It only took Michael Beale one post-match press conference to unambiguously share his thoughts on the future of Malik Tillman.

“Would you sign him? So would I - it’s a pretty obvious one”.

“You can see what he could grow into. I don’t know the exact fee, I don’t know where we’re going to go and get it from, but if we can do it, I would definitely sign Malik Tillman, yes.”

As revealed by the Rangers Review on Tuesday, the 20-year-old US international will not be returning to Ibrox on a permanent deal. Bayern Munich have cancelled the exclusive option-to-buy clause inserted in the loan deal struck between the two clubs last summer.

With serious interest from England, Germany and Italy, the Bundesliga outfit believe they can secure a bigger fee than the £5.8million Rangers would’ve had to pay to secure Tillman’s services on a permanent contract.

Instead, Bayern will pay Rangers a ÂŁ1m cancellation fee and 10 percent of a sell-on fee should the academy product leave the Allianz Arena.

There wasn’t an expectation within Ibrox that Tillman would eventually return a huge profit given the buy-back clause held by Bayern. The midfielder was viewed as an exceptionally talented player who could make a big impact on the pitch for the length of time spent at Ibrox.

While in many ways this feels like a win-win, with Rangers benefitting from Tillman’s presence last season and receiving a financial boost despite no permanent deal, the news leaves a gap that requires filling before the start of next season.

Because, in a debut season not without external difficulties, Tillman was a standout.

In the 2022/23 league season, he played 23 90 minutes, predominantly operating in the midfield three as opposed to the front three.

Tillman is a prototype Beale player; it's tricky to nail down his best position because of a varied skillset, extreme technical ability and, contrary to early beliefs, strengths off the ball.

“I do feel his best position is as a No.8 if he’s going to reach his full potential,” Beale said late last year. “If he is going to fulfil his potential which I think is very, very high, he needs to tick the box as a running No.8.”

Tillman’s goal threat from midfield, ability to progress the ball by passing or carrying possession and developing off-ball ability provided Beale with an offensive option in the middle. Given the on-loan youngster had all the traits to dominate a game, it made sense to place him in its centre, rather than on the periphery. 

Take a look at his attacking midfield radar from last season in the Scottish Premiership, with the caveat that a number of matches were spent in a midfield three, carrying a fair amount of defensive responsibility.

What is this showing me?

  • Tillman’s close to the boundaries across most areas. He didn’t average too many shots but still boasted a decent xG, which he would outperform, and was very active in the opposition box.
  • Don’t see a low pass accuracy or high turnover total as negative. Creative players need to take risks and Tillman regularly opts for the risky option.
  • A high pressure regain number speaks to Tillman’s strength off the ball come the end of his time at Ibrox.
  • A 96th percentile xG assisted ranking outlines the midfielder’s ability to create alongside convert.

READ MORE: Michael Beale's Rangers striker evolution and why Sam Lammers fits

Beale explained soon after taking the job that Tillman wanted to “play slightly higher” up the pitch and after Todd Cantwell started to make the right centre-midfield slot his own, the youngster got his wish. Operating just off the striker as a free No.10 enabled more shooting opportunities and a break from the same level of defensive demands a midfield berth required.

"Since we've come in, we've made quite a lot of modifications to Malik's game in terms of certain aspects,” Beale said after Tillman scored twice in a 2-0 win over Dundee United.

“He's showing good signs that he can do a variety of jobs. At such a young age I think he's got a really high ceiling.”

Looking at the midfielder’s shot map and pass map from last season, the word efficiency comes to mind.

He scored 10 league goals from an xG of 5.88. While, generally, xG overperformance levels out there’s a clear pattern over the course of the season. Despite spending the majority of his season in midfield, Tillman’s shot selection was consistently strong. 

Equally, his key pass map doesn’t feature crosses from the wings but cut-backs and plenty of involvement around the penalty box. Tillman’s clearly schooled in Bayern’s principles of attacking central areas, often waiting to create a better opportunity rather than snatching at a shot.

His cross that led to Scott Arfield’s winner in a stunning 3-2 comeback win against Aberdeen comes to mind…

... As does his finish against Motherwell in a 3-0 home win.

What about the matches that matter? No Rangers player had a big-game performance past PSV last season and Tillman, so early into his Ibrox career, played a huge part in wins over the Dutch outfit and USG to reach the Champions League.

Over the course of a season, how many 20-year-olds would’ve made the contribution he managed in their debut professional season? Especially given the unique demands placed on a Rangers player. In the early stages of this season, Tillman was playing in a team void of confidence and often found himself the scapegoat. Which brings us onto his defensive output.

“Everything in the Scottish league is pretty much different to the German one as well. It is way harder and way more focused on physicality. So I had to adapt to it,” the midfielder explained after winning PFA Young Player of the Year.

“But the team helped me a lot, the club helped me a lot, the people around helped me a lot and the fans as well. So they made it easy for me. I think I have grown up quickly as a footballer and a man.

“I think I have improved in every way. Before, I would say that my defensive work wasn’t quite good enough. That’s what annoyed the fans as well. That’s what I heard anyway. So I think I did a good job to improve on that point.

Tillman ended the season with 25.82 Possession-Adjusted Pressures (PAdj) per 90 - the highest total in the team. Similarly, no Rangers player averaged a higher PAdj Tackles and Interceptions total than Tillman’s 5.83.

Beale made no secret of his desire to keep Tillman at Ibrox next season. The consistent quality provided in a debut season was clear, with a "a really high ceiling" promising plenty more in the future. 

The news of no return frees up money that must now be spent filling the void he leaves.