There are times when, even almost 16 months into his Ibrox tenure, Mark Warburton seems to present Glasgow as a football city that remains all too foreign to him.
The 54-year-old former City trader is an intelligent man, clever enough to know that coping with intensity and instant judgments are mandatory requirements in the job spec when fronting a brand with a greater profile among a nation of five million than all but one other football club just five miles away.
Warburton’s side have won two league games out of seven. They may not be the spendthrift Rangers of old, but six of these games have come against teams with a fraction of their budget.
With recent improvement, the Ibrox men could have taken another five points from the six games that have yielded only nine points and be sitting comfortably in second place, just two points off Celtic. But they are not.
And the law of the Scottish football jungle dictates that when a Rangers team with self-proclaimed expectations to be title challengers lies seventh after almost a fifth of the season, it is open season. Everything lodged in the dossier for doubters – which also includes a mere eight league goals – will be inevitably thrown back at them.
“You say people keep throwing it back at you. Certain people do. Certain people do it throw it back at you,” said Warburton, whose team desperately need to throw up a Premiership victory at home to Partick Thistle tomorrow after the loss in Aberdeen extended their winles run to four.
“Other people look at it and realise there are 30-odd games to go here, they see significant improvement over the last three games – two of which are league games.
“So we are frustrated not to have five more points but we’ve got to recognise that we are cementing certain key principles. Are we creating chances, are players comfortable, are the rotations and patterns working? In the last two or three games, they definitely are. We feel comfortable we’re making the right sort of progress.”
Yet, when it comes to adjusting to the unforgiving glare that accompanies failure to win, Warburton sends out a mixed picture about whether his new players are making progress. “What they’re dealing with, in a very polite way, is you guys,” he said. “Clint Hill, with his vast experience and where he’s played at, Niko [Kranjcar] vastly experienced internationally as well, they are staggered by the amount of focus on Rangers and Celtic.
“But that’s Glasgow. It’s a goldfish bowl and it takes some getting used to. Every goal is scrutinised, every miss is scrutinised.
“I had a guest in from Fleet Street earlier in the week. I won’t say who but he was a decent guy, a big guy who came up and was staggered that there was 20-odd pages on the Aberdeen game. He couldn’t get his head round it and he is a senior sports writer. But it is Glasgow. It’s Rangers. It’s the stature of the club. It’s the size of the club.
“You guys have lived it all your lives but if you come from outside, it’s different. Jordan Rossiter’s come from Liverpool and gone ‘bloody hell’. When Tottenham play Arsenal, there will be a bit in the Evening Standard and a little bit in the Daily Mail and then it’s on to the next thing because there are so many other teams in London and England. But not here. One wrong word can be misconstrued. I’ve tried to say some things and they’ve been taken completely out of context.
“When Celtic got beat by Barcelona, I was trying to defend them and say ‘how tough is that, remember the intensity of the Old Firm game. They then travel to Spain to play a team fresh from losing 2-1 to Alaves, with the return of Messi, Neymar and Suarez’. You couldn’t get a worse combination. But the headline in one paper said ‘Warburton knew Celtic would get beaten’. The focus should have been on the intensity of the Old Firm game. You’ve got the media coverage building up and kick-off’s almost a relief. When the whistle went, I thought ‘thank God for that’. It drains and drains and drains.”