RANGERS manager Mark Warburton has welcomed what he describes as the “aggressive ambition” of Dave King and says he is ready to embrace his chairman’s target of challenging for the Scottish Premiership title next season.
King will be at Ibrox for this afternoon’s Championship fixture against Livingston as Warburton’s buoyant team bid to maintain their 100 per cent competitive record under his guidance so far by securing a tenth consecutive victory.
As a consequence of the eye-catching start to Warburton’s tenure, King revealed he has revised his timetable for when Rangers will be able to seriously engage in a top-flight title bid with Celtic.
The South African-based businessman believes the gap between the Old Firm rivals is closing quicker than he initially anticipated and insists Rangers will be equipped to start next season with the intention of becoming Scottish champions.
Warburton is unfazed by King’s comments and is equally confident Rangers are on course to compete with Celtic in 2016-17.
“It’s nice to see an ambitious chairman,” said Warburton. “It’s great to have his support and to hear his aggressive, optimistic desire. From our point of view, we would need to add some quality to the squad to mount that type of campaign next year. We are not naive, we are very aware of the strengths of Celtic or Aberdeen because they have been playing European football and have budgeted accordingly.
“But I look at our team now and I think we have a number of players who can more than compete at the next level and they are young. Our keeper is 23, our right-back is 23, our two centre halves are 23, Lee Wallace has just turned 28, but he is captain, Andy Halliday is 23. We have loan players at 18 and 19, Barrie McKay is 20, Martyn Waghorn is 25. We are a young team, a really young team. They are hungry, they will get better, they are only 12 or 13 weeks into the season so they will improve.
“So I don’t think we are far away. I think we need three or four players and we will use the loan market again, so that might make it five or six players in total, but the fact is I don’t think we are that far away.
“We are at Rangers, so the ambitions have got to be aggressive. Our targets have got to be aggressive. They’ve got to be realistic, but they’ve got to be aggressive. The players have got to thrive off that.
“We talk a lot about responsibility. If they crumble under that, then they shouldn’t be here. But that goes with any job.
“People say the pressure is peculiar to football. No it’s not. In my old industry (as a city trader) you had targets to hit. If you couldn’t deal with the pressure, then you got out of it.
“We have got boys here to relish that, they enjoy it. They love running out in front of 50,000 even though they know there is an expectation they need to deal with. We have no doubt they have the character and the quality to deal with it.
“We’re very conscious of only being a few games into a long season, so we are not getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re in good shape. We’ve started off well and the squad are hungry. The job for David Weir and myself is to make sure we keep maintaining our standards. Our goals are really clear – we want to go and win the Championship and prepare ourselves for the Premiership.
“That’s always been clear and everyone here knows that. Our job is to think ahead and plan ahead about how we do that. If you look at the squad now, we have a number of players who could more than comfortably deal with the Premiership.”
Warburton signed a three-year contract when he became Rangers’ first English manager in June but is dismissive of any suggestion a longer-term plan is required to restore the club’s fortunes on the pitch.
“I am mystified by that,” said the former Brentford boss. “I apologise for looking down south, but it is the market I know best. The average length of tenure for a Championship manager was eight months, so why does anyone ever talk about a five-year plan?
“It is nonsense. I could sit here and say ‘In 2021, I am going to be magnificent’. That is no use to the fans. We have got to be realistic and our targets have got to be short term. We all want to be at a club for five years or more. The likes of Arsene Wenger, I have tremendous respect and admiration for him to achieve what he has achieved. It has been magnificent. But our job here at Rangers is to set targets, short, medium and longer term, and to hit them in as aggressive a manner as possible. If we do that, all well and good
“With 50,000 at Ibrox and the level of expectation, there is no four, five year plan. Whatever division we go into, the fans here expect us to more than compete and that is quite right. They pay their money, they work hard all week and it is not cheap following your team, so we have to go and deliver.
“Our job is to try and get as strong a squad as possible. It is as simple as that. I am sure every club in the division will say the same thing. We have to use our budget well, recruit well, do our homework and be as good as we can be. If we get it wrong, we won’t do what we want to do.”