Three years ago there were reports linking Kai Kennedy to Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Yesterday Rangers announced via Twitter that his contract with the club wouldn’t be renewed. In 2020 when the links arose The Sun reported Steven Gerrard convinced him to stay at Ibrox. So, what has happened since then? How has a player who was touted for the top, ended up getting released from the club he’s been at since 2018?
In an article on caughtoffside.com writer Leah Smith had this to say about the youngster;
Kai Kennedy is arguably one of Scottish football’s most exciting talents on display currently. The youngster is destined to follow in the recent footsteps of impressive compatriots, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney.
The Scottish winger will undoubtedly be being monitored by some of Europe’s best clubs as the youngster displays some seriously impressive offensive traits and is someone who has all the makings to go onto achieve great things in even more illustrious leagues.Leah Smith, caughtoffside.com
Incredibly high praise and it was at this time there was rumoured interest from the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich. He has always been a really exciting player to watch. Capable of dragging the ball up the pitch and taking on defenders while doing it. His biggest strength was always his dribbling ability. His incredibly low centre of gravity made it difficult for defenders to knock him off of the ball. At times when he’s playing it genuinely seems like the ball is glued to his foot.
He signed a new contract to 2023 as a 19-year-old in 2021 and Rangers turned down bids from West Ham at the time. Rangers, in fact, turned down three bids from the Hammers according to Glasgow Live. The last of the bids was believed to be around £1m, which was a significant amount for an inexperienced youngster. In the same article, ex-Rangers full-back Alan Hutton had this to say on Kennedy;
It shows you what their train of thought is. They obviously see him as someone they want to integrate into the first team very soon, I would have thought, if they’re knocking those offers back.
I’m actually really looking forward to seeing him play, if I’m honest.Alan Hutton, Glasgow Live
That shows how highly thought of he was, again. This wasn’t just rumoured interest, Rangers turned down three bids from an EPL side. He was also attracting attention from around Europe as an unnamed French club also made an approach. Even watching him now it was easy to see why he turned heads. He was capable of dribbling with the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. He’s the type of player which excites fans. To go with that old cliche, he ‘gets bums on seats’.
He’s had multiple loan spells during his time at Ibrox. In the 20/21 season he split the year between loans at Inverness and Raith Rovers. The loan spell at Inverness was cut short due to him feeling homesick during lock down, as told by John Robertson to The Athletic. Over the course of that season he scored two goals and got four assists in 24 Championship appearances. The next season, he again split the year between two Championship sides, this time it was Dunfermline and Hamilton. He had similar numbers to the previous season, scoring two and getting three assists in 21 Championship appearances.
This season though, he really kicked on at Falkirk, the biggest issue with that was he had to step down a level to find his form. A once highly touted 18-year-old now seemed to be finding his feet at League One level at 21-years-old. The highlight of his season though was the scoring the winner, directly from a free-kick, in the Scottish Cup Quarter-Final against Ayr United. He had this to say on the moment;
Making my Rangers debut is right up there but Monday night was some feeling. To get the winning goal was amazing.Kai Kennedy to the Daily Record
This season, as previously mentioned, was the best of his career. In 38 total appearances for Falkirk, he scored eleven goals and got ten assists. Watching this version of Kai Kennedy was like watching the 18-year-old playing for Rangers B team, clearly a cut-above. Unfortunately that quality at B team level didn’t transpire into anything, until this season and only when he took a further step down the leagues.
After this season it was clear he wasn’t going to be ready anytime soon for the Rangers first-team, especially with a huge rebuild on the way. It’s a shame that the potential he had shown at the club under Steven Gerrard didn’t come to fruition but that’s just football.
There had been speculation of attitude issues and the player making outrageous contract demands, all of which were denied by Gerrard at the time. Sometimes promise just doesn’t translate into being good enough for Rangers. It’s happened many times before now and will definitely happen again.
He had multiple chances out on loan at Championship sides to show he was ready for the step-up to the SPFL but he just didn’t provide the performances or numbers to justify a chance in the first-team. He still has a lot to learn and fine-tune within his game and that is why Rangers are allowing his contract to expire. I’m sure many, including Michael Beale, probably expected his career to go a different way, but, unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to fulfill that early promise.
He leaves Rangers having made that one appearance for the first team under Steven Gerrard against Stranraer, a moment he’s sure to cherish. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kai Kennedy will go on to have a successful career. He’s clearly a very gifted footballer and still has age on his side.
Football Scotland exclusively revealed interest from Croatian club Osijek, the club Rangers bought Borna Barisic from. This would be an incredible move for the youngster, he’s very technically gifted and the Croatian league is full of technical talent. It would also allow him to follow in the footsteps of other young Scottish players who have went abroad with great success. Interest is sure to be high in Kennedy as he’s an exciting player who fans will love to watch and, as seen by his numbers, has clearly been working on his end product.
Rangers, via their announcement on the Official Website had this to say regarding the exit of youth players;
As part of our player care programme, the club will work closely with the players to ensure they continue their football journey, providing regular check-ins and supportRangers FC via the clubs official website
Despite fans expecting the club would do this it is great to have it confirmed. The point of the academy is to prepare young players for a career in football. Not all of them will make it at Rangers but that doesn’t mean the academy isn’t successful. Fans would love if every highly touted youngster ended up being a Barry Ferguson, but that’s not realistic. For every Barry Ferguson, there’s a Kai Kennedy.
I really hope he finds a club he can call home and turns into the player we all thought he could, best of luck Kai.