Crooks looking forward to '˜moving on to bigger and better things' with the Cobblers
Matt Crooks has already come to terms with the fact he is an ex-Rangers player, and is looking forward to '˜moving on to bigger and better things' with the Cobblers.
The 23-year-old midfielder signed for the Glasgow giants a year ago in what looked like a dream move, joining the Scottish Premiership club from Sky Bet League Two minnows Accrington Stanley.
But the move north of the border soon turned into a bit of a grim tale for Leeds-born Crooks, who frustratingly suffered an ankle injury before the season started, and then struggled to establish himself in the first team, making only one start and two substitute appearances.
Desperate to play football, Crooks went out on loan to Cobblers’ Sky Bet League One rivals Scunthorpe United, making his debut for the Iron in a 2-1 win at Sixfields in January, but while he was at Glanford Park, the man who signed him and fellow Accrington man Josh Windass for Rangers, Mark Warburton, was shown the door.
After his loan at Scunthorpe was cut short by a knee injury, Crooks returned for duty at Ibrox but new boss Pedro Caixinha deemed the player surplus to requirements, ultimately leading to his transfer to the Cobblers this week.
It must be a massive step for any player to leave such a huge club as Rangers, a worldwide brand that regularly attracts crowds of close to 50,000 for home games.
It’s a far cry from what he can expect when he runs out at Sixfields, but that doesn’t matter to Crooks.
All he wants to do is play football, and that wasn’t going to happen in Glasgow.
“It didn’t go how I wanted it to go at Rangers, but that’s football sometimes,” said Crooks, who played his academy football at Huddersfield Town, before signing his first pro deal there as a 16-year-old in 2010.
“I am just looking forward to the future now, moving past it, and moving on to bigger and better things.”
Asked if it is a wrench to swap Ibrox for Sixfields, Crooks is adamant it isn’t.
“It is a big club, but I think at my age you just want to play football,” said the former Accrington Stanley man.
“When I was at Accy, obviously the facilities there are nothing like they are at Rangers, but I would probably say I enjoyed it more, because I was playing.
“That’s what you want to do as a footballer, you just want to play.
“I have been given the opportunity to play here at Northampton, and that’s what I want to do.”
Playing games is a big attraction to Crooks due to his frustrations with injuries during the past 12 months.
That initial ankle injury last summer was followed up by a ligament injury to his left knee in April, but the player says he is now fit and healthy.
With recent game time being so scarce for Crooks - he has played just 15 competitive games in the past 16 months - there might be a concern about his fitness.
But the player revealed he has been working hard in pre-season, and is confident he is up to speed and will be able to immediately join in with his new Cobblers team-mates.
“I tore a ligament in my left knee, but I am fine now and can’t wait to get playing,” said Crooks, who travelled with the Town squad to Tuesday night’s 4-0 friendly win at Frome Town, and also Wednesday#s 2-0 loss at AFC Rushden & Diamonds, but didn’t play.
“I have been training with the under-20s at Rangers, and doing bits with them.
“I have also been trying to do bits myself as well, so I am okay fitness wise.
“The injuries are also behind me now. I had some bad luck with injuries last season, but hopefully I can now stay fully fit.”
Rather than whether or not he should leave Rangers, peraps the tougher decision for Crooks was whether he joined the Cobblers or returned to Scunthorpe, who were very keen on re-signing him after his successful loan spell at Glanford Park last season.
“They were a good group of lads at Scunthorpe, and I enjoyed my time there, and at least I know the league a bit now,” he said.
“Before going to Scunthorpe I had not actually played in league one before, I had been in league two, but I just enjoy playing and as long as I get games I am happy.
“I have made friends at Scunthorpe, I enjoyed it there and me and the gaffer got on well.
“But when I came here (to Northampton), and I saw the place, and saw what was going on with the investment and where the club wants to go, I thought it was the right decision for me.”
So what type of player can the Cobblers supporters look foward to seeing in the claret and white this season?
“I am a box-to-box player really,” said Crooks. “I like to create and score goals, but at the same time I know there are defensive duties to be done.
“So I would say I can do a bit of both.”
If you take a look on the internet for a little bit of history on Crooks, he is listed virtually everywhere as a central midfielder or central defender.
Well, the player himself is a bit bemused by that defender tag.
“I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “I only played centre back once, and it seems to be all over social media that I can play centre-half, but I am a central midfielder.
“If the manager wants me to play centre-half, then I’ll play there and do a job, but I prefer centre midfield.”
It is going to be an area of the pitch where there is going to be massive competition, with Crooks joining John-Joe O’Toole, Yaser Kasim, Shaun McWilliams, Matt Taylor and Sam Foley in bidding to win a first team place in there.
And the new signing is up for that particular fight.
“Competition is good for the squad,” said Crooks. “It only bodes well that there is competition, and I am looking forward to competing for a place in midfield.”
Crooks has got down to work with the Town squad this week, but he admitted his timing has been a bit off as he missed out on the training camp at Oliva Nova.
“I am a bit gutted I missed the trip to Spain, it looked nice and sunny,” said Crooks. “I was in Glasgow, and it was raining, unsurprisingly!
“So I am looking forward to meeting the lads, and it is always good to meet new people and I am sure they are a good bunch.”
Crooks could be in line for a first Cobblers appearance in Saturday’s NFA Maunsell Cup Final against Kettering Town, which is being played at Wellingborough Town’s Dof & Duck ground (ko 3pm), but if not he is sure to feature in next Tuesday’s Sixfields friendly with Championship side Derby County.