How Mark Warburton's legacy remains at Rangers, four years after his acrimonious exit
A statement published on the Friday evening of February 10, 2017 was unexpected. Rangers were gearing up for a Scottish Cup tie with Morton and sitting joint second in the table, third on goal difference behind Aberdeen and 27 points from leaders Celtic in the midst of their invincible season with Brendan Rodgers.
And then the shock.
One of the many surprised by Rangers’ statement was the manager, or by that stage the former manager, himself.
Both Warburton and assistant Davie Weir denied they stepped away from the job they were little over halfway through. They’d restored the club to the top division, but the title was still a distance away.
Rangers’ announcement claimed the pair resigned from their roles via a representative - a claim both Weir and Warburton vehemently denied, and still do.
“We never resigned. I would know if I’d resigned,” Weir said to a podcast interview with his current club Brighton and Hove Albion in October. “I didn’t resign from Rangers. Why would I resign from Rangers? You would know if you resigned and we didn’t resign.”
Warburton too has said similar: “I want to ram home the point that you would never walk away from a club of Rangers' stature. I did not resign, absolutely not,” he said on national radio some 18 months after the controversial exit.
The abrupt ending for the pair - plus head of recruitment Frank McPartland - sent shockwaves through the club’s support, and surprised Scottish football on that quiet Friday night.
Its ripples rocked one of the smoother periods of Rangers’ ascent back through the Scottish football divisions - Graeme Murty and Pedro Caixinha followed before Steven Gerrard restored calm again.
In 20 months at Ibrox, Warburton presided over 82 games and won 54 - a year of which was in the Championship. It’s his best record as a manager, better than his Portuguese successor and matches Gerrard’s win percentage, albeit at a level lower and without European football.
Warburton went on to Nottingham Forest, spending nine months at the City Ground before landing a role in his native London at Queen’s Park Rangers where he is approaching his second anniversary. But today Warburton still retains a lasting legacy at Ibrox, four years since the confusion of his parting.
If, or as looks increasingly likely, when Rangers lift the Scottish Premiership trophy as champions for the 55th time - a title eulogised in the supporter’s song dedicated to him - it will be hoisted by James Tavernier, one of Warburton’s first signings as manager, and likely his most influential.
Tavernier’s input to resurrecting Rangers from the Championship alongside Warburton and to the brink of a championship title under Gerrard is not insignificant, 17 goals and 12 assists from 39 games at right-back this season will testify to that.
“Just because you didn't have success as a previous manager doesn't mean you haven't played your part,” said Gerrard last week. No Warburton, no Tavernier.
Their reign may have come to an unsatisfactory conclusion, but four years on, Rangers are not far from concluding the objective Warburton and Weir set out on their return to the Premiership, and they can do so, by proxy, through Tavernier.