HAVING appointed their first English manager in Mark Warburton, Rangers should continue to look south of the border in order to build a team capable of reclaiming top flight credibility in Scottish football.
That is the assessment of the club’s former midfielder Alex Rae who believes Warburton is ideally placed to take advantage of a player market which offers greater talent and value than is available in Scotland.
“Not winning promotion in his first season isn’t an option at all”Alex Rae
Rae spent almost five years coaching in England as assistant manager to Paul Ince at MK Dons, Notts County and Blackpool, giving him an appreciation of the standard of players available either on loan or for relatively competitive fees.
He believes it is an area where Rangers missed out last year but expects former Brentford manager Warburton to now make full use of his contacts throughout the English game, with Birmingham City’s Rob Kiernan set to become his first signing.
“I think the English market is better for Rangers,” said Rae. “They should be looking for better than what is around the lower levels here in Scotland.
“If you know the market well enough in England, you can go to big clubs’ development teams and get players.
“A good example of that is Jason Denayer going to Celtic on loan from Manchester City last season.
“Now, some clubs might not want their players to come to the Scottish Championship but there are plenty of players who could be persuaded.
“At Blackpool, we signed Jack Robinson on loan who had played for Liverpool’s first team. We only paid £5,000 of his salary a week. He played every game for us and he was brilliant. He eventually moved to Huddersfield last year and took Paul Dixon’s place. That shows there are players out there.
“Benik Afobe, who was loaned out several times by Arsenal and then signed for Wolves earlier this year, is another one. If Rangers had tapped into it last year they could have got him from Arsenal and showcased him in front of 45,000 fans. Instead, he went to MK Dons on loan. That’s the kind of player Rangers should be attracting.
“Mark managed to accumulate a lot of good loan players at Brentford and I think going forward that would be a good thing for Rangers to look at. You can then build your team around that. Mark will have a database he’ll have plundered from Brentford and will have a list of players as long as your arm to pick from. It won’t be a hard sell getting players to come to Rangers. I expect big crowds and hopefully they get behind them to finance this.
“I was speaking the other night to a Reading scout, someone I would see all over England at games, and he was talking about some of the boys who were available from big teams’ development squads. You do have to get the right balance. You don’t want your team full of loan deals but there are some good players about.”
Rae shares the general sense of approval among the Rangers support of the arrival of Warburton and his assistant David Weir, although he also feels there is an element of risk in the board’s decision to choose a relatively inexperienced manager who is untested at the top level.
“The appointment seems to have been accepted across the board by the Rangers fans,” added Rae. “It’s new, it’s exciting and having seen Brentford play a few times, I know Mark put his stamp on them and did a tremendous job there. Davie Weir knows Rangers inside out, which will help Mark, but I think there is a slight gamble, too.
“If you speak to anyone about the magnitude of Brentford, and I’ve been there, it’s a small club in London. It’s a different ball game at Rangers – it’s a massive job.
“I think the guy needs a bit of time and you won’t get that in terms of results. But what I mean is that you can’t just look at next season and say that’s his team.
“There has to be a project in place, but he will be aware that he has to win games too. It’s about getting a balance and there will be a few hiccups along the way.
“Not winning promotion in his first season isn’t an option at all. That was a big setback for Rangers at the end of the season. I heard people say that they wanted another year in the Championship. That was total madness. I couldn’t believe that, I couldn’t buy into that. You want to be in the top league where the money is better and you attract better players and start building.
“So for me, it was a year lost for Rangers. Mark needs to win promotion.
“It will be interesting to see how he copes. I played most of my football in England and when I came back up to sign for Rangers in 2004, the level of scrutiny and the media attention was just ridiculous. I had never experienced anything like it.
“Even right at the start of my first season, if we had drawn a game people were going mad on phone-ins, in columns, all those experts having a go. You think it’s personal at first. You think ‘what do these guys know?’
“Then you realise it’s part of the game up here. To be fair, Mark was being honest and frank at his press conference this week when he said he didn’t know what to expect from that side of things. He will have been told about it, but you need to experience it. The one thing about it is, he’s not a kid. He has life experience. He’s achieved some things in his time and seems relatively confident about what he’s doing. I think most of the Rangers fans have been encouraged by that – but the proof will be in the pudding.”
Rae was among those linked with the Rangers vacancy, in tandem with former manager Alex McLeish whom he recently assisted at Belgian club Genk.
“We heard the rumours but nothing happened that I was aware of,” said Rae. “I would have come back to Rangers in a minute. I’m not sure about big Alex. I’m just waiting to see what my next opportunity is but I have no immediate plans.”
l Alex Rae was speaking at the launch of a Scotland v England legends match which will take place at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium at 2pm this Saturday in support of former Scotland winger Andy McLaren’s A&M charity for children and young people from deprived backgrounds. Further information at www.aandm.org.uk