Greville Waterman, a Brentford blogger, reached out to us at The Rangers Report to find out how Mark Warburton was faring so far in his Rangers career after he had supplied us with an article which gave an insight into what his footballing philosophy was. Returning the favour, I wrote a guest piece detailing the progress he has made so far and outlining the changes he has made so far. When you study the strides the club have made under in him in such a short space of time it really does emphasise how he has risen to the task put in front of him. Here’s what I told BFCTALK:
written by – Jordan Campbell
It has been just forty-three days since Mark Warburton was appointed as the fourteenth permanent manager of Rangers Football Club, and just thirty-two since the heavily depleted squad he inherited returned to the training ground in Auchenhowie for the start of pre-season. But last Saturday, his new-look side put on a rampant second-half performance which could have fooled you into thinking that he had been implementing his footballing philosophy for a whole lot longer.
Although we are very much in the infancy of his tenure, the last thirty minutes’ showing must have proved to the doubters that his Ibrox transformation is well and truly underway.
It is far too premature to judge whether he will be a success in the long run (challenging Celtic within two years and then progressing on the European front – not much to ask for) but if I were to grade his report card so far there would be no other option than to give him top marks; he is yet to put a foot wrong.
Since our financial collapse in 2012 we have had to endure three and a half years of torture with the chronic football on the park providing little escape from the drama in the boardroom. However, it seemed like last Saturday finally heralded the start of a new chapter of success as the supporters witnessed the most entertaining ninety minutes of football served up in three seasons.
I was a huge admirer of Warburton’s work while he was at Brentford and even earmarked him as a potential candidate for the managerial position as early on as March. His style of play and the bond he had established with the fans, combined with Weir’s knowledge of the club made it the perfect partnership in my opinion. But even with high expectations of what he and Davie were capable of, I cannot help but be impressed with how they are managing every aspect of the club whether that be the recruitment, the youth structure or the media.
They were exactly what was needed in our situation: strong figures who wouldn’t be fazed by the spotlight or by the fact that they had to imprint their footballing vision from virtually a blank canvas.
It has to be put into perspective just how mammoth the task they faced was – and still is. Having to rebuild every department of the club and ensure that we win promotion, all the while playing a brand of football which will pack out Ibrox is no mean feat when you have to face forty-odd thousand expectant supporters every second week. And when I said he had to rebuild every department I really meant it.
When he took charge, the club had just released eleven out of contract players who were part of the side that lost heavily to Motherwell in that humiliating playoff final. That left him with a nineteen-man squad consisting of mainly academy graduates and existing players who had woefully under performed. There was no scouting system in place whatsoever which meant the board had to trust in his extensive knowledge of the market down south in the hope that he could identify value for money himself.
The club had no footballing identity either. Ally McCoist’s long ball tactics and refusal to promote youth players had consigned our modern training facility to a state of redundancy as the conveyor belt of talent lay dormant with no direction or pathway into the first-team.
Warburton has gone about addressing every one of these points in an efficient and diligent manner which is what the supporters have come to expect from him in the short space of time he has been here.
Eight players have since come through the door but there have been no panic buys. Some managers may have come in and decided that there had to be an entire clear-out but Warburton took the sensible option of assessing the squad for himself before he made wholesale changes. Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, defenders Danny Wilson, Rob Kiernan and James Tavernier, midfielders Andy Halliday, Jordan Thompson and Jason Holt along with striker Martyn Waghorn have all been brought in while John Eustace trains with the squad hoping to secure a deal.
All of these players have had up-and-down periods so far in their short careers with most of their CV’s littered with loan moves around the country. Six of them were plying their trade in League One last season which is why some fans were sceptical of Warburton’s recruitment policy, but the vast majority of them showed up really well on their debut which has put to bed some of the initial worries.
But he has been unequivocal in his desire to bring in players who still have years ahead of them to develop. Rangers are no longer in the position where they can spend millions on established internationals, bringing in young, British talent with sell-on value is the only viable option going forward. At a total cost of around seven hundred thousand pounds, the six players he has signed look as if they will go on to represent great value for the club.
Whereas McCoist repeatedly spoke of the need to add ‘experience’, Warburton stresses the need for any signings to ‘add value’ and reiterates the need to keep the core of the squad ‘young and hungry’. This fresh outlook has been exactly what the fans have been crying out for and it was evident on Saturday as the average age of the starting eleven had been reduced to twenty-four compared to twenty-nine in the reverse fixture last year.
