The minute Joey Barton started tweeting about his move to Rangers; the second he stated that he was in a different league from the players plying their trade in the Scottish game; the instant he dug up Scott Brown and insisted the Celtic captain wasn’t at his level and goaded Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers with taunts of ‘You’ve won nothing’, the Englishman made sure that the spotlight would be on him when the first Glasgow derby came around.
A man who clearly enjoys the attention, he gave the defending champions, who will already feel they have a score to settle after their Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of the Ibrox club, even more incentive to put a newly-promoted team and their self-promoting midfielder in their place.
But, while some managers may be angered by such loose talk, Rangers boss Mark Warburton says he has no problem with his summer signing. “For me, if I’m Joey Barton and I’m with the Championship team of the year and I’m very nearly the Championship player of the year and I’m going on to be a Premier League player, I’d be coming to Scotland wanting to be one of the best players in the country,” said Warburton.
“If I was Jordan Rossiter, playing in the first team at Liverpool, England under-19 captain, I’d want to come and make an impression. Niko Kranjcar will want to come and do it. It’s not about Joey Barton. It’s not about individuals. An individual won’t win us titles or trophies. It’s about the team.
“In the case of Joey Barton, Joey gives his opinion. I think he’s always clear on that. He doesn’t say it’s right, he says it’s my opinion. Jordan Rossiter will give you his opinion, it will be equally as strong. Jordan knows he’s got no problem going into that game. Niko Kranjcar will openly tell you, he can’t wait. Give me the football. Let me show you how good I can be. So it’s just how they express their viewpoint. But there’s no lack of confidence in individuals within the squad.”
Warburton says that is not difficult to manage and insists he purposely did not play it safe with summer signings – he did not want a dressing room full of shrinking violets but a collection of men who are happy to step up, to ask questions, make demands and offer opinions.
“We want players to have that, but we want to make sure they do it in a respectful manner,” he added. “If they have opinions and questions to ask, then ask them. Players are changing. Twenty years ago, players wouldn’t ask questions. I get told about Jock Wallace and people like that. Now they ask questions. What am I drinking? Why am I drinking it? What’s in it? What are the side effects? They ask everything and they should do. Twenty years ago you drank it or got a slap on the back of the head. The game is changing.”
But querying a smoothie is different to questioning the achievements of rivals. One is an internal issue, the other is pinned to dressing room-walls as incentive. Having talked the talk, the pressure is on Barton to back up words with deeds.
The Govan side head to Parkhead already playing catch-up in the league to rivals who have a 100 per cent record, having come through matches with the teams who finished closest to them last term. With the added bonus of a game in hand, it leaves them a point ahead of Rangers, who expect a tougher test than the one they were subjected to at Hampden in the semi-finals of last season’s premier cup competition.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is someone Warburton knows well. Having worked with him at Watford he describes him as “affable” and a “good organiser” but for all the time spent together and the shared football philosophies, the season could all boil down to who grasps the magnitude of the expectations and who really gets the Old Firm psyche.
Despite his longer stint in Scotland, there are times when Warburton still doesn’t seem to understand the demands of his own fans. He talks of being unbeaten in his first four games in the top flight and sees it as negative for others to focus on the reality that within that period there have been two draws, against teams scrambling around the foot of the table last term.
“I watched the Kilmarnock game and I thought it was our worst first half since I’d been at the club. Then I go home and watch it at midnight and you know what, for the first 15 minutes we were alright, we were decent, Lee Wallace gets in twice, Kenny [Miller] gets in, Joe [Garner] has a header, Harry Forrester has a miss. You look at it and go, ‘Actually, the margins are really fine’, Ten points out of 12, we would have been very pleased with, but I think you guys expect us to carve teams open. I heard people after the Dundee game saying Rangers were lucky to come away with a 2-1 victory.
“In the Celtic game, we were very good last year but teams aren’t going to play like Celtic played against us. They are not because we’ll pop it around them. That’s what we’ll do. That’s not an arrogant boast, far from it. But teams know what we’ll do if that’s the scenario. The scenario we’ve faced so far this season is two banks of four, very often ten behind the ball. We’ve got to look at different ways of breaking teams down.
“Again, it’s the expectation. It’s the whole picture. The game in Scotland is different. I’m an outsider coming in. So I read the press down south and listen to the radio down south; it’s a different viewpoint. They say Rangers are unbeaten.”
He does concede that it would be unlikely that the same people would spin the results in such a way if either of the Manchester clubs or Chelsea had only drawn against teams who had just escaped relegation while their main rivals were winning every week.
“I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong. It’s different. People talk about the intensity of the goldfish bowl of Glasgow and I can see exactly what they mean. From our point of view, we are bedding in 11 new players of different experiences and levels in terms of age and whatever else.”
Learning systems is one thing but they will have to quickly suss out the importance of Saturday’s match in the minds of their supporters if they are to back up big words with equally big deeds.