Todd Cantwell reacts to 'strange' Rangers scrutiny as critics told the truth behind personal barbs

Rangers' Todd Cantwell
Rangers' Todd Cantwell -Credit:SNS Group

It didn’t take long for Todd Cantwell to divide opinion in Scottish football. Some people rate him as one of the Premiership’s most prodigious talents.

His virtuoso display for Rangers at Hampden against Hearts last weekend showed everyone what he’s capable of when he’s at it. Then there’s the other side. Maybe it’s the streaky blonde locks, blue hair-band and socks halfway down his calves. The back-chat to referees or accusations of diving. Or it might be the off-pitch dress sense and regular TikTok videos.

Either way, Cantwell gets people talking – he has done from the minute he arrived in Glasgow. If there’s a criticism of his ability it’s that he’s a luxury player who doesn’t produce when it matters most. In this city’s parlance, he’s seen as a bit of a fan-dancer. But there’s no doubt that at his best – which he was close to in that Scottish Cup semi-final win – he’s one of the best in the country.

Cantwell knows all of this, of course. And he feels the perception of him at Rangers simply doesn’t match the reality. As opposed to being a guy who might appear to be care-free – he’s developed a deep passion for the Ibrox club since joining.

And he’s relying on his single-mindedness – as well as his skill – to get Philippe Clement’s side over the line in the league title race. As Cantwell weighed up where he’s at in his Rangers career right now, he said: “Everyone has an on-field perception and an off-field one.

“My on-field perception is probably very wrong compared to the person that I really am. But I’m in a city where football is absolutely adored by both sides and you’re going to be recognised by people.

“People can make up their own minds about my on-field perception. But I do think it’s probably unfair and there’s certain people out there who like to jump on it and play up to it. That personal scrutiny is a bit strange because there’s so much more going on.

“But it seems to be highlighted quite a lot. I’m the type of player that invites conversation, I know that. And probably a bit of controversy as well. But I would like to be talked about in terms of how I play football more than anything else.

“I understand up here you have people who need to stay relevant and stay in the limelight. But for me, I’m concentrating on my football. We’ve got some big games coming up and I’m looking forward to finishing the season as strongly as possible.

“My family probably have to bite their tongue a lot more than I do. i’ve been in football a long time now and things probably go over my head.

“But for my family, they are probably sitting there chewing over it. They understand me as a person and as a player. They know exactly what type of lad I am. So stuff like that doesn’t bother me.”

Cantwell tries to keep a low profile in Glasgow, knowing the tensions that exist within the Old Firm goldfish bowl. But when it comes to football and trying to bring success to Ibrox, he says he thrives in that intensity. That’s why he has no regrets about leaving Norwich City behind for Gers.

He said: “Given where I was before, I needed to get out of my environment and get into a new one. I needed to play for an ambitious team. So in many ways, this move has definitely done the role that it was supposed to do.

“I try to keep myself to myself. But I do relish that intensity. I’ve spoken to a lot of people on my travels, a lot of Rangers fans.

“I understand what it means to play for this club. It’s not always easy to provide the quality you know you can because you have an off day.

“But I know what’s required here off the ball and how they want someone to play for that shirt. That’s all I can try to do in every game and, hopefully, then my quality comes through. The most testing part of being here is regarding yourself.

“The demands are obvious and simple. But for yourself, it’s about being able to pick yourself up from disappointments in games, in performances, in you or the team.

“Those are everyday challenges a footballer goes through and people probably don’t appreciate that so much. You don’t get that breathing time here. You go straight back into another game and the expectations are back up to the roof.

“So it’s important you find within yourself a place that you can get to and know what you can get out of yourself. I think I’ve found that here now.

“In terms of this season, from where it was to what’s up for grabs now – if you’d said to me at the start: ‘Would you take that’? I’d have probably said yes. And after a couple of injuries I’m now getting back into the shape I want to be in and looking to finish strongly.”

His display against the Jambos a week ago was a pretty good starting point for Cantwell. In his favoured No.10 role, he found spaces on the pitch where he could hurt Hearts and did so by creating Cyriel Dessers’ two goals. But for him, that’s the bare minimum Rangers fans should expect from him. He said: “I’d like that to be a baseline. I don’t think it was anywhere near my best performance. But it’s nice for me that it was well received.

With me moving forward at my fittest and best, playing where and how I want to play – there is a lot more to come. So if that can be my baseline until the end of the season, it can stand us in good stead.”