In the old days, Rangers pursuing Michael O’Halloran and Toumani Diagouraga for more than a week without deals being struck would have led to accusations they were “dragging their heels”. There would have been questions over financing, ambition and negotiating skills.
The current Rangers have to make a little go a long way when it comes to “loosening the purse strings”. That fact, and Mark Warburton’s ability to manage the message, has meant little being made of the failure – so far – to construct bids that prise O’Halloran from St Johnstone and Diagouraga from Brentford.
The 53-year-old Englishman would have no truck with the notion that second tier rivals Hibernian might have stolen a march on the Ibrox side with the loan signing of Anthony Stokes from Celtic. The manager said his club were “making progress on a number of fronts” and hoped to get a deal “over the line soon”. And he had the perfect riposte when asked if he understood Rangers fans becoming frustrated at the absence of new faces three weeks into the four-and-a-half week January transfer window.
“With the greatest of respect, it’s just about Rangers,” he said. “I don’t mean that to be rude. I think the Rangers fans can look at us and say the squad is in good shape on the back of four very good performances. We’re five points clear at the top and looking forward to the Scottish Cup game. The worst thing you can do is go and get a player for the sake of it. What’s the point of that when there’s an academy? If there is a player with a quality we don’t possess then we’ll try to get him, but the worst thing you can do – especially towards the end of a window – is to panic buy. The academy is there for a reason – don’t talk about the academy and youth football if you are not going to use it.
“January’s difficult, far more so than the summer. We said that right from the start. Negotiations take time and good negotiations are when all parties are happy. We do what we do from our coaching perspective and then see what can happen on the transfer front. But I think we’re in good shape. If we get the one or two we want then fine. But if we don’t then we carry on no problem.
“The squad’s got to be lean. I’m a big fan of lean squads. The worst thing you can do in January is to go too heavy. I think that upsets the harmony in the dressing room. I think players who train hard all week, and that’s what we ask them to do, and then not get on the bus at the weekend, I think that’s really disheartening.
“The ideal size of the squad is three keepers, then you’re looking at 20 outfield players. I’m really happy with that. Then you have an academy, if it’s a Liam Burt or Dylan Dykes or whoever it may be, I’m quite happy to look at the possibility of promoting from within.”
Warburton is no fan of rushing through deals at the last minute of January. Deadline day and all the associated Sky razzmatazz is best observed dispassionately, with a “nice glass of red wine in hand”.
“I always think about the housing market,” he added. “If you panic on deadline day and rush into buying a house then you will have cause to look back and regret it. You have to be comfortable with the decision. If you are prepared to endure a bit of pain then great, but if not then don’t do it. Clubs do rush into it and agents also delay it. Clubs do pay more if they feel compelled to do it. You have this mix of agents, clubs, players and deadline days and I think it’s important that from a Rangers perspective we get our business done at a level we are comfortable with and if not then step away. If you are looking at the last five or six hours of a window then you’re in trouble. If it’s down to the last hour then you are paying over the odds or you have the wrong player.”
The only change to the Rangers squad over the early weeks of 2016 has involved a departure. Tottenham winger Nathan Oduwa arrived with fanfare and left without any, his year-long loan deal terminated five months early. “Spurs and Rangers just felt it was best for his education, the next stage of his education, to go back — whether that’s with their first-team squad, their under-21s or whether it’s to go on loan again, I don’t know,” said Warburton. “But we agreed it’s the right thing to do and he’s now gone back south.”