Indeed, a calamitous season that began with disappointment – in the form of a last-gasp home defeat to eventual runaway leaders Hearts – and ended in catastrophe – with that play-off final routing by Motherwell, followed by those appalling scenes thereafter – would go on to attract more bad publicity off the pitch than on it.
No less than three managers would pass through the continually-revolving turnstile at Ibrox over the course of the last ten or so months, beginning with former fan favourite-turned inevitable squatter Ally McCoist being placed on “gardening leave” in December (oh, football clichés, how we cherish you so) after a below-par run of results had left The Gers’ title hopes hanging by a thread even at such an early stage. Caretaker replacement Kenny McDowall was supposed to bring about the change in fortunes Scotland had been expecting for months, but his record – one of the poorest for a Rangers manager in living memory – ultimately resulted in his downfall just months into the job. Even national treasure and ex-managerial prodigé Stuart McCall was unable to stop the rot, with Sunday’s damaging defeat seemingly proving the final nail in the freshly-crafted coffin of McCall. He, for what it’s worth, still insists he wants the job.
And then there were the traumatic and, quite frankly, laughable headlines that came out of Govan faster than a blink of an eye. Whether it was the failed attempts to hold the annual AGM nearly 500 miles away in London, the eventual fracas that followed the event in its final destination at Ibrox, or the so-called “Ashley-gate” that ensued once five apparently unfit players were loaned from Newcastle on deadline day, Celtic supporters worldwide rejoiced as the continuing sitcom to come out of this once great football club became the gift that just kept on giving. Rangers fans, meanwhile, ensured their voice was heard, with several ugly scenes erupting in the aftermath of the chaos.
Emerging from all the madness, however, there seems to be a glimmer of light. With McCall quite possibly out of the running for the full time position after the 6-1 aggregate play-off final defeat, which above all highlighted just how far away Rangers are from Premiership standard at the moment, former Brentford manager Mark Warburton has been thrust into the ever-fading limelight, and, after preliminary talks with the Gers hierarchy, has been backed by the bookies to take the reins in the coming days.
Of course, further discussions lie ahead, and with Warburton also declaring his interest in the Bunley job – should Sean Dyche choose to make a move this summer – Rangers face stern competition for the talented Londoner. But with his appointment now a firm possibility, here are six reasons why Warburton is the man to get Rangers out of the bunker.
#1 Financial Stability
In recent years Rangers have gained somewhat of a reputation for overspending on mediocre signings. During their slug around the lower leagues of Scotland, reports regularly surfaced of misfiring players earning more than entire teams dotted around the divisions, and McCoist himself resorted to taking a substantial pay cut in a bid to cut costs. His players were less generous, however, and so enormous wage bills – coupled with the incredible financial mess already looming over the stands of Ibrox – were a continuous burden for a team not even able to scale the ladder fully. With further big names expected to leave Rangers over the break, reputation tarnished or otherwise, Warburton appears to be the perfect candidate to finally trim the wage bill at Rangers.
Warburton’s own wage will undoubtedly be less than the near-seven-figure salary per annum earned by some of his predecessors, and, having proven his ability to deliver under strict financial impositions at Brentford, his players are likely to follow suit. With the club drastically unable to afford another season in the second tier, amid stronger challenges from the much-improved Hibernian among others, Warburton seems like exactly the man to succeed on a budget.
#2 Fantastic Record
When Warburton took over from Uwe Rosler on a short-term contract in late 2013, few could have predicted the impact he would go on to have. After an impressive run of results, Warburton’s Bees surged to automatic promotion, something which, although a very real possibility under Rosler, was never a foregone conclusion until the appointment of Warburton. Immediately asserting himself on the club’s backroom staff, he soon became a hero to the fans, something which Rangers have been indefinitely lacking.
Moreover, if promotion to the Championship could have been foreseen, even the greatest of psychics would have underestimated the impact Brentford would have on the new league. Finishing above the likes of Derby and Nottingham Forest, teams with far superior budgets, Brentford’s first season back in the second-tier was an exceptionally fruitful campaign, culminating in an immensely impressive 5th placed finish, along with the small matter of a play-off berth. With just two matches between them and a trip to Wembley, Brentford ultimately succumbed at the penultimate hurdle, losing to a more-fancied Middlesbrough outfit after an anticlimactic second leg. Take nothing away from them however; Warburton’s side had proved everybody wrong with their performances in one of the most competitive leagues in the world, and with his own departure already let slip, their success seemed even more of an achievement.
Warburton may have less than two years’ managerial experience, but, having made the step up to the top job from his previous role as an assistant, already feels like a top manager. In stark contrast to the inexperienced appointments of McCoist and McDowall, Warburton offers a fresh outlook and, with a glimmering C.V. and an impressive track record, may well be exactly the man required to return a winning formula to Ibrox.
