Mark Warburton: Festive fare shows Scots game in good health

Rangers manager Mark Warburton shouts instructions to his players. Picture: SNS Group
Rangers manager Mark Warburton shouts instructions to his players. Picture: SNS Group
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Mark Warburton believes the reputation of Scottish football has been enhanced by the festive fare delivered to a nationwide television audience.

The Rangers manager has revealed he received a barrage of positive feedback from friends and colleagues in England who tuned into his team’s 4-2 win over Hibs at Ibrox on Monday and also the 2-2 draw between Hearts and Celtic at Tynecastle 24 hours earlier.

Warburton feels both games provided firm evidence that the game in Scotland can be a highly marketable product.

“I had more texts about our game against Hibs and the Hearts-Celtic game from people down south than at any time since I’ve come here,” said Warburton.

“They all enjoyed watching the Hearts-Celtic game. Loved it. They loved the atmosphere and said what a great place Tynecastle was for football.

“I then had about 45 texts after our game against Hibs from people who enjoyed it. The quality of those two games, in terms of the visual spectacle, was first-class. The more we can do that, the more investment we can get into Scottish football to improve things.”

Six months into his Ibrox tenure, Warburton has clear ideas to add to the ongoing debate over changes required to arrest the decline in fortunes of the game in Scotland.

The former Brentford manager, who helped develop the NextGen tournament for elite European youth players, is convinced there is no shortage of native talent in Scotland.

But he believes the current SPFL under-20 development league set-up does not provide an effective stepping-stone towards first team football.

“How can you go from an Under-20s game with 150 people watching to playing in front of 50,000 against Hibs at Ibrox?” said Warburton. “There has to be something that prepares them to make that transition, to prepare them to succeed.

“At the moment, we prepare them to fail. The players that have come through in Scotland now have come through despite the system, rather than because of it.

“The responsibility lies with the academies and the youth teams to produce players and challenge them. I have referred to the NextGen tournament in the past because it put the best against the best. We must make sure our players play against the best around the world. I want our young players to play Barcelona, Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, PSG and Lyon. I want them to play in competitive games that mean something. 
Investment could come in the form of an Under-19s cup involving four Scottish teams and some of the best from Europe. There is no box we need to think outside. Just think differently and give the players something to challenge them.

“I had the privilege of working with some of the world’s biggest clubs in the NextGen tournament and you can learn so much.

“Barcelona, Ajax, Valencia, Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Aston Villa – there was magnificent work being done in those academies and we have got to make sure that Scottish players are given the best opportunity. There is not a dearth of good footballers in Scotland suddenly.

“When I grew up, there were so many good Scottish players around such as Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan and Gordon Strachan. All these players were magnificent and, now, apparently, there are no players.

“But there are players in the system. Just to take Rangers as an example, look at Barrie McKay and Jason Holt this season. So there are players in the system here. Just give them the chance to be the best they can be.

“The problem with the Scottish game, as I have been told since I came here, is at the elite level in terms of the national teams.

“My personal opinion is that it all comes down to finance. Everything comes down to investment, whatever line of work you are in.

“What can we spend on pitches, equipment, the food in the training ground canteen. It’s money. We have to get more investment in the Scottish game.

“There has to be a better quality of product. If that has to be summer football, the whole structure must be amended to make sure the players are fresh, rested and you have time as a coach and a manager to work with your players.”