Alex McLeish has urged Rangers manager Mark Warburton to avoid going down the Sir Alex Ferguson route of blanking media outlets as the former Manchester United manager was one of a kind.
The former Aberdeen defender knows only too well about Ferguson’s ‘siege mentality’ tactics. McLeish, though, was long retired as a player when Ferguson – who’d been his manager at Pittodrie – stopped speaking to the BBC while at Old Trafford.
The consequences were barely felt. Unlike what would be the case with every other manager, Ferguson was allowed to get away with this behaviour since he was so successful. Warburton, of course, has yet to reach such a level at Rangers, who play Celtic in a BetFred League Cup semi-final on Sunday.
“Sir Alex probably did something that nobody will ever do again,” said McLeish. “You’re thinking at some stage they would be waiting to get him, but they never got him because he was too successful.”
McLeish advised Warburton to refrain from picking fight with the media in another critical week for the Ibrox manager.
Warburton is already embroiled in a long-running and potentially damaging stand-off with midfielder Joey Barton over a disciplinary matter. This is set to extend beyond Sunday’s clash with Celtic at Hampden Park but the impact of the row is being felt beyond the suspended player’s continued absence this weekend.
Because he was repeatedly asked about the player’s future at a press conference last week, Warburton chose – or was advised – not to speak to BT Sport following Friday’s 1-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Warburton spoke well and at length to newspaper reporters afterwards but blanked the station covering the match. According to former Rangers and Scotland manager McLeish, this isn’t wise, with BT Sport also broadcasting Sunday’s match.
“I think by and large everybody has to pay respect to the guys that are writing stuff and commentating, especially when you’ve got good sponsorship and it’s part of that sponsorship to speak on your club’s behalf,” he said.
“It’s as fierce a derby as there is on the whole planet – and that includes the press [you get] as well. I remember after one of my first reverses against Celtic I thought: ‘hang on, wait a minute, I thought I would get a bit more understanding than that.’
“You have to take it in and not react too much in a negative way and try and learn from the experience.”
“They (BT Sport) are part of the game,” he added. “We have to respect that money is put into the game by TV companies. I think there are rules in place that you have to do your duties.
“So maybe Mark has to reassess why he did that. Whether he’s been told by someone else not to do it [I don’t know] but I would imagine the rules make it part of your duties. I know Rangers won the other night but after a defeat you would sometimes have an inquiry in the dressing room and try and delay it (speaking to reporters). You’d shout at them for 40 minutes so that you wouldn’t have to do the press. But I never, ever avoided doing it. It’s just your duty.”
McLeish believes Warburton will have benefited hugely from the 5-1 defeat at Celtic Park last month, even if it was a painful experience at the time. According to McLeish, who managed Rangers for five years between 2001 and 2006, this was when he gained membership of the exclusive ‘Old Firm club’.
“Time, they say, is a healer,” he said. “Mark obviously wasn’t anticipating the backlash. But I spoke to him afterwards and said to him ‘Welcome to the real Old Firm’.
“I think he learned a lot from that encounter. Not only was the game an education for him but the press that he got and learning to deal with that.
“These are new things in his coaching career and it’s an education. The thing for Mark is to show how much he has learned from that experience.”
McLeish agrees that Sunday’s venue will impact significantly on the outcome. With the number of supporters split 50/50, the occasion will lack the fiercely partisan atmosphere of Parkhead last month, for example. The size of pitch could also have a bearing on the proceedings.
“I watched Hibs in the cup final against Rangers and they played three at the back,” said McLeish. “The midfielders were like the old inside left and inside right scenario and they were going out to the wing-backs and that gave the defence a lot of protection.
“You never know. Mark will be looking at tactics. If he played three at the back, would that be strange? I don’t know. It is just a theory. He has to change things. Look at the last Celtic game, he will have scrutinised that. Whether he has got a tactical surprise for us, we will see on Sunday.”
l BT Sport is your home of unmissable live football from the BetFred League Cup and SPFL. Watch Rangers v Celtic in the BetFred League Cup semi-final exclusively live on BT Sport 1 this Sunday from 1.15pm.