By Brian P. Dunleavy
As if the managerial situation at Rangers isn’t messy enough, what with former bench boss Mark Warburton leaving on the eve of the club’s fifth-round Scottish Cup tie at Greenock Morton last week, along with his backroom team (including former ’Gers skipper David Weir), now it seems there’s some discrepancy as to who did what to whom.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Warburton and his assistants are disputing the club’s version of events, which held that the manager and his staff submitted their resignations on February 10, and that the Ibrox board accepted them. However, in a statement released via the League Managers’ Association, Warburton et al made clear that “at no stage did [they] resign our positions at Rangers.” Litigation seems to be in the offing.
Yikes. Perhaps it’s a case of wishful thinking on our part, but even in our (futile?) efforts to remain impartial, we just can’t see a best-case scenario for the club following Warburton’s departure, regardless of whether he asked to leave or was asked.
Consider this: Warburton had been the first manager to succeed at Ibrox and do what Ally McCoist and Stuart McCall had been unable to do before him—that is, get ’Gers back into the Premiership. And, at the time of the manager’s (enforced?) departure, his team was sitting third in the table, albeit light years behind Celtic and struggling to keep pace with second-place Aberdeen.
Now, we get it: Rangers can’t be satisfied with second best, especially if it’s to Celtic, much less third-best. That’s the nature of the Old Firm. But to ask for more from Warburton, at this point, simply doesn’t make much sense from a footballing perspective. Yes, there were some strange team selections, as duly noted by Rangers striker Martyn Waghorn after the door had barely closed behind the now-former manager. And yes, there were the decisions to sign the likes of Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar last summer.
From where we sit, though, those latter moves are down to the transfer budget available to Warburton. And on that point, it would seem to us that Rangers supporters should take issue with the board. It’s not as if Ibrox sat empty as the first team worked its way back up to the top flight. We remember those crowds of 50,000 for home matches against the likes of Elgin City. Those same supporters traveled well, too, to some of Scotland’s less-than-glamorous locales.
And to clarify our comments of last week, while we acknowledge the gulf in class between the two Old Firm rivals on the field, we fully recognize too that Rangers (both 2.0 and the original, to satisfy the curmudgeons among us) are a massive club with a global brand. Here in the States, Fox Sports didn’t broadcast Championship matches because viewers were clamoring to see Falkirk.
It will take some time, but barring further financial difficulties Rangers will be back, and likely with a vengeance.
In the meantime, the board and the supporters need to know that the hot seat at Ibrox isn’t exactly a glamor job at the minute. There’s a lot of work to do so, and neither Alex Ferguson nor even Walter Smith are going to come out of retirement and ride in on a blue horse to save the day. Any new manager coming in is going to want his own players, his own backroom staff, his own tactics and shape. He might not need to start from scratch when he walks in at Ibrox, but the first-team squad are hardly plug-and-play at this point either.
Aberdeen’s Derek McInnes is, of course, a Rangers man (having played 35 matches for the club in the 1990s), but would he leave the Dons, a club with a new stadium and training complex reportedly in the works? At present, Aberdeen is unique among Scottish clubs in that they both have a history (the last club outside the Old Firm to win the top flight) and a future.
So who does that leave? Alex McLeish Redux? Your guess is as good as ours. But unless Jose Mourinho is looking for a new challenge already, the bird that was in the hand—Warburton—seems a lot better than any two waiting in the bush.