It is no surprise that Mark Warburton feels some empathy with anyone who has come to front line coaching or management in football from a less than conventional background.
As he prepares to become the first man to face new Hearts head coach Ian Cathro across opposing technical areas tomorrow, Rangers manager Warburton is dismissive of the doubts raised by many observers about the 30-year-old’s readiness or suitability.
Warburton, whose own career path from non-league journeyman defender to senior football management was punctuated by his now much documented time as a city trader in London, believes Cathro and his assistant Austin MacPhee should not be judged on the basis of the route which led them to be unveiled at Tynecastle this week.
He insists the real test of the pair’s capacity to succeed at Hearts will come in their handling of a senior playing squad. That was a challenge which Warburton admits he found daunting when he first faced it, but one for which a previous CV in the game bears no relevance.
“I read Austin’s comments in the papers about the dressing room,” said Warburton. “He’s right, players are intelligent and they just want to come into an organised environment and know what they are doing.
“They want to enjoy what they are doing and leave feeling better for it. If you can do that for your players, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve played in the World Cup or you played for Raghouse Rovers. It doesn’t matter where you have been. The players are smart guys and if you get the environment right, they will respond accordingly.
“The first time I did it was at Watford and, yes, it was a concern initially for me. I started out there coaching the under-12s and under-13s, progressed to the under-16s and then it was when I was put in charge of the reserves that I first had first-team players coming down into my dressing room.
“So you start to think ‘if I get this one wrong, I’ll get dug out here’ You have to get it right and it challenges you. Then you realise that players want to enjoy what they do. They want relevant practice. When you realise that, you get over it very quickly and then you either sink or swim.
“Word spreads quickly in football. You’ve just got to be organised, whatever job you’re in. You have to show a level of subject knowledge and if you can do that, you’ll be alright.
“I wouldn’t have been ready for it when I was 30. When I was that age, I was working as a chief dealer at a Finnish bank in London, so coaching wasn’t high on my agenda at that time. It’s a big job for Ian to take on at that age, but all credit to him. He has the subject knowledge and I think he has the ability to do it. What qualifies qualifications in football? You could have a player who gets injured at 18, does his badges and coaches but then 14 years later, people would say ‘he’s only 32’. But by then he has 14 years of experience behind him.
“I only played Conference level football in England myself, so there are different backgrounds and Ian has done a lot of coaching around the world. He’s taken a different route in but however you do it, it takes hard work in terms of getting the qualifications and being the best you can be.
“You have easier access to the coaching qualifications now. I’m not saying it’s easier to get them but it is easier to get on the courses. People with different playing backgrounds are getting on the courses and they’re benefiting from them.
“It’s changing, in that man management is a far bigger part of it now. Whether you work on a building site or whatever your background is, as long as you organise and get the environment right and the players feel they are enjoying the work they do, I think you’re in a good place.
“I also think players are more accepting of it now. They are coming through academies and they are having a broader education. They ask more questions and if you can answer them, you are in a good place as a coach or manager.
“I don’t know Ian or Austin personally yet, but they are well qualified and beat a lot of good candidates to the job. I’m sure they are more than ready for the fight. Some will say it is a brave call but it might be a magnificent call by Hearts, you never know. But Ian’s certainly qualified for the job. He’s attracted attention and good luck to him – although only after Saturday!”
Tomorrow is another significant afternoon for Warburton and his team as they seek to build on last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Aberdeen which saw them respond positively to the 2-0 defeat they had suffered against Hearts at Tynecastle the previous Wednesday in what was Robbie Neilson’s last match in charge of the Gorgie side.
Rangers have yet to string together more than two consecutive victories in the Premiership this season. Consistency remains elusive as they look to establish themselves as the closest challengers to champions and runaway leaders Celtic.
“It is important to go on a run,” admitted Warburton. “Hearts will be saying the same thing, as will Aberdeen. If we can get a run together, it changes the picture. That’s the case in any league. If you get four or five wins in a row, the whole landscape changes.”