He has taken a holistic approach to overhauling the youth department along with the recently appointed Head of Youth Development, Craig Mulholland. Every age group will now play with the exact same system (4-3-3) making the transition for players progressing through the ranks smoother and allowing them to seamlessly slot into the first-team when the time comes.
He has made it abundantly clearly that he has no qualms about putting youngsters in if they are good enough and it seems to have acted as a source of motivation for the Under 20s as they have been flying in pre-season, beating senior outfits such as Tynecastle and Arbroath by comfortable margins.
Warburton’s handling of the media has been superb so far, but the increased spotlight was never likely to trouble a man who turned over hundreds of millions of pounds per day as a city trader was it? However, the animosity shown towards Rangers from the majority of Scottish football is at an all-time high and the reaction to the club’s pursuit of Hibs midfielder Scott Allan typified the sort of response the club have become accustomed to in recent years. Rangers had two bids turned down for Allan last Thursday and Friday which saw a BBC journalist question Warburton over the ‘morality’ of bidding for a player that would be facing his side just a day later – yes, that’s right, how immoral of him to bid for a player during the transfer window!
Don’t get me wrong, the timing of the bids were clearly tactical as Allan informed Hibs that he wanted to join less than twenty-four hours before the match which prompted manager Alan Stubbs to drop him to the bench. But his handling of the situation has been exemplary as he has remained calm and dignified, refusing to speak about another club’s player when he could have easily taken exception to those questioning the ethics of himself and the club. His open and candid media persona presents a great image of the club.
It is the product on the park that is the main focus though and is ultimately what he will be judged upon. It will inevitably take time for his new style of play to bed in and for the newly assembled squad to gel, but in his first two games there have been clear signs that his ideas are speedily getting across to the players.
Being brave on the ball and playing out from the back are two non-negotiables of his philosophy which incorporates a high-energy approach to the game revolving around ‘dominating the ball’ – a phrase we have become familiar with. The full-backs are pushed on very high and the whole team presses as a unit, which, while it can leave us exposed at the back makes for an open game.
The most refreshing aspect of the game was that when we went two goals up he didn’t allow us to drop deeper and deeper and rest on our laurels, instead he brought on Kenny Miller and Dean Shiels who helped further increase the winning margin. I can envisage there being a number of high-scoring games this year where it may be a case of ‘if you score four, we’ll score five’ or if Saturday is anything to go by, ‘if you score two we’ll score six’!
It seems that he has created a real togetherness within the squad and the players have already struck up an affinity with the fans which had been sorely lacking. This was shown as he ordered each and every one of the squad to march over to the travelling supporters to thank them for their support.
It’s the little things that make a huge difference to the overall feel of the club. On day one he held a team meeting where he outlined what was expected of them. Honesty and respect were the traits that seem to have ben stressed as the key principles on which the season will be based upon. He has even given the players the task of producing their own code of conduct which ties in with his preference to give them more responsibility as he is a firm believer that they should give their opinion in tactical meetings.
The quality of the training sessions seem to be the biggest difference that the players have noted. Triple sessions have been a regular feature and all the endurance training has been with a ball compared to the aimless running which they have been used to under Head of Sports Science Jim Henry. He, along with first-team coach Gordon Durie have subsequently left the club as Warburton and Weir say they prefer to do all of the coaching themselves.
Even Warburton’s demeanour on the touchline gives off a more positive vibe. In keeping with tradition he was suited and booted and was animated from the first whistle to the last, barking out instructions. Not satisfied with the four goal margin of victory, he lamented his side’s poor start to the game in his post-match interviews and demanded that they meet the high expectations they have set themselves.
He also showed what a gentleman he is when he made the effort to travel to Ibrox to meet the club’s oldest season ticket holder on his one hundredth birthday to present him with his new season ticket on the pitch.
With Warburton and Weir at the helm, it feels like the club are in safe hands. They have a clear direction in which they are heading in and as the weeks and months roll on I can only see the team going from strength to strength as the players familiarise with themselves with the new set-up. The feel-good factor surrounding the club has given birth to a wave of optimism which was can only be compared to when Dick Advocaat arrived in 1998 and even has some fans talking about potentially winning a domestic trophy which seemed a long way off just a couple of months ago.
In everything he has done so far, he has shown that he possesses the managerial nous and the level of class required to be a Rangers manager. His professionalism and the way he went about things is clearly what endeared him to the Brentford support and it seems that the fans up here have taken to him too as the ‘magic hat’ song has proved a big hit.
Good luck to the Bees this season and I’m sure all Rangers fans will be keeping a close eye on how they get on with their new statistical approach to the game.