#3 David Weir
To the surprise of many, Warburton already possesses a strong link to Scotland and, indeed, Rangers. The silver hair of long-time international Davie Weir was a familiar site around Ibrox for many years, and with the talismanic defender linking up with Warburton as his personal No. 2 at Brentford, via an unforgiving reality check during a short spell as manager of Sheffield United, a return to the club he played for into his forties could well be on the cards.
Having shone under Walter Smith, Weir quickly became a legend at the club, and few would stand in the way of a return to the club he captained to a handful of trophies in the late noughties. While not necessarily a reason for Warburton to be appointed, the hunt for his assistant would be a one-sided experience, and Weir’s familiarity with the club and many of the players would ease any early nerves in the job.
#4 Player Knowledge
Having worked at numerous English clubs in a number of roles, Warburton has unquestionable knowledge of the English leagues, and with Weir potentially adding some much needed Scottish know-how, Rangers face the possibility of several valuable recruits should they decide to buy British – a wise move, given the flop status of many a ‘Ger beforehand.
Furthermore, with excessive experience as a youth coach at clubs as reputable as Watford, fans can expect a treasure trove of youth players to be integrated seamlessly and effectively into the first team. Having left Brentford after opposing the idea of working under a Director of Football, Warburton clearly intends to be in complete control of his signings, and has all the stats and momentum to back him up in any forays into the transfer market.
A well-liked manager, his players are sure to quickly take to him, as Rangers look to distance themselves from the dressing room unrest which has stolen headlines over the past few seasons. While the previous installation – and eventual failure – of McCall to deliver promotion may suggest nothing is a certainty in football, Warburton looks to be a safe bet for the time being at least.
#5 Potential Brentford Signings
As mentioned earlier, Warburton was popular amongst his players as well as the fans at Brentford and is likely to bring an acute selection of them to his new club, wherever it may be. Now, while he may not have exactly had the greatest squad on paper, Warburton certainly had some star performers at his fingertips. Spaniard Jota impressed during his first season in England, and with interest from numerous clubs, a move alongside Warburton would be considered a coup to Rangers. Another unlikely hero from last season was Stuart Dallas, and with a collection of precious late goals to his name, he could be the latest in a long list of Northern Irish natives to develop into stars at Rangers.
Striker Andre Gray took the huge step up from the Conference to the Championship with considerable aplomb, netting 18 goals in his maiden campaign. Though he is likely to command a hefty fee, the promise of regular football under Warburton could spell an end to Rangers’ on-field troubles and revitalise an ageing strike force, each of whom underwhelmed last season. The likes of James Tarkowski and Harlee Dean offer defensive stability, and with pantomine villain Bilel Mohsni set to depart on the worst possible note, a new, promising centre half to partner the ever-impressive Darren McGregor could be just what the doctor ordered for Rangers.
Of course, all of this talk is just speculation until Warburton makes a decision on where his future lies, but the possibility of several true star names arriving at Ibrox could be a decisive factor in his eventual appointment.
#6 Better for all PartiesIt’s safe to say Warburton’s career at Brentford didn’t have the fairytale ending he’d have hoped for. A leak midway through the season hinting at his departure, followed by its eventual confirmation, came as a shock to most Bees fans, who adored their home-grown gaffer, and having seemingly become a piece of the furniture at Griffin Park, Warburton soon became a sitting duck as he oversaw the remaining fixtures with remarkable professionalism. Not once did he show anything but extreme elegance, keeping his thoughts firmly away from the tabloids of today as he sought to win an unprecedented promotion as a goodbye gift to the club which had treated him so poorly in the final months. And so he departed with his reputation intact, if not enhanced by the way he carried out his job even after the bombshell had dropped.
Yet, one must wonder exactly how frustrated Warburton truly is at his departure. In his short time at the helm he had become one of the most successful managers in the club’s recent history, yet his dismissal hadn’t been fit for a peasant, let alone a king. Burnley might have caught his eye, but Scottish football offers something different, an escape from the greed and anguish that has dominated English football for the past two decades.
Now, I’m not saying for a second that Rangers are above any of those burdens, and I’m sure most would agree their financial past speaks for itself. But regardless, the chance to manage in different surroundings, the prospect of job stability and, above all, a concentration on the fitba must surely interest Warburton.
The appointment would be best for Rangers, too, after the shambolic recent past of unwanted figures looming around Ibrox long after their expiry dates. If Warburton can carry on with his duties as gracefully as he did in London, the focus may finally be on the football, and not the soap opera which surrounds it.
Much of Scottish football has made a laughing stock of Rangers this season, so even as a self-proclaimed Celtic fan I say it’s about time Rangers appointed someone as respectable and intelligent as Mark Warburton. And if I haven’t quite convinced you yet of the promise he would bring to Ibrox, well, I do hope he proves the doubters wrong, just as he did at Brentford. Because, at the end of the day, no matter how much we may claim to despise Rangers...well, it’d be quite nice to have them back.