Warburton is happy for his stars to be given international recognition but wants a fair deal from Gordon Strachan – and some respite for his squad, he tells Moira Gordon
The Rangers manager, Mark Warburton, has called for parity after his players were named in the Scotland squad which will take on Italy and France.
Although delighted that the performances of captain Lee Wallace and young Barrie McKay have caught the attention of Scotland coach Gordon Strachan, his fear is that the friendly double header will come hot on the heels of a demanding domestic campaign and will deny his men the rest he believes they need – especially if, as he hopes, they can wrap up the season with a Scottish Cup victory over Hibs on Saturday, granting them a shot at a Europa League qualifier in July.
“Please don’t say it’s Warburton blasts Strachan but we’ve not had any dialogue,” said Warburton. “We’ve not had a phone call. I read the comments about European football but either Hibs or ourselves will be in Europe, and Hearts too.
“All I heard was about Aberdeen and Celtic so I’m a bit bemused as to why any club that could be in Europe is not dealt with or handled in the same way. If we’re in Europe it would be around 14 July and the League Cup starts 16 July. So if it’s about Europe, does that mean the League Cup is diminished as well? How does that work? So if I put our under-20s in the League Cup would that be OK?
“I’m delighted for the players. They want international recognition and there’s a World Cup campaign looming that I’m sure they’d love to be involved in.
“But what we have to do is look at the long-term welfare of that individual player. Someone like Lee Wallace, at 28 or 29, played in every minute of every game and so we have to look at what’s best for Lee for the longer term.”
He said he intended to discuss the matter with the club doctors and the players involved to decide what to do but he obviously has significant concerns and is miffed that he has been backed into a corner publicly, while other managers and clubs have been given the chance to address the issue behind closed doors.
“The players have waited a while for their call-up and I understand that’s how it works,” he added. “But they could well have, touch wood, European football ahead so there’s no differentiation [with other clubs]. I don’t know who has played more minutes, Kieran Tierney or Lee Wallace, but I’d imagine it would be Lee. So it’s got to be consistent for everyone; Hearts, Hibs, Rangers, or whoever it might be, to be fair to all the clubs.”
Warburton is a manager who is an advocate of proper respite for players who have had a long, demanding season, fighting deep into several competitions, and the Scottish Cup could be the latest reward for those endeavours.
But along with the winners’ medals and silverware would come an early competitive start and a shot at Europe, and Warburton said he would be concerned about players jumping headlong into the next challenge without having had the time to recover from the last.
“There’s a 21-day golden window where the players have to have that rest,” he said. “They need a minimum of three weeks to recharge. They came back on 27 June last year and our season won’t finish until 21 May. Then we’re back again on 18 June so it’s a tough ask.”
With so much at stake next term and with the likes of Wallace, who has picked up several player of the year awards and nominations, being such a pivotal player, the Englishman obviously wants him at his disposal throughout the next campaign, where he will be hoping a defence of the Scottish Cup will be necessary, while they also seek to build on the foundations laid in his first season at the helm.
“It was great beating Celtic [in the semi-final] and the significance of that result is not lost on anyone,” said Warburton. “But it is true there are no trophies sitting in the cabinet for beating Celtic in the semi. What we have to do is beat Hibs.
“It will be a sell-out Hampden, the pitch hopefully will be in good shape and we are looking forward to the game. We know it will be tough because we have had tough games all season against them. They are match sharp, they are hungry and they will be keen to make amends for Friday night. But the Scottish Cup has to be seen as a bonus. The Petrofac was a nice bonus, the Old Firm game was a bonus. And this is a bonus now. But you want to maximise bonuses. We’ve got to make sure we go there and win the trophy.
“It’s been a really pleasing first year but the moment the cup is finished on the 21st, we look to 18 June when we start again and when it’s a blank canvas again and we have to go out and win games of football.
“I said along we want to build strong foundations. The last thing Rangers needed was short-term fixes after what’s happened in the last four, five years. After a good first year, we now need to build again. A stronger second layer. We need to make sure the players coming in add quality and value.”
That work has already begun in earnest, with the signing of Liverpool teenager Jordan Rossiter on a four-year deal. The midfielder is described as technically gifted and athletic, with the heart of a lion by his new gaffer, who also insisted that the youngster signalled the club’s ambition and long-term approach to ongoing improvement as they seek to challenge at the hilt of the top tier.
But for all the long-term planning, the thoughts of Europe and the Premiership, this season isn’t over yet. Not while there is a major trophy to be contested.