Teenage winger Kieron Willox will keep his feet on the ground after landing an eye-catching move from Caley Thistle to Rangers.
That’s the view of Inverness youth coach Ryan Esson, who is gutted to lose the 16-year-old starlet to the Glasgow giants, but explained what the Light Blues are getting.
After spending six seasons at the Caledonian Stadium, Willox moves from the Championship side without yet having reached the senior team.
He is one of a clutch of youngsters snapped up by Rangers and joins the Premiership big-hitters’ full-time programme in the professional development phase joining up with the under-18s team.
Willox was in the ICT squad Esson coached which reached last season’s Scottish Youth Cup semi-finals, where they were pipped by Hearts, who subsequently lost to Rangers in the final.
Natural talent will develop further
Former Caley Jags and Aberdeen goalkeeper Esson saw Willox tear opponents apart in the 16s and is not shocked to see the skillful teenager score such a top move.
He said: “Kieron is a talented boy. His individual skills are excellent. He’s two-footed, can score goals and he’s quick and decent in the air.
“All those factors are exactly why Rangers have signed him.
“Kieron has grown and developed, but, of course, given his age, still has a bit to learn in terms of the tactical and positional side of the game – but when he gets the ball he is really good. He’s still a young boy and he will improve further.
“I had him for a good spell, although probably not as long as some other coaches at the club. I watched him often play for the 16s and I recall a 2-1 win against Aberdeen where Kieron scored both goals and was unbelievable.
“He tortured the left-back then right-back before playing through the middle. Their back four never got a minute.
“If he was still with me this season, I was going to play him on the left. My system was probably going to revolve around him and Calum Mackay – putting them where I felt they were most effective.”
Sound advice so crucial at Rangers
Esson, a Scottish Cup-winning player with ICT in 2015, is confident Willox will take advice from those at Rangers and those closest to him to shut out potential negative by-products from his big move.
He said: “Sometimes, as a young boy, a move like that can lead to you getting carried away with yourself.
“It is all about learning. He’s going to make mistakes and he’s got to be allowed to make mistakes at his age. People can’t be too hard on him when he does make errors.
“It’s a big, bad world now with social media where everyone is scrutinising you. And he will have to understand he’s gone to a football club where everything he does is scrutinised.
We can confirm that our outstanding ICTFC Academy player Kieron Willox has joined Rangers Football Club.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) June 28, 2022
“There will be people out there who might try and affect him – like opposition fans – and that’s another aspect Kieron will have to learn.
“But Rangers have got the right coaches and people in place to advise him.
“I know his parents and they are good people. I have spoken to them often about (this move) and his football career and how he plays the game.
“So, he has good people around him who I’m sure will address any issues that can go on. I have no worries about that.”
Academy working for first-team aims and sorry to lose red-hot talent
And Esson is keen to point out the success of current young guns at Caley Thistle who are now first-team players within Billy Dodds’ squad.
He added: “People might say Kieron’s move is a success story for the club in a way, but we’d also have loved to have kept him.
“We would liked to have the fruits of Kieron’s talents for years ahead, but when the Old Firm come calling, you can’t turn it down.
“If we are getting players recognised by clubs like Rangers, it shows the academy and coaches here are doing things right.
“We have had a good few players moved on, but we cannot forget players who are in our first-team who have come through here, such as Roddy MacGregor, Cameron Harper and Lewis Nicolson.
“It’s not just about players moving on, but developing what we have here so they have a pathway to move into our first-team. Overall, we’re doing pretty well.”
Nairn lad goes with best wishes
And it’s not just ICT who were sad to see Willox go.
Highland League club Nairn County also valued his contribution as a volunteer in and around Station Park.
We would all like to wish our matchday volunteer Kieron Willox all the best on his move to Rangers.
The 16-year-old Nairn local moves from ICT and in his free time, has helped us out with various matchday tasks over the years.
All the best, Kieron – go smash it! pic.twitter.com/sdNnkBq7VH
— Nairn County FC (@NairnCounty) June 28, 2022
They tweeted: “We would all like to wish our matchday volunteer Kieron Willox all the best on his move to Rangers.
“The 16-year-old Nairn local moves from ICT and, in his free time, has helped us out with various matchday tasks over the years.
“All the best, Kieron – go smash it!”
Support on hand for Gers recruits
Willox is one of a small group of youngsters recruited by the Ibrox club this week and Rangers’ head of academy Craig Mulholland underlined the support on hand for the group as they aim to develop.
He said: “We know how exciting and proud a time this is for the players and their families.
🗒️ Rangers Academy are pleased to confirm details of the players who have joined our full-time programme in the Professional Development Phase joining up with our Under-18s Team.
— Rangers B & Academy (@RFC_Youth) June 28, 2022
“Our staff off the pitch will support them fully to ensure they also maximise their academic education, have strong wellbeing support and are housed in excellent home environments, all of which will aid their development as footballers and importantly as people.”