing players and managers who to try minimise his threat.
Morelos is a menace. His sheer strength makes it an uphill struggle for opposition defenders to contain him, and as a result he is fouled and manhandled on a regular basis.
In other countries he would be praised for his performances and goal-scoring record. And for parts of his first season he did receive some plaudits. This year however has been different.
So why has public opinion changed?
The Power of Nightmares
Bluntly, the 22-year-old has suffered from a targeted media campaign.
There have been many accusations aimed at the Scottish media by Rangers fans, that they are xenophobic towards their club’s young foreign player.
These accusations were fuelled by Keith Jackson in the Daily Record when he wrote an article littered with xenophobic references in September 2017.
Using words such as sniff, cartel and smuggled; Jackson would reinforce a common stereotype to describe a South American country and its citizens.
Explaining how Morelos began his career at Rangers, Jackson wrote:
“Jonne Lindblom was the deal broker who first trafficked a teenage Morelos to Europe from the Narcos stomping ground of Medellin and who then negotiated the terms of his summer transfer to Ibrox.
“There may be better established routes across the continents than the one with which Lindblom smuggled Morelos into Rangers from Pablo Escobar’s home town via HJK Helsinki. And, yes, other more obvious Colombian products are available.
“But each time this youngster crosses the white lines of his new home, the higher his potential street value has soared.”
“He’s already attracting sniffs from a cartel of English clubs with Aston Villa said to be among the most interested.”
Anyone who has watched the documentary, The Power of Nightmares, will understand how xenophobia can be manipulated to create the classic pantomime villain.
Whether there was deliberate malice in Jackson’s article is debatable.
However, xenophobia really has two main effects: it mobilises people to fight for their group, and it serves to bind members of the group together.
But what group would elements within the media be trying to mobilise and for what purpose? More on that shortly.
Xenophobia? No! It’s ‘jingoism’
Writing for the Scotsman, Craig Fowler questioned why the Rangers striker was being treated differently than homegrown players. Something he attributed to familiarity rather than any sinister reason.
In his article, written on 19 January 2018, Fowler said some may label the difference in coverage as jingoistic. However he believed it was much more complicated.
He wrote, “First of all, when it comes to judging foreign players, especially ones which have arrived within the last year, compared with Scottish talents, there are many layers which mean familiar faces will sometimes get an easier ride.
“There are personal relationships built up over time, familiarity with a player’s talents through watching him for years, and yes, perhaps a little preference for Scottish players to do well, which is only natural. Fans love nothing more than a local lad made good. It doesn’t mean there has to be anything sinister about it.”
A valid argument? Not really. There is more than one foreign player playing in Scottish football and none have received the same level of criticism.
Then there was the favourable coverage of French footballer Moussa Dembele, who the same reporter would praise in his next paragraph.
So if, as the Scottish media claim: they are not xenophobic but maybe a little jingoistic – why is it only certain foreign persons who receive their negative coverage – is it because they play for one club in particular?
The dogs bark. And the caravan moves
Before Alfredo Morelos it was former Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha who would suffer from this so-called ‘jingoism’.
Caixinha’s tenure wasn’t as successful as fans had hoped. His relationship with supporters broke down after the defeat to Luxembourg part-timers, Progres Niederkorn. It was really only a matter of time before his position would become untenable.
However his job wasn’t made any easier by the attitude of the Scottish media towards his appointment, and the vitriolic articles and comments that would follow his press conferences.
Then there was the behaviour of shock-jock pundit and Celtic mouthpiece, Chris Sutton, who attempted to pick a fight and ridicule the man live-on-air.
No other manager in Scottish football received this type of treatment. The knives were out for the Rangers coach – the media didn’t have time for Morelos.
When the Rangers board eventually brought Caixinha’s short stint as manager to an end in October 2017, Sutton would stick the boot in one more time.
In a video on his personal twitter, the former Celtic striker, and BT Sport pundit called the Portuguese man “the class clown”. Describing Caixinha as the most embarrassing Rangers manager ever.
Since Caixinha’s departure, Sutton has directed the same ‘professionalism’ towards Morelos.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Steven Gerrard and the boost his appointment gave Rangers that the campaign against the Colombian really took off.
If accusing the Scottish media of being xenophobic is, as they insist, unfair – then is it both Caixinha and Morelos’ association to Rangers which is behind their obsession?
No one likes us – we should care
Alfredo found new wind when Gerrard took over as manager. He is a handful for defenders and very physical. It didn’t take long for Scottish clubs to realise they would have to foul him – rough him up – if they stood any chance of stopping the young marksman from finding the net.
