THE novelty of a new manager quickly wears off. Supporters want a trackside arrival to be putting his arm around a transfer target within days of thrusting those limbs skywards to hold up the scarf of his latest employers. With Rangers having barely a team’s worth of senior performers left following the freeing of 11 players last month, the need for fresh arrivals is particularly pronounced.
A week on from becoming the 15th man permanently to take charge of the Ibrox side, Mark Warburton had only himself to offer up to the media yesterday. There would have been hope among the Rangers faithful that, as well as being pictured with 100-year-old season-ticket renewer John Connelly, the Englishman would be sidling up to pups of footballers. Even the veteran 35-year-old midfielder John Eustace would fit that bill. Other prospective signings, centre-backs Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan, at 23, could see Eustace as a father figure.
And, perhaps, the family photo that the Rangers support seek will have been delayed only a matter of hours, with Wilson reported to have signed following a medical at Murray Park yesterday, with Kiernan spotted at the training ground around the same time.
The need for something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue could, it seems, be shorthand for how Warburton seeks to make a lasting union between himself and the Ibrox club. The Englishman’s assistant, David Weir, a Eustace-type, long-in-the-tooth leadership figure in his four years as a Rangers player, provided a guiding hand to teenage Wilson in his first spell.
Warburton, meanwhile, sees no contradiction in seeking to exploit the loan system – as he notably did across his 18 months at Brentford, not least with Tottenham Hotspur’s Alex Pritchard – while eschewing quick-fixes, and short-term deals.
“A short-term fix for me is going and getting an X grand-a-week player to come in and try and hit it, but who has no desire to be part of taking the club forward. A loan player for me is different,” Warburton said. “If you look last year, Alex Pritchard, who is in Prague [with England at the Under-21 European Championships] right now, came in at 20 years of age, played 44 games out of 46 and was magnificent. He will, in my opinion, go and play for Spurs first team now this season. That worked out really well and it has got to be that type of arrangement where it benefits the player, his parent club and it obviously benefits Rangers.”
It does seem immediately obvious what benefits high-roller clubs would see in loaning some of their best prospects to an Ibrox side stuck in Scottish football’s second tier. Yet Warburton maintains that there are structural draws that haven’t faded with Rangers’ footballing power.
“I’m a football fan and I don’t want to sound corny, but to walk in here I thought of Highbury straight away. I was a Spurs fan as a kid, but the Ibrox stairs look like the marble halls of Highbury. I was amazed at the similarity and the wow factor. I was gobsmacked when I walked around the stadium. Then I went to Murray Park and I had the impression in my mind – wrongly – that it was 15 years old and maybe needed a lick of paint. But it’s a world-class facility. It’s magnificent and when players see all that, they will know this is a great place to work.
“But we have to face the fact that money down south is significant. The big clubs come down to the Championship with parachute payments of £24 million each. So, if I was back at my old club, that’s what I would be facing. But even top League One clubs can go out and pay serious money for players and if a player is in it just for money, then they are going to choose that option. But I want players who want to be here. That may mean they are slightly worse off financially, but they have the honour of playing for Rangers Football Club in front of 45,000 fans and training at Murray Park every day.
“It’s about doing your recruitment and having contacts. I hear all these stories about scouts finding players, but it’s about contacts, speaking to academy directors, heads of recruitment, asking them about players and styles of play.
“If we are playing a 4-3-3, I need a striker capable of leading the line on his own. We hooked Andre Gray from Luton, who scored 18 Championship goals for us at Brentford last season. But the biggest thing was could he lead the line, and he did a magnificent job.
“You need players who can fit into your system – but people like Andre Gray are out there and Jake Bidwell, a young left-back we got from Everton who is only 21 and made 160 league appearances. Players like Stuart Dallas are out there. It’s about finding them, fitting them into your system and making sure they can play in front of 45,000.
“There must have been 100 names bandied around over the weekend that we’re apparently meant to have approached, but that’s not the case at all. We’ve got to look to get the right players at the right value for the club. That’s really important to us, good value for every pound that we spend.
“We never want to give the impression that we are desperate for players because we don’t want agents to think we are a soft touch. That will never be the case.
“It’s about us making the appropriate additions. People will say you have to get five players in quickly, but they have to be the right players. If you rush into it, you are on a hiding to nothing. So it’s about getting the right players at the right time.”
Warburton, who has just returned from four days at the Prague finals as part of his pro licence, will meet the club’s – at present – 15 totalling senior squad at the end of the week. With the former city trader known for attention to detail in assembling training programmes and daily preparatory schedules, Murray Park is likely to be a very different place for the playing personnel compared with recent seasons.
“I’m sure there was already lots of positive work going on. I’m never going to be critical of any previous ideas. But I have my own ideas and David I know what we want to do and what we want to put in place. The first thing is getting the environment right at the training ground because that is where they go to work every day. From day one, the players need to come in and know what they are doing.
“And if they want to go to work, then you must make it a place of work. I’ve been to some training grounds around the world and they are outstanding but they are like leisure spas. They are so good you almost forget you are going there to work. I worked for a Japanese bank where you would sit there for 20 hours a day for no reason at all, so I’m never ever going to have players stuck at the training ground for no reason. It’s got to be for a purpose.
“It’s important, especially in pre-season when there will be times you are doing three sessions a day, that they enjoy the working environment. When they go home they are resting. There is nothing better than coming in, doing some work, feeling you have made some progress and then going home and seeing your family, then having a meal and a rest in your own bed. They will never be at this training ground unless it’s for a good reason.”