The pursuit of medals was one of the factors that attracted Abdallah Sima to Ibrox last summer. Indeed, it could be a key consideration for him as he deliberates over and then decides his future at the end of the season.

International honours were not on the radar when he completed his move from Brighton and Hove Albion. A few months on, Sima has a trophy to his credit and is now dreaming of success with Senegal after seeing his sterling domestic and European efforts rewarded on the continent of his birth. He has been a revelation for Rangers and he can star for Senegal.

Sima’s inclusion in the squad for the African Cup of Nations is a double-edged sword for Rangers. Philippe Clement had to be jovial about the situation as he acknowledged what it meant for a player that has been an integral part of his plans in recent months.

 "That's not a nice question! That's a mean one, to be honest," the Belgian joked when asked about Sima's call-up last month. "No, I'm not happy that he's selected but I understand. I've been an international myself and it was a great honour to play for my country. I was always really proud every time it happened so I understand that it's really important for the players.

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"As a club, as a manager, nothing to do to go against it, it's strange to have a tournament during a season. We're not the only team in the world in that way also so it's things you need to accept and to be happy for him that he gets the respect out of his country and he deserves it."

It speaks volumes for the platform that Sima has been given at Ibrox and he is in line to earn his fifth cap for the Lions of Teranga in their final warm-up match against Niger this afternoon.

Rangers agreed with the Senegalese Association that Sima could join up after the win over Kilmarnock. If a run to the final is repeated, it will rule him out of the Scottish Cup trip to Dumbarton and crucial Premiership matches with Hibernian, St Mirren, Livingston and Aberdeen, and potentially the second game in hand at home to Ross County. Sima will surely have one eye on events back in Scotland.

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When Aliou Cisse’s side made history by winning the tournament two years ago, Sima could only have wished to be in a position to help defend the title. He finds himself playing alongside Sadio Mane, one of his heroes and the talisman of Senegalese football, at a time when this group is preparing for one last shot at glory. Sima is primed to be part of the future.

“There hasn’t been a team to win back-to-back AFCONs in quite a while,” Alasdair Howorth, host of the ‘On The Whistle’ podcast that provides news, analysis and interviews on African football told the Rangers Review. “This Senegal team is coming to the end of their ‘Golden Generation’. They have had this core group of players for six, seven, eight years now, which is Edouard Mendy, Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly, and these players are coming to the end of their time with Senegal. This is probably the last AFCON that some of these players will be going to and certainly the last one where they will be the stars.

“They are coming into the tournament as one of the favourites, if not the favourites. They have had this Golden Generation of players and have been bleeding in a new crop of talented players, that Sima is a part of. This is a team that is looking towards the future now and they have been able to blend those youngsters in with the experienced guys quite well.”

Cameroon were the last team to defend the AFCON crown after winning the first two competitions at the turn of the century and Egypt are the only other nation to achieve the feat. Inspired by Mo Salah, they will once again be contenders in the Ivory Coast and Morocco are the other fancied nation on the back of their historic venture to the last four of the World Cup. The task ahead of Senegal is significant.

The build-up to the tournament has been somewhat low-key in a country that is obsessed with the beautiful game. Political machinations - including the arrest of a vocal opposition figure - ahead of the presidential elections next month dominate the public consciousness at present but AFCON will take centre stage when the matches against Gambia, Guinea and Cameroon begin next Monday.

Cisse and his players were given a welcome fit for national heroes when they returned to Dakar with the trophy last February. Crowds that were several hundred thousand strong lined the route from the airport to the presidential residence and those that will pull on the jersey in Group C will be fully aware of the expectations on their shoulders.

“Senegal had been knocking on that door for decades but more especially from the turn of this century when they had the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Khalilou Fadiga and Aliou Cisse at the peak of their careers,” award-winning journalist, analyst and commentator Usher Komugisha told the Rangers Review. “That generation wowed many during their World Cup debut in 2002 but never won an AFCON. But when Senegal eventually lifted the Africa Cup of Nations trophy two years ago, they could finally breathe. They had finally broken the jinx. Now that they have crossed that line, the pressure to deliver is different from what it was at the 2017 and 2019 editions.