There is no doubt Morelos can lose his head and is easily wound up during matches. Many players would respond the same if they were consistently kicked and received no protection from the officials.
When England and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard took over at Ibrox, Scottish football pundits faced a dilemma:
- Could they really criticise the highly respected Gerrard as much as they did Rangers last manager?
- How would their English counterparts react to any negative coverage of one of their own?
- Would it cause England’s media to publicly question their motives?
Chris Sutton in particular would understand the consequences of unfairly criticising the person many hope will be the next Liverpool and possibly England manager. And Sutton’s real ambition is undoubtedly to continue his media career south of the border.
Then we have Gerrard himself. The Ibrox Gaffer is not slow to put down any reporter who tries to plot twist at any of his press conferences. He would crush Sutton et al if they tried the same tactics used on Caixinha.
So how could they keep Rangers in their box? Morelos of course.
As Gerrard’s first season progressed it was obvious his team relied too heavily on the South American to win games. And for a brief period it looked like Rangers would finally present a challenge to Celtic’s recent dominance.
The media had already built up a public perception of the striker through their negative coverage. The player with “the puppy fat and the bad attitude”. Followed by headlines, such as, “Rangers will help bad boy Morelos” which appeared in the Scottish Express in December ’18.
The narrative had been building slowly. The Scottish press may refute allegations of xenophobia but they may need to take time for reflection.
Sportscene: Self-appointed match officials
Then there is BBC Sportscene’s coverage of Rangers matches, including the length of time they would focus on Morelos during their highlights programme.
Every episode would feature in-depth analysis of Alfredo’s actions and would fail to highlight any provocation from others in the build-up.
It was an obvious attempt to get him banned. BBC Sportscene were effectively re-refereeing matches as incidents highlighted by them would then be cited by the Compliance Officer a number of days later.
Coverage had become so toxic that Rangers Managing Director, Stewart Robertson, felt it necessary to call the publicly-funded organisation out on their bias. The same bias that has blighted BBC Scotland’s relationship with the Ibrox club for many years.
This finally came to a head after Rangers victory over rivals Celtic at the end of December 2018 that put Steven Gerrard’s side in contention for the title.
It was a typical Old Firm match, hefty challenges and end to end action. Rangers bossed the fixture from start to finish and ran out deserved winners. Everyone agreed referee John Beaton had a great performance.
But soon after the narrative changed.
BBC Sportscene coverage once again would obsessively pick through Morelos’s contribution to the game. Ignoring the actions of other players and their role in certain flashpoints during the match.
John Beaton who everyone agreed had a fantastic game was now the subject of controversy with many questioning his integrity.
Celtic would also release a statement requesting a referee summit with the SFA, instead of addressing the real issue for their defeat – lack of investment.
Their fans, the perpetual victims, would eat it up. It was classic deflection from Celtic, and would highlight their influence within the SFA and media.
Referee John Beaton would receive police protection and Alfredo Morelos was now the Colombian bogeyman after a media led witch-hunt that continued for three weeks.
This would also have an effect on how the Rangers striker is refereed during future games. Not only by referees but also those within the office of the Compliance Officer, Clare Whyte, who was under immense pressure for refusing to cite Morelos after the Old Firm fixture.
The spotlight eventually died down for match official John Beaton, but for Morelos it was gradually getting worse. Over the next month he would be portrayed as public enemy number one.
A red card against Aberdeen for violent conduct would see the Rangers man cited by the compliance officer and receive a three match ban.
Rangers fans expected the red card to be rescinded as the Colombian was the victim of a nasty challenge by Aberdeen defender McKenna. But with all the media pressure on officials, Clare Whyte bowed to criticism and banned the young player.
Whyte would also ban Rangers keeper Allan McGregor for an incident during the same game; contrary to compliance laws.
Is Morelos’s abuse deliberate xenophobia?
In modern day Scotland the answer to this question isn’t straightforward.
Yes, without doubt their coverage has been xenophobic in nature, but was this due to an open dislike of foreigners? I would suggest not.
There are many foreign players within the Scottish game, and none have received the same criticism. For example, Alfredo Morelos has been transformed from footballer to public enemy number one in just under one season.
Xenophobia is used to unite certain groups behind a specific cause, which in Scotland’s case, helps push an anti-Rangers/anti-Unionist agenda.
As any Rangers fan can attest, this season has seen a ‘love-in’ between both Aberdeen and Celtic, through a common hatred of anything Rangers. So pushing xenophobic narratives certainly has its usefulness.
But who stands to benefit? In that answer you will find the culprits.