Mark Warburton: Accept short-term pain for 16-team league

Mark Warburton believes fans are bored with the current set-up. Picture: SNS

Mark Warburton believes fans are bored with the current set-up. Picture: SNS

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Rangers boss Mark Warburton has urged Scotland’s biggest clubs to put self-interest to one side after backing calls for a 16-team top flight.

The Ibrox manager echoed Falkirk boss Peter Houston’s appeals for the Scottish Professional Football League to consider expanding the current 12-team Ladbrokes Premiership.

The Englishman reckons a bigger top division will allow managers to blood more youngsters as well as freshening up a system he believes is in danger of going stale as sides are forced to play one another up to four times a season.

But he warned change will only be possible if chairmen are prepared to deal with a short-term drop in income.

“I was intrigued by what Peter had to say,” Warburton said. “It’s just my opinion but I thought he spoke very wisely and I’m in total agreement with what he said.

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“The gap between the top of the Championship and the bottom of the Premiership is not as big as the one we see down south. There you have a financial climate which is completely different. Up here the money gap is much narrower and I think you can afford to have a very competitive 16-team league.

“Is short-termism and self-interest is holding the game back? I would say yes. That’s my opinion. I’m kept being told about the financial climate but I think sometimes it is about short-term pain for some long-term gain.

“Right now it’s not working, that’s what I’m being told by all and sundry. I keep hearing there’s problems with the national game and that radical measures are needed. Well there may be some short-term pain but look at the elite end and I’m sure Gordon Strachan is looking at how we improve the quality of player coming through. You have got to have your best young players playing at the highest level of competition.

“It has to be about [doing what’s best] for the elite end. It can’t be about keeping everyone happy.

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“I think it’s about boosting both player development and how attractive the game is to fans.

“The main advantage of a 16-team league as I see it is doing away with playing each other four times. That’s obvious. By the end of November we’ve played Livingston and Hibs three times already. We have to keep the product fresh.”

However, Warburton dismissed Houston’s claims league chiefs would push through reconstruction if Rangers again failed to make the step up this season, with the former Brentford chief insisting the Ibrox club would have to clinch their top-flight return on “merit”.

So far, his Championship leaders are on course, although their lead is slender at three points.

There was a slip-up at home to Morton last week as they were held to a 2-2 draw. Rangers now face third-placed Falkirk on Saturday before the December 28 clash with their nearest challengers Hibernian and Warburton warned there could be more disappointment along the way before promotion is confirmed.

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He said: “There will be setbacks. That’s the nature of football. Very rarely do you get a perfect season like Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.

“We’re three points clear at the top and we’ve had a hiccup. We’re in good shape but there will be twists and turns.”

Warburton defended his youngsters after their weekend troubles at Morton, but now admits he may have to add experience to his squad in January after trimming seven years off its average age during the summer.

“It’s all about balance,” he said. “Our job is to make sure the likes of Jordan Thompson, Ryan Hardie and Barry McKay are given the chance to develop because they are pitch assets and balance-sheet assets to the club.

“But at the same time we must do what’s best for Rangers to make sure we have the strongest possible team. You do need physicality, maturity, seniority, experience.

“We have to make sure January is about getting the right additions who give us something we haven’t currently got.”

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