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“After winning the AFCON in 2021, Senegal went on an impressive run winning the African Nations Championship (CHAN) – for players that ply their trade at home, Beach Soccer AFCON, AFCON U20s and AFCON U17s. They are the first nation to achieve this sort of success, so the fans expect them to continue from where they stopped. The target is to now to defend their title and they have the squad to do that, but the pressure is different.”

In some ways, the coming weeks in the Ivory Coast are a free hit for Sima and the main pressure on his shoulders will be the one that he places on himself. Yet he has joined up with the national side in the form of his life and he signed off from matters at Ibrox with a fine strike in the victory over Kilmarnock.

He had addressed the prospect of being picked for AFCON ahead of the win in Seville. Playing his part in such occasions has undoubtedly aided his cause and his form for Rangers ultimately could not be overlooked by Cisse. Sima is now living his dream.

"I'm so proud to play for Senegal," Sima said after joining up with the squad in recent days. "When I knew that I was in the squad for the Cup of Nations, I was very happy and so was my whole family. My dream is bring the cup home to them. I think we have the squad capable of winning this tournament and I want to be part of the squad that wins this trophy again. For me, it’s the team that’s the most important.

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"I am one of the less experienced players in the squad because I don't have a lot of caps. So it's up to me to bring something extra to the team if called upon. I have scored a lot of goals so far this season and I hope to bring the qualities I have shown at Rangers to the team here. I definitely believe we can win the cup."

His efforts have brought a League Cup medal and Europa League progression thus far and Clement has already made public his desire to retain the forward when his loan deal expires.

Sima’s skillset has been enhanced over the course of his time in Glasgow. He may not have the profile of the three potential heirs to Mane’s throne but he provides a different option to Marseille duo Iliman Ndiaye and Ismaila Sarr and Nicolas Jackson, the Chelsea striker.

“Sima brings attributes that those three don’t,” Howorth said. “He has a lot of qualities that all three have – pace, movement, intelligence – but he is much better in front of goal than those three, he is a much better finisher, he is more composed, he is better in the air. If Sima is introduced, I think that is what makes him different from those other three in particular.

“He is still just as young as them so he has got a long way to go in terms of improving. I think that, for me, is where Sima could fit in. He probably won’t start but if he comes off the bench, particularly in the group stage, and creates goals and scores goals then there is really something there in terms of him potentially breaking into this squad.”

Sima’s rise and rise owes as much to the strength of his mind as his body. His breakthrough at Slavia Prague came after a short stint at MAS Taborsko as the talent that was first identified by French academy Thonon Evian was nurtured in the Czech capital. A return to France with Angers followed a loan at Stoke City and he has yet to establish himself at Brighton as he prepares to enter the final 12 months of a four-year contract.

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Sima has previously spoken about the sacrifices that he made and the uncertainties that he faced during the fledgling stages of his career. Mane acts as an inspiration in that regard. He was a late bloomer in the European game after working hard for his opportunities at the Generation Foot academy and with Metz and Red Bull Salzburg. Sima’s journey from the streets of Dakar to the bright lights of Ibrox and the AFCON stage is just as compelling a tale and time will tell what the next chapters bring as Rangers staff and supporters prepare to watch on with pride in the coming weeks.

“It is a very common path for a lot of African athletes,” Howorth said. “The scouting structure still isn’t there and there is still prejudice towards them, so a lot of these players have had to take that circuitous routes to the very top. That is the way these players need to make that journey.

“It means you have players that are incredibly adaptable but also incredibly motivated. Essentially, very few Africans are able to make that jump to the top tier of European football. They have to go through different countries. You get these very developed human beings, they tend to be a lot more mature compared to a lot of players because they have learned languages, learned cultures, have had to go to obscure places to break into football.

“Sima has gone through that well-trodden path and it makes him an interesting player. Everything I have seen of him at Rangers is brilliant and the AFCON is a great shop window. We have seen throughout the years that a big tournament performance can get you a move.”

That is a conversation for further down the line. It is one that Rangers will hope to have a say in as Clement looks to entice Sima to Glasgow on a permanent basis. If he can light up AFCON, he may well move into a price bracket that Rangers are unfortunately not able to afford come the summer.

