Rangers manager Mark Warburton believes a signing strategy that appears on course to land him Joleon Lescott and Joe Garner can help offset the advantage he accepts Celtic look set to gain through banking £20 million from Champions League qualification.
Former England international Lescott was believed to be due in Glasgow for a medical with a view to the 34-year-old centre-back signing a two-year deal. Warburton, while cautioning that any deals remained “hypothetical”, did maintain that there was nothing “sinister... other than the simple documentation process that we feel we have to go through” that had prevented a £1.5m deal being concluded with Preston North End to bring Garner aboard.
Even if such an outlay is big in terms of Warburton’s work at Ibrox, such financial muscle is dwarfed by that available to his Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers, whose reach in the market seems certain to be extended after the 5-2 Champions League play-off win over Hapoel Beer-Sheva that means simply avoiding a three-goal defeat in Israel next Tuesday will ensure the Scottish title holders reach the lucrative group stages for the first time in three years.
Warburton, who watched Wednesday’s “interesting” first leg, would welcome Celtic representing the country in the group stages as something the game within these borders “needs” with “anything... that promotes the game in Scotland massively important”.
The Ibrox manager refuses to become too wound up about the possibility that it could make his job of simply competing with Celtic in the Premiership massively more difficult. “I can’t control that,” the 53-year-old said. “We can’t control what happens away from us. That’s out of our reach. Whatever happens there is fine. We have to get on with our job here and recognise that we have a very tough task in terms of the quality of the league to be the best we can be. That’s all we can do.
“We’re conscious of the European experience being gained. We’re aware that a lot of our players haven’t been exposed to that. We’ve got to find a way. Our recruitment might be a way to counter that. To have players with European and international experience is one thing. Premier League experience is another thing. We’re very respectful. We’re very aware of the quality of challenge. If another team has a windfall like that, it’s how they use it. It’s certainly a weapon for them. What we have to do is use our weapons as best we can.
“Some of the biggest transfers are some of the worst transfers. I won’t name them but you could reel off the big-money spends that haven’t worked out. I think about [our times at Brentford and] Andre Gray, £500,0000, now rated at £30m. I think of James Tarkowski at £300,000, going for £5m. I think Moses [Odubajo] is probably worth £15m. He is the best right-back now. They’re guys that we are associated with but there are many, many others away from us. There is good business being done. The smaller transfers are sometimes the best ones.”
If successful in the bids for Lescott and Garner, Warburton will have achieved his aim to have four centre-back and four forwards to supply him both options and “strength in depth”. Warburton was full of praise for Philippe Senderos, who has been on trial at Murray Park this week and is seen as a back-up for Lescott, but will complete no more business if he lands his main targets to take bring his senior squad number to 23, after making a virtue of running with a lean squad last year.
“It would still be tight. It has to be,” he said, revealing that Martyn Waghorn could be back in action next week following his hamstring pull on the season’s opening day. “There will be one or two disappointed if everyone is fit, but it has to be that way.”