Year of the Buffalo

In a few hours, Scotland will hold its breath when Rangers will host Celtic for the ‘Old Firm’ derby, one of the most famous derby matches in the world. After several years of Celtic’s domination in the local league while Rangers where nowhere around, finally there’s a decent competition between the two best clubs in Scotland. 

Will it be Ranger’s year, as they will try to prevent Celtic their 8th straight title? Rangers fans who look for some optimism during the race, can find it in the legs of the club’s talented young Colombian striker of the, Alfredo Morelos.

A Buffalo in Search for a Pasturage
Morelos is no different from other South American talented kids who grew up in poverty and have reached the top thanks to their talent. 

He was born on June 21st 1996 in Cerete, a small town in Cordoba county, Colombia. As a kid he was very talented on the field. His father, Alfredo Sr., couldn’t afford his son a football academy curriculum, or buying him football equipment. When a coach from the local academy saw Morelos in action in the nearby pitch, he decided to take him under his custody. Morelos was developing quickly, and shortly after he got the call for trials in Independiente Medellin. 

Under the eyes of coach Hernan Dario Gomez, he impressed in the trials, and from an early stage the club he was marked as a goal scorer and got the nickname name “El Bufalo” (The Buffalo). 

Unfortunately, Morelos had failed to bring those qualities in real games. To be fair, he didn’t get too many opportunities in Medellin. The expectations from Morelos stood still as well in the young Colombian national teams, yet his lack of form was significant in both U-17 and U-20 South American championships, where he simply disappeared in these tournaments.

Just when it seemed that Morelos will become another waste in the Colombian talent ocean, he decided to take a step forward. In 2016, with offers from big Colombian or South American sides were nowhere near, Morelos decided to take a chance and accept an offer from the Finnish club, HJK Helsinki.

A Ride to Ibrox via Finland
Disappearing from the Colombian radar and joining a weak European league was a risky move, but for Morelos, it was the step that probably saved his career. In two seasons with HJK, Morelos finally showed some abilities. His overall stats included 46 goals in 62 matches in all competitions - impressive numbers by all accounts

The turning point came when former Finnish international and Ranger’s player, Jonathan Johansson, had arrived in Finland for a scouting job for the Glasgow side. At the time, he worked as the assistant of former Rangers coach, Pedro Caixinha. His mission was to find a striker to sign for the Scottish club. Morelos wasn’t on Johansson’s list, but when the latter saw him, he immediately called the Portuguese gaffer and said: “I found exactly what we need”. Morelos was purchased for only €1.5M, a ridiculous amount regarding his worth now. 

One of the better characteristics of Morelos is his inner peace. He is a very shy and quiet person, different from modern football young talents. He managed to adjust quickly to life in Scotland. In his first month at Rangers, he scored no less than 8 goals in all competitions, and the Ibrox fans in fell in love with him.

Eventually he had a very good first year, scoring 18 goals overall. He was the club’s top scorer and the league’s runner-up. Rangers finished 3rd and Morelos was nominated for the best young player of the year in 2018. 

Going Good with Stevie G

This summer, Rangers has appointed ex-Liverpool legend, Steven Gerrard, as head coach, and rejected several offers on Morelos, including an £8M from an anonymous Chinese club. Up to date, the Buffalo has notched 12 goals in the league and another 8 in the Europa League and domestic cup combined. Between September 23rd to December 2nd he scored in 8 straight matches. 

“He is very important to us”, said Gerrard. “I won’t turn off my phone if an offer will arrive, but I have to warn everyone that Alfredo is not going anywhere so quickly”. Stevie G knows exactly why. Morelos can be the difference between winning the title for the first time since 2011 or watching Celtic’s back for another year. Due to Morelos’ current form, Rangers are in a good position, despite their unexpected draw against Hibernian at home, which increased Celtic’s lead to three points, with a game in hand. A win in the 'Old Firm' is extremely important. Actually, it’s a must.

But with all due respect to Rangers, Morelos’ biggest dream is to succeed where he failed - the Colombian national team. Jose Pekerman neglected him before the 2018 World Cup in Russia, despite his good form, but Morelos received his first invitation from Arturo Reyes, the interim coach, for friendlies against Venezuela and Argentina in September. He was used as a substitute in the last 20 minutes versus  Venezuela, but if he'll continue this way, he'll sure be a part of the regular squad for the upcoming missions: The 2019 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. 

Until then, Rangers fans will hope ‘El Bufalo’ will find the net against their arch-rivals, and try to enjoy him as much as they can because it doesn't seems like he's going to stay there for a long time.