IT IS fair to say that apprehension has replaced anticipation among sections of the Rangers faithful as pre-season has progressed under new manager Mark Warburton. The Englishman’s confirmation yesterday that Andy Halliday was in the process of becoming his fourth signing will hardly cause fans to go all a-flutter. The winger is yet another arrival who might be “young and hungry” but who has bounced around clubs without fulfilling early promise.
Warburton’s recruitment of such modest captures has fuelled cyber- rumourmongering that the financial muscle promised him by the board when he and David Weir were installed last month has not materialised. Rangers chairman and would-be major investor Dave King has hardly convinced on that front. Yesterday, however, Warburton was content to go on the record that he had received full backing from the board in seeking to overhaul a squad shorn of 11 players this summer.
“Every player we have gone for so far, we have secured. That is the basic fact,” said the 52-year-old.
“We have not lost a player and it is great to have received that level of support. The level of support and backing has been good and our job in the football department is to make sure we go to the powers-that-be with players who represent and offer value.
“If we go there with short-term fixes, that is never going to be the right thing to do. We wouldn’t last here if that was the case.
“Our job is to find the right players, do our homework, our due diligence, and go to the powers-that-be and say why it is good for the club to sign them. So far so good.”
The problem for Warburton is that Rangers followers have been conditioned to expect names and their team spending money on acquisitions. With the club unable to make money as a Championship team, it should be a duty at Ibrox to keep expense on the squad to a minimum. Yet, the former Brentford manager faced questions yesterday over whether he could buy a player for a £1 million fee, or make a marquee signing.
It seems some remain oblivious to the Ibrox club’s second-tier predicament, which demands a very different mindset.
Warburton, mercifully, seems to possess that. He pointed to the fact that he made players into experienced, admired performers rather than recruited them that way at his London managerial posting. The hope is that “three or four” more arrivals will follow Danny Wilson, Rob Kiernan, Wes Foderingham and Halliday. Former Derby captain John Eustace and Jason Holt could be two of these additions, the pair currently on trial at Murray Park.
There are obstacles to any deals, though. Rangers would require to pay Hearts a fee to bring in Holt, while 35-year-old Eustace has not played for almost six months because of a knee problem.
“Jason has come in and done very well,” the Ibrox manager said. “He is an excellent player and we know the situation. All I am doing now is watching the player train to see if he can add value to our playing squad.
“If he can, I go and speak to the powers-that-be at the club, but, right now, he has been in two or three days and I am delighted to have him in. John has done well with the physio department. I know John very well from my Watford days and watching him play against us at Derby.
“We knew when Derby played with John in the team that they won 88 per cent of their games, I think it was.”
At Rangers, the expectation is that the club will win 100 per cent of their games. Warburton appears a good man, hard-working, respectful and with high ideals over the professionalism he expects on and off the field from those under him, but the Glasgow environment can prove a tough one to negotiate for such down-the-line characters.
Warburton yesterday described next Saturday’s Petrofac Cup encounter away to Hibernian and the League Cup tie that will come the following weekend as the fourth and fifth games of the club’s pre-season. He did also stress that he would field the strongest teams possible for both occasions, that he wanted and expected to win them, and that the aim was to go for a win in any competition that the club entered. But setting the Hibs game in the context of still being part of the pre-season, and stating that what mattered most was being ready for the Championship opener with St Mirren, suggested a failure to grasp how much damage any early defeats could do to the trust he wants to build with supporters.
Warburton actually confessed he was not prepared for the snap judgments that will be made about him in his second frontline coaching role.
“I’d be lying if I said I was,” he said. “I’ve come from a smaller club but their fans were equally as passionate about what they wanted from the club. The more information you can give to the fans, the better. I’m told ‘don’t give too much’. I disagree. The more information, the better.
“They are football fans, passionate supporters of the club. Let them know what you’re doing, let them know how training has gone, let them know when you’re disappointed about something. We’re going to need their help, we’re going to need the fans to back us absolutely. Give them information and make them feel part of what we’re doing.”
It could be argued there is a certain naivety in such idealism. Walter Smith always said that getting fans on side when managing one of the Glasgow tribes was simple: you just had to win, and win, and keep winning. Warburton certainly will give his all to do that. At the expense of family life, with his nearest and dearest remaining down south while he racks up the 90-hour weeks.
“It is full on, but it has to be. It’s not just football, you have to connect properly to any job you go into. I get home every eight to ten days, say hello to them, sign the visitors’ book and then it’s back up the road again.
“I’ve been in the city once so far. I wore my glasses and I wore my sports cap and I was all right. I got away with it.
“Seriously, I have been there once. It has been a busy time for us. Life at the moment is the hotel room, shower, bed, here at Murray Park.”