A couple of months ago, Mark Warburton was speculating on what would represent a successful first season in the Premiership for his Ibrox team. I put it to him that if he finished second and 15 points behind Celtic, that would be alright, but second and 30 points could spell real trouble…
The notion that he could salvage his Rangers tenure with anything else was simply inconceivable. Not, though, you felt, to the 54-year-old Englishman. And therein lay the problem.
At lunchtime yesterday there was no suggestion that Warburton was ready to walk away. He was embattled, undeniably, but he was battling. Rightly, he received a monstrous grilling about the speculation over head of recruitment Frank McParland departing, the ham-fisted summer recruitment that had caused consternation with the Ibrox boardroom and the fact that his chairman Dave King hadn’t even bothered to speak to him of late to discuss his feelings over a fortnight in which a 4-1 hammering by Hearts and a draw at home to Ross County had left his team behind Aberdeen in third, and 27 points adrift of an all-conquering Celtic.
This absence of communication he refused to see as a chairman distancing himself from a failing manager. Asked if he thought King still believed in him, he said tellingly: “I don’t know anything otherwise. If you guys know otherwise, then please tell me. From my point of view, we go about our job.”
Getting into Europe would be a return from the season that would mean he was ahead of schedule he suggested, no doubt expecting it to be recalled he hauled the club from the Championship with a stylish title win.
However, he failed to take into account that his success last season was considered a given with a budget four times that of any second-tier rival, that his team blew the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian and that, with an £11 million football spend this season, he had all the resources to finish a clear second; Aberdeen’s budget around half of what he had at his disposal.
For a former city trader, Warburton hated pecking order predictions to be made on outlay, oddly. His unwillingness to see it as putting in some sort of challenge to Celtic, and creating a gap between his side and all others but the champions, as the bottom line gave rise to the impression he didn’t understand what should have been firmly within his pay grade.
He was asked yesterday whether he felt he had been treated harshly in his 18 months. “You tell me. I have been here 18 months. I think if you are the manager of Rangers, manager of Celtic or any major club you are going to get the abuse. We lost heavily, 4-1, so you are going to get the barrage of comments. But you have to deal with it. “Am I surprised by the ferocity? Maybe. But I am told that is life in Glasgow and that I don’t get it. I do get it. Rest assured, I absolutely get it. I am not a rocket scientist but I am not stupid.”
Warburton isn’t stupid and he isn’t a bad coach, or a bad man. He is decent in every respect, but decent wasn’t enough because of the sums squandered on Joey Barton, and the whole farrago he created in his short time in Scotland, the injury-prone Niko Kranjcar and Joe Garner, whose £1.5m fee seems unjustifiable in the climate Rangers find themselves.
Rangers did attempt to play a slick passing game under Warburton and, following their turgid play in their post-liquidation lower division years, he seemed to take them out of the footballing darkness. They did not see the light sufficiently for his one-dimension approach to be the answer whatever the circumstances. Warburton’s refusal to adapt, on and off the field, surely played a major role in his time at Ibrox coming to an end.
The Rangers manager’s job is an invidious one at present. The expectations of a support who have previously dealt in supremacy are simply unable to be met. King may have lost confidence in Warburton, who was perhaps piqued to discover his chairman’s thinking after carrying out his media duties yesterday and left feeling in a no-win situation once he did.
He won’t be alone, because right now there is a managerless club down Govan way that finds itself firmly in the no-win bracket.