By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Mark Warburton has been appointed manager of troubled Scottish Championship club Glasgow Rangers. The ex-Brentford boss has signed a three-year contract at Ibrox and will be targeting immediate promotion to Rangers’ rightful place in the Scottish Premier League. But why has Warburton agreed to take on the challenge of managing a club that, behind-the-scenes at least, is subject to constant controversy and boardroom disputes? It is a poisoned chalice that previous incumbents Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowall and Stuart McCall found too much to bear. So can ex-city trader Warburton restore Rangers to its former glories?
First, a bit of an history lesson. Warburton is not your average football manager. He had an undistinguished career as defender in lower-league football before moving into life as a city trader after retirement. Despite working in the high-pressured environment of the city, he missed the buzz football provided and packed in his office job to pursue a coaching career.
Having travelled round Europe observing coaching sessions at numerous top clubs, Warburton worked at Watford’s academy in the late 2000s before moving to Brentford as assistant manager, then sporting director, finally becoming their manager after Uwe Rösler’s departure to Wigan in December 2013. At the Bees he achieved promotion from League One in his first season and led them to the Championship play-offs last term, losing to Middlesbrough in the semi-final. In between all this he founded the NextGen Series – an U19 cup competition featuring the brightest young talent and involving some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
What can Rangers expect from their new manager? Warburton is clearly passionate about nurturing young talent – he was instrumental in setting up Brentford’s purpose-built Academy in 2013 which gained Category 2 status – a fantastic achievement for a club of the Bees’ limited resources. He is also known to rely on an extensive scouting network to sign players. Whilst a difference of opinion with owner Matthew Benham over the role of pure mathematics in the running of Brentford was a major reason for leaving the west London club, he is certainly no stranger to various forms of statistical analysis to determine a player’s worth, potential or to improve and analyse his performance.
As a former sporting director himself, Warburton, who will work with former Rangers defender David Weir as his assistant, understands how to work within a ‘continental framework’ – indeed he had a very successful working relationship with Brentford sporting director Frank McParland. He is a man-manager in the modern mould, concerned with player development away from the pitch, unlike someone old-school like say Harry Redknapp, and is media-savvy – something that could come in handy given the countless PR own-goals Rangers have scored in recent years.
What about the football? Under Warburton Brentford were renowned for playing attractive, possession-based football, akin to Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side of 2013-14. Whilst promotion will be his number one remit, implementing a club style throughout the age-groups will be a priority and something he will relish delivering.
The only question mark for Rangers stems from his lack of experience. He has only managed one club and nothing near the magnitude of a club like Rangers. Admittedly the attendances at the Glasgow club have fallen in recent years from their heyday but a rocking Ibrox is a totally different kettle of fish to Griffin Park. There are also question marks over whether he can adapt to Scottish football, handle the expectation and manage the intense scrutiny from the media – and this is before even the seemingly ongoing off-pitch turmoil.
Which leads me to this question: why Rangers? Warburton is clearