IT SEEMS to have become de rigeur at Rangers this summer. New signing conducts first medi conference and expresses an aim to return Scottish Championship club to Champions League. Martyn Waghorn chose not to deviate from an established ritual after he had debuted in the 1-0 friendly defeat by Burnley, and the Geordie’s faith in the Mark Warburton revolution can only be but admired.
Not least because, by Waghorn’s own admission, he has endured a “difficult couple of years with a few loans”.
The forward thought Wigan would bring an end to short-term spells as a hired hand which he endured with Hull City and Millwall on drifting out of the picture at Leicester City. A club that signed him in a deal potentially worth £3 million from his first club, Sunderland.
The Lancashire club dispensing with manager Uwe Rosler, who signed him, and then Malky Mackay quickly giving way to Gary Caldwell did for Waghorn, he believes. Yet, having been deemed surplus to requirements at an English third-tier club, he doesn’t see it as overly-optimistic to suggest the first tier of Champions League football could be attainable inside the three years he has committed himself to the Glasgow club.
As a procession of Rangers players have declared that next stop is the Champions League, one question has been begged: does every new addition to Leeds United talk of “returning” the Elland Road club to a competition in which they were quarter-finalist not so very long ago? Clearly Warburton has sold Rangers to his new recruits on the basis of a best-possible scenario that, right now, is a fanciful one for a club that, at times, struggled against part-time teams in Scotland’s second tier last season.
Those days may be gone under Warburton. The former Brentford manager does seem to have recruited a clutch of capable players in Wigan trio James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan and Waghorn, Andy Halliday, Danny Wilson, goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, youngster Jordan Thompson and – assuming no last-minute hitches – Jason Holt from Hearts. Waghorn certainly seems convinced.
“The objective of the club is to get back into the Champions League and I want to be part of that. I want to be here for many years. I’ve got a young family and I want to settle and give my best years and hopefully have a few successful years.
“The way the club’s going and the way the gaffer’s got us playing, it’s a young bunch and a good mix of experience and our objective is to get promoted and challenge next season. That [the Champions League] is what everyone has got to look to do. Anything less than that will be a disappointment. Rangers is one of the biggest clubs in the world and I’ve come here to get the club back to where it should be. I know the expectations and I’m ready for the challenge. I feel as though I’m at a good age to achieve a lot of goals. It’s a new project and I’m very pleased to be part of it and want to win as much as I can.”
Rangers followers will be hoping that Waghorn will score goals, never mind achieve them at Ibrox. A presence up front with good feet and awareness, the player has never fulfilled the promise that persuaded Leicester City to invest heavily in him as a 20-year-old.
He scored only three goals as Wigan were relegated from the Championship last season, and has netted only eight times in total in the past eight years. On Tuesday night he failed to net a glaring opportunity set up for him by fellow Monday arrival Tavernier. “I’ll save my goals for the big games,” he offered confidently as he reflected on the major moment of a first outing that made him “proud and honoured”.
Waghorn’s first big game arrives tomorrow lunchtime when Rangers travel to Easter Road to face expected title rivals Hibernian in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup. It will hardly be an alien experience for the striker since he scored both goals in Wigan’s 2-1 friendly defeat of Alan Stubbs’ men at the Leith ground 12 days ago. “It’s going to be a bit strange playing them twice in two weeks but I’m sure it will be different circumstances.
“Obviously, it was nice to get on the scoresheet twice,” Waghorn said. “It will be a massive game on Saturday and we’re well aware of the challenge. It’s the first game of the season, everyone’s raring to go, everyone’s excited and it’ll be big.”
The forward is in no doubt the encounter can lay down a marker.
“We want to do that no matter who we are playing. We are Rangers and everyone wants to come and beat us. So we’re going to go there, play with freedom and enjoy it. It’s going to set a standard for the whole season and how we go about our job.”
Waghorn doesn’t appear to perceive that as the most arduous task, judging by his assessment of Hibs from a fortnight ago.
Only “main man” and Rangers target Scott Allan stood out for him. “They were alright, pretty basic to be honest. Nothing great. Once you cut out the main man and stop them from playing that was it really.
“Everything pretty much went through him. We counteracted that and pretty much got him out of the game but it was a friendly, practice match and I’m sure it be a different challenge on Saturday.”
It was jokingly put to Waghorn that the best way to counteract Allan would be to sign him. The Englishman begged to differ. “Well the best way to cut him out is by beating him, that’ll do,” he said.