THE subject of Joey Barton may have been strictly off limits at Mark Warburton’s media briefing yesterday but the Rangers manager was happy to discuss the credentials of another Liverpudlian midfield player.
As the saga of Barton’s unproductive and predictably controversial time at Ibrox rumbles on, with his club suspension extended until next week while internal disciplinary processes continue, Warburton was neither prepared or permitted to be drawn further on the 34-year-old’s situation.
The overwhelming feeling remains that it is simply a matter of how and when, rather than if, Rangers part company with the player they acquired amid such fanfare during the summer. That would mean Barton’s final appearance for Rangers was the 5-1 Premiership defeat at Celtic Park last month which precipitated the training ground bust-up for which he was banished by Warburton.
As the next Old Firm showdown of the season approaches in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden in ten days’ time, Warburton is already looking to 19-year-old Jordan Rossiter to fill the central role which Barton occupied.
England youth international captain Rossiter made a positive early impression at Rangers following his £250,000 move from Liverpool at the start of the season but has been sidelined since the end of August with a calf injury. But he has now returned to full training and while tomorrow night’s league match at Inverness may come too soon, he is expected to be involved against Celtic next week.
“Jordan is back and he’s trained for the last four days,” said Warburton. “The Inverness game might come too early for him but hopefully he’s available for the League Cup semi-final the following weekend.
“He’s a good player. He’s only 19 but he’s got a mature head on young shoulders. He knows that game, he knows that position. He knows what he does well and he knows his limitations – he won’t try a worldie 80-yard pass.
“Jordan wins it and moves it on. I’ve been really impressed with him. It’s nice to welcome Jordan back and have a full squad for the first time. We also got Matt Crooks back playing 90 minutes for the under-20s the other night, so the squad is in good shape. Matt needs games but his fitness levels are really good. Because he’s been restricted to playing for the under-20s, you could see his chin drop a little. But he needs games. I spoke to him again this morning and his fitness levels are really good.”
While Warburton looks to summer recruits like Rossiter and Crooks to finally get up and running with Rangers, he also has an eye on potential business in the January window. During the current international break, Warburton took advantage of some time back home in London to touch base with several clubs. But while he would like to utilise the loan market for the second half the season, he admits it presents a significant financial challenge for Rangers.
“It was nice to get home because I hadn’t been home for a while and I had a few meetings with London clubs to maintain relationships,” he said.
“It’s always nice to speak to other clubs and get different ideas on various aspects. We have to look at the loan system because of the financial disparity. The loan market is an option but clubs can demand full wages and loan fees.
“The loan market has changed dramatically in three or four years, so you get players on wages which are way out of our bracket but they are being met along with a £250,000 loan fee. It’s huge numbers but the demand is there and clubs are quite rightly maximising their assets. We’ve got to try and find an ‘in’ where we can.
“For example, there are two players we know really well who are currently not playing for their clubs in the English Championship but who are on multiples of our highest wage here at Rangers. It’s not a complaint, just a recognition of what the market is.”