Mark Warburton disagrees players wouldn’t get in Celtic team

Rangers manager Mark Warburton makes a point during training at Murray Park ahead of tomorrow nights home game against Morton. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
Rangers manager Mark Warburton makes a point during training at Murray Park ahead of tomorrow nights home game against Morton. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
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He is determined to resist the hype but Mark Warburton is already discovering that is easier said than done when an Old Firm showdown is on the horizon.

With just over five weeks until he experiences it for the first time, the Rangers manager could not avoid many of the subjects raised during his media duties yesterday being discussed through the prism of the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden.

Warburton’s determination to concentrate on the immediate task in hand, in this instance tomorrow night’s home game against Morton when Rangers could stretch their lead at the top of the Championship to 15 points, was tested by a request to respond to former Celtic striker Chris Sutton’s withering assessment of his squad.

Unsurprisingly, Warburton rejected the BT Sport pundit’s claim that the majority of Celtic’s players would still 
easily supplant the current Rangers team.

But as defiant as he was in defence of the players who have thrived under him since the start of the campaign, Warburton was also at pains to stress they cannot allow themselves to be sidetracked from their primary objective of automatic promotion to the Premiership.

“If we go out and beat 
Celtic 6-0, having lost our league games in between times, we will have had a shocking season,” he insisted.

“It’s as simple as that. Of course it is going to be in the back of the players’ minds – they are human. But it won’t be a problem for them. There is no point in thinking about a game that is almost six weeks away. Our only focus is on Morton, then Falkirk, then Raith and going on from there – whatever order the games come in.

“It’s been like that for us since July 1. If any of the players don’t train well today, I won’t pick them for Friday night. If you are asking whether the prospect of playing in the Celtic game might give them an added edge, that would suggest they are suddenly going to do things better between now and then.

“If that was the case, we wouldn’t be where we are in the league. So there is no change to training or the way we pick the team.

“Any football fan knows it is one of the biggest derbies in world football. That’s obvious. It is a privilege to be involved in a game of that stature, undoubtedly. But I wouldn’t go into that game and enjoy it if we had lost five games out of six in the meantime.

“So the focus has to be the league. We want to be playing Celtic four times next season. That won’t happen if we screw up the league.

“So we are not going to do that, we are going to focus on the league and get the job done. We will enjoy the Petrofac final on 10 April and then as soon as the final whistle goes that day – and touch wood it’s the right result – our focus will be on Celtic.”

In response to Sutton’s comments, Warburton suggested that Celtic’s present status as Scottish champions does not necessarily mean all of their players would automatically go straight into his team if they were on Rangers’ books.

“Absolutely not,” said Warburton. “Would every Wimbledon player have walked into the Liverpool team when they won the FA Cup in 1988? I don’t think so. How many Leicester players right now would get into the Manchester City or Chelsea squad? You wouldn’t think there would be many. But Leicester are five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

“So everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I disagree with it. I have no idea [how many of my players would get into the Celtic team]. I’m never going to talk about Celtic, Aberdeen, Hibs or whoever. It’s about us. The boys have done great so far. So to turn around and say they couldn’t get into another team is all supposition.

“It’s an opinion, which football is all about, and they are entitled to it. But I would 
clearly disagree with that. I’ve never met Chris. He is a pundit, so he is paid to give an opinion. When you make such statements, you hope you are right. But our job is to keep our focus and the players just ignore that. It won’t affect our players at all.”

Sutton also questioned whether Warburton would still be Rangers manager next season, reflecting regular speculation linking him with a return to England where his wife and family still live.

But the former Brentford boss, currently residing in rented property, has repeated his insistence that his choice of domestic arrangements has no relevance to his commitment to Rangers.

“If I buy a house up here and my wife never sees me, she might as well be lonely down south,” said Warburton. “I’d rather my family were lonely in a place where they have their friends and neighbours around, rather than in a city they don’t know.

“Last night, for example, I was at an under-20s game and didn’t get home until late. I’ve got a job to do here and I have to commit to it. The lack of commitment would be if I was off playing golf, missing games or whatever.

“I’m only eight months into a big job here and I have to make sure I’m good enough to do that job.”