How Mark Warburton could’ve buried Fulham link sooner

Rangers manager Mark Warburton was constantly quizzed about supposed interest from Fulham. Picture: SNS
Rangers manager Mark Warburton was constantly quizzed about supposed interest from Fulham. Picture: SNS
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The Rangers boss became frustrated with the media’s constant speculation, but he may have inadvertently poured fuel on the fire, writes Craig Fowler

WHEN bookmakers make someone the favourite to get a vacant manager’s job, it doesn’t mean it’ll actually happen. In fact, mostly they get it wrong. This is certainly true when the leading candidates are first drawn up. As you’ll remember, Jurgen Klopp was seriously in the running for the Motherwell gig if you listened to the bookies alone.

However, while they don’t always get it right at the start, odds on a manager getting a high profile job will usually drop dramatically just before he is appointed. That is because in football, and in life, such decisions rarely ever remain secret until the unveiling. When the news is leaked out, even without reaching the mainstream press or public, those ‘in the know’ will sometimes use the information to gain some monetary advantage. The bookies then respond by slashing the odds.

Was there big bets on Mark Warburton to take over at Fulham? Or was it simply a case of the bookies putting two and two together to get five? We don’t know and will probably never know. But it is the job of the journalist to ask the question based on the information available. Someone or some people thought Warburton would take over at Fulham. What can you do but ask the man himself?

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The Scottish media were initially granted such an opportunity when, on the same day the odds were slashed, Warburton faced the press to preview Rangers’ Tuesday night meeting with Dumbarton.

He said: “It’s very flattering. It’s always good to be linked. There are lots of times in your life when you’re not linked to jobs, that’s for sure.

“All you can do is put your head down and do your job here. The amount of clubs who change their managers down south is increasing year on year.

“I’m the Rangers manager. It’s a huge club here. There’s some big clubs in the English Championship - there’s no doubt about that - but this is a huge club.

“We’ve started off well. There’s a big project in place here and we have to be the best we can be every single day to try to take the club forward.

“It’s had a tough four or five years - everyone’s aware of that and everyone knows where the club has been to.

“They also know where the club needs to get to so we have to make sure we play a pivotal role in doing that.

“Down south, everyone knows about the Championship. It culminates in the richest game in world football but our focus right now is here at Rangers.”

Different people will have different interpretations. For those who never believed Warburton was going to leave, and those who were desperate for him to stay (with good reason), the last line about focus being on Rangers was equivalent to “I’m not interested/I’m staying put”.

READ MORE - Warburton: I’m going nowhere, no club has approached me

There are those who see the last line as more ambiguous. Did ‘right now’ refer to remainder of his contract? The 2015/16 season? Or did it mean the exact moment in time he was talking to the journalist that asked the question? If it’s the latter then it could be interpreted that things could change in an instant.

Here’s the thing. The Rangers boss could easily have said something along the lines of:

“I’m flattered. It’s always nice to be linked. Fulham is a great club, but this is a great club also and I’m not going anywhere.”

But he didn’t. What he said was open to interpretation. Some will take his words as a definitive ‘no’; others won’t. Most of the headlines stated he wasn’t interested in the rumours, so maybe there was something about his demeanour that conveyed this message to the journalists in attendance.

From reporting on games and interviewing players and managers afterwards, one of the first things you realise is how different words can be conveyed when said in person and when written down. Facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, it all comes into context when you are speaking to someone face to face, and most of it gets lost written down, unless the reporters turn their articles into colour pieces, which is not what the editors are looking for.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, almost immediately after Rangers saw off Dumbarton with a rampant second half performance and 4-0 win, where Warburton was asked about the Fulham rumours once again - possibly by a journalist who wasn’t in attendance at press conference No.1.

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This time he said: “I can’t answer questions [about that], very respectfully,” he said. “I think I need a bit of respect. I answered the question before. It’s a disrespect to me, Rangers and Fulham, who I’m sure handle things in the right way. I can’t keep saying it.

“I’m manager of Rangers Football Club. I’ve developed a young squad here, I’ve brought staff in. I’m in the middle of a project. I can’t keep answering the same question.”

He’s getting exasperated with the line of enquiry. He feels he’s answered it before. But, again, he’s not actually said “I’m not going” or “I’m staying here”. Again it’s been said in a manner that is up to interpretation. He’s brought in players and staff and is in the middle of a project? Sounds like he’s saying he’s not going, but managers have abandoned players, staff and projects throughout football history.

Then, early Wednesday evening, Warburton finally puts the rumour to bed once and for all. Before we get to his tweet, as an aside, I really like the idea of a manager ending such speculation through social media. It is something almost no other coach in Scotland would do and highlights another forward thinking aspect to his general outlook. Anyway, to the tweet:

“Both bemused and frustrated by shockingly incorrect stories from certain media outlets. I am going nowhere and no club has approached me.”

Boom! “I am going nowhere.” That’s it. Fulham, if they had their hopes up, will now have to look elsewhere. Unless he wants to be a pariah in the fans of Rangers fans for the rest of his life, and Warburton doesn’t seem the type of man who would, then he won’t go against his word. The link is dead.

But why not utter the line “I am going nowhere” earlier? Why not kill the story at the root? Instead, it’s been allowed to grow and flourish to the point where he’s even had to answer questions on his reaction today. Even though the link is dead the story is still alive. That would not have happened had he answered in such a forthright manner on Monday or Tuesday.

So why didn’t he? Many will have their own theories but only Warburton will know. Cynics will say he wanted to get Rangers to give him a better deal and more money to spend, which is another rumour doing the rounds. This could be the case. He can still have the best interests of the club at heart and feel it is only right he should get more cash to bring in players. And who doesn’t feel they deserve more money from their employer?

As someone who never believed he would leave for Fulham but remained intrigued by his line of denial, here’s my tuppence worth.

From what I’ve witnessed of Mark Warburton so far, he’s a very respectful individual. Every question asked he will answer at length and he’ll look you in the eye as he’s doing so. He also makes sure to use the term “respectfully” whenever he is saying something that another team may take offence to. Like, for example, when talking about teams who put 10 men behind the ball. He likes to stress that he’s not having a go and understands their motivations.

I think it’s possible he was trying to be as respectful to Fulham as possible, and to the journalist who asked the question, and therefore forced himself into the roundabout answer.

It’s also possible he’s still learning about the intricacies of dealing with the national media. He has experience with Brentford, of course, but even with the heightened focus on the English lower leagues, it comes nowhere near the scrutiny of managing Rangers and dealing with a national press.

Having discussed the matter once more at today’s press conference the story will now die out in the coming days. However, if Rangers continue to rack up victories and play the kind of expansive, aesthetically pleasing style they have been, then more suitors will come calling. Having gone through this experience, it’ll be interesting to see what the Ibrox gaffer does next time.