“He is a very talented player and has a strong mind," Radio Dakar journalist, Saikou Seydi, told the Rangers Review. "He rose to fame in Slavia Prague but his transfer to Brighton slowed his progress. He went to Angers where it didn't work too well. But his departure for Rangers brought a new lease of life to his career. He was well received, well treated. He felt loved, so he does his best to return the favour.

"The AFCON is always an opportunity for African players, like the Euros is for Europeans and the Copa is for South Americans. It's a moment when players reveal themselves and catch the eye of foreign clubs. For Sima, if he has playing time, he will continue his good start to the season. And I think the Rangers should do their best to guard it. I think he wouldn't refuse it, because he feels very good there.”

The stage is set for Sima. He ranks former Ibrox forward Diouf and Henri Camara, once of Celtic, as his international idols and Mane, of course, comes into that equation as well. The Liverpool hero is now plying his trade in Saudi Arabi with Al Nassr but that won't threaten his place in Cisse's forward line.

“For Abdallah, it is very deserved that he is called up to the national team," Seydi said. "This is the logic of what he is doing with his club since the start of the season. Now he arrives as a substitute because he has attackers who are in the hierarchy in front of him, attackers like Boulaye Dia, Nicolas Jackson or Habib Diallo.

"But his use will depend on what he shows in training. His chances are also increased by the fact that he can play as a left centre forward. It’s true that there is Sadio Mane in this position, but it’s an option available to coach Cisse.

"The Senegalese public really appreciates Sima. We must already remember that Sima's summons was a request from the Senegalese public, who think that with his club performances, he can help the Senegal team. The Senegalese already followed him when he was in Slavia Prague. Senegalese supporters are counting a lot on him to get the second star.

“Senegal's game is based on good defence and offensively we proceed with counter attacks. Over the past few matches, we have noticed a variation in the Cisse systems. He has more young technical players that he allows himself to play with several systems."

If this AFCON proves to be a changing of the guard for Senegal, then Sima is in the right place at the right time. The Lions of Teranga are motivated by a series of failures as well as their recent successes and the quality of their squad would have ranked them amongst the front-runners for this tournament regardless of their recent achievements.

In Mane, Sima has the perfect role model to look up to. The 31-year-old is now the top scorer for his nation and is just a handful of caps short of Gueye, the veteran midfielder. The coming weeks could be enlightening on and off the park for Sima.

"Sadio Mane is a very humble man," Komugisha said. "His humility makes it very easy for everyone to relate with him and this cuts across the board – from his teammates, coaching staff, fans, media, and officials in general. Mane is the kind of player who will walk to Sima’s room the night before the first game and give him a pep talk.

"Generally speaking, Mane has transcended just the 90 minutes on the field of play. He has shown that success comes to those that are consistently working hard, disciplined, and ready to dream big. Mane was greatly inspired by El Hadji Diouf and now he is inspiring the next generation of players like Sima, Ismaila Sarr, Pape Matar Sarr and Lamine Camara to mention but a few."

Sima has come a long way in a short space of time. From a debut - one which Komugisha believes was ‘not what he expected’ and that he is seeking to ‘redeem’ himself from - against Congo as a 19-year-old, the former Slavia Prague wonderkid has been on an upward trajectory for club and country.

His international route is perhaps unconventional. Sima does not have scores of caps at youth level to his name and he has only made three other appearances – against Eswatini, Togo and Congo – for his national team. It makes him something of an ‘outsider’ that has ‘flown under the radar’ for Howorth but Sima is now ready for the next step professionally just weeks after the birth of his daughter marked a personal milestone.

“The one thing about Aliou Cisse is that he knows how to spot talent and reward it as well,” Komugisha said. “I definitely expected him to name Sima in the AFCON squad. 10 goals and two assists in 20 appearances in the league this season and 15 goals in 33 appearances overall is no mean feat. He is putting in the work at Rangers and deserves this.

“He is 22. Now is the time for him to expand his horizon and feature at the biggest tournament on the continent. Cisse is also preparing for the transition of ‘power’ within the squad.

“Senegalese love Sima. They have seen him grow in his career and love that he has finally got a chance to play at the AFCON. They want to see him shine. At 22, he is at the ripe age to be introduced to the AFCON. He is ready. His form speaks for him.”