Mark Warburton believes his willingness to offer young players early first-team opportunities could assist Rangers as they consider a move for much-coveted Livingston striker Matthew Knox.
The 16-year-old, who recently spent time on trial at Manchester United and is being closely monitored by a host of other English Premier League clubs, is training with the Rangers first-team squad this week.
Knox became the youngest player in Livingston’s history when he made his first-team debut against St Mirren on Boxing Day, just four days after his 16th birthday.
Rangers manager Warburton has already been impressed by what he has seen of Knox and insists any offer made to the teenager would be on the basis of providing a clear route into his first-team plans.
“I really believe that you have got to show there is a pathway to the first team,” said Warburton. “If there is a glass ceiling there, you have no chance.
“Matthew has been in for a couple of days now and I didn’t see him on the first day because I was down south. But he trained with us today and looked very bright indeed.
“He’s just turned 16 and is a very smart and talented boy. He’s confident, good in possession and technically gifted.
“A lot of clubs are interested in a lot of these talented boys. You hear that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal are watching him, but their web is so-far reaching and deep that there are a number of players being watched.
“But to sign for those clubs and to play for those clubs are two different propositions. If you are saying to a young player ‘eat well, sleep well, train well, play hard and be the best you can be, but you have no chance of making the first team’, that can’t happen.
“You have to show there is a pathway, but you also can’t give it away. Supporters love to see home-grown players, but they have to be good enough. That’s the key.
“Too many times, you see clubs blood someone and you never see them again. It’s like another box is just being ticked.
“If he is good enough, then you make sure there is an opportunity. If the opportunity is there, he has to be good enough to maximise the opportunity.
“As a coaching staff, we will speak to the powers-that-be at the club about Matthew and where we go next with it. Our head of recruitment, Frank McParland, will do his work and I’ll give my football opinion on what I think of him.”
While Knox could feature in Rangers’ plans for next season, Warburton has not ruled out the potential bonus of a return to action before the end of this campaign for one of the most successful recruits of his tenure so far.
Top scorer Martyn Waghorn has been sidelined since suffering a knee ligament injury at Kilmarnock in mid-February but is making rapid progress in his recovery.
“He had a couple of days away on holiday last week which was great for him because he’s working so hard to get back playing again,” said Warburton.
“He’s a top-class professional. We will liaise with the specialist and make sure all is on track, but you do not want to hurry it. You don’t want to nick a week here and then lose six weeks at the other end. But touch wood, so far, it is going really well for Martyn.
“He is ahead of schedule because he is so confident. But what we have to do is make sure that between Martyn, our people and the specialist that all is on track and his rehabilitation is timed properly.
“Players will want to come back and say they are fit, but you have to make sure. Another thing is that you have to be fit to play. Once he’s back in full training, it’ll take at least two weeks to get match fit again.” Warburton, meanwhile, has decided all of his players should be contenders for the club’s own Player of the Year award, decided by a supporters’ poll, which will be announced at a dinner on 24 April.
Waghorn was initially omitted from a five-man shortlist compiled by Warburton and which comprised Lee Wallace, Barrie McKay, Jason Holt, Wes Foderingham and Rob Kiernan.
“I misunderstood the mechanics of the vote,” admitted Warburton. “I didn’t realise that it would exclude players from outwith those five. It has been tradition to have a shortlist, but we have so many who have done well and could justifiably win the award this season that we have decided the fans can vote for any player they like.”