If anything goes awry for his Rangers side away to Greenock Morton tonight, Mark Warburton won’t be expecting the Scottish football fraternity to cut his team slack because they are assured of retaining their position at the summit of the Championship. There was a time when it seemed otherwise.
The 53-year-old Englishman seemed a little thin-skinned when faults were picked over as his team were well beaten by St Johnstone in the League Cup in October then found their league form fracturing in the closing weeks of 2015.
That was then. More recently, Warburton travelled down south to undertake a course that will go towards his A licence. His experiences alongside a “really good group” – Phil Neville, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Scott Parker, Brad Friedel, Garry Flitcroft and Ian Woan – suggests he has come to terms with the unforgiving knee-jerkery when it comes to all matters involving two Glasgow football clubs. Something that provides Scottish football with both a peculiar charm and objectionable strain. In his media training course, it seems Warburton was offering guidance, as much as receiving it, when the subject was coping with the demands of mass communication.
“We had all the Fleet Street papers there and they asked me after they [conducted a mock] press conference how I found it. They are a lot more friendly than the Scottish media,” said the Rangers manager in a manner that called to mind the idiom half joking full earnest. “The media up here is far more intense than down south. I was asked about that and how I deal with it. We had different scenarios and we had to deal with it, and a Match of the Day type interview. It was good.”
The obsession with Celtic and Rangers in Scotland is such that they dominate back – and sometimes front – pages of seven newspapers every day. Warburton considers it invigorating. It was certainly something his fellow A licence students thought made for a lively discussion topic.
“We were in the bar talking about it, and don’t forget the radio shows every night. There are shows every night which are predominantly Rangers and Celtic, and then more of them once a week which are predominantly Rangers and Celtic,” he said. “It is incredible, it is unbelievable. It is great, the passion for football you see is magnificent. If you don’t like it, don’t come to Glasgow. But it does shock other people. In Madrid, there are 15 pages every single night on Real and the colour of a guys shoelaces is closely monitored. Here, it is fairly intense.”
The intensity for coaches in Scotland beyond those in the country’s football capital often manifests itself in the hellish challenge to make their meagre resources cover the requirement of their post. Warburton might be a little sensitive to the fact that his budget dwarfs those of all the other nine sides in the Championship – three of which are even part-time. Scotland may have little respect in the football world, but the calibre of coaches and courses to develop them that exist within these borders, retain respect. The ever-respectful Warburton certainly shows plenty when assessing his Championship peers.
“There are really high quality managers up here. There is no difference in the managers, the difference is in the funds they have to work with. That is the difference. Sometimes you have managers higher because they can deal with a bigger budget. I look at Jim [Duffy, at Morton] and Peter [Houston, at Falkirk] and the other managers in the league and they are first class. I am always learning, I am always looking around and learning.”
If looking at the mishaps that seem to habitually befall our governing bodies whenever they attempt innovation, on some fronts the Rangers manager may be learning how not to do things. However, the proposals to invite Irish and Welsh sides into the Challenge Cup, and under-20 sides from the Scottish Premiership and English Premier League stand apart from some of the other hare-brain ideas recently floated. “I saw that, but I haven’t read a lot about it,” said Warburton. “Anything that improves the quality of the competition and quality of the challenge for a young player, I will be supportive of.”