Rangers need new approach to challenge Celtic after Mark Warburton failure

Warburton wanted to use Rangers as a stepping stone but the confusion surrounding his exit does not mask the inadequate job he did for the club

17 February ~ BBC Scotland’s Chris McLaughlin this week claimed “embarrassment” was the word tweeted most often by Rangers fans regarding manager Mark Warburton’s departure after barely 20 months. McLaughlin has either been reading some very select feeds – most Rangers fans I know are happy about the news – or has confused what’s embarrassing for Rangers with what’s embarrassing for Warburton.

A brief statement on the club website at 9pm last Friday, accepting the resignation of Warburton and his assistant David Weir, led many to believe the site had been hacked. It was after midnight before Sky Sports News granted the story the full ticker headline treatment. The main confusion, and controversy, stems from Warburton and his team denying they ever resigned. Their subsequent protests through the League Managers Association have played to the “basket case” narrative surrounding Rangers since 2012’s liquidation.

But club chairman Dave King’s lengthy statement the next day confirmed rumours that the agent representing Warburton, Weir and head of recruitment Frank McParland, had earlier that week brokered their resignations. Indeed news of McParland’s departure broke before Friday.

It’s widely believed the three were in negotiations with Nottingham Forest before Forest decided to retain their own caretaker management team. Via representatives or otherwise, the trio had declared their intent to leave. Rangers let them go.

Arriving at Ibrox in June 2015, Warburton told King he saw Rangers as a stepping stone to managing in the English top flight. His attacking 4-3-3 formation and shrewd loan signings created a momentum which didn’t abate until the SPFL Championship and Challenge Cup were secured and Celtic defeated in the Scottish Cup semi-final. This first season back in the top flight was about securing second place with Scotland’s second-biggest playing budget. European football would then underpin the long project to overhaul Celtic as national champions.

But Joey Barton, dismissed from the club after Rangers collapsed 5-1 in September’s first Old Firm derby, was only the most high-profile of the summer’s disastrous signings by McParland and Warburton. A November loss at Hearts was so spineless it almost explained how Barton’s verbal attacks on both Celtic and Rangers employees had gone unchecked.

December home wins over Hearts and Aberdeen, Rangers’ two main challengers for second, were only achieved without most of the summer’s 11 new recruits. 

A 4-1 mauling in this month’s second visit to Hearts saw Rangers slip to third – as Barton re-established himself at Burnley – but Warburton grew angry only with fans and media. He felt expectations were unrealistic for a club in the fourth tier just four years previously.

Rangers fans can accept our club being used as a stepping stone, but not failing to collect a single point away to any main rival in two seasons. We know we’re years behind Celtic financially but Warburton spent three times more on Preston’s Joe Garner – good at bashing into people – than Celtic spent on Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé, currently scoring a hat-trick per game. And where the club were four years ago is why Warburton is the only Rangers manager ever tasked with finishing second.

A former city trader continually talking about players needing to see “a clear first-team pathway”, Warburton probably needed to escape before last Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie against Championship Morton completely ruined his CV. It was won 2-1 with Under-20s coach Graeme Murty in charge, as he will be at Dundee on Sunday.

Rangers have had to kiss a few frogs in the boardroom and on the pitch, on their long road back from liquidation. If this week’s stated desire to install a director of football proves successful, Warburton can claim he inspired it. He certainly made it clear Rangers needed yet another change. Alex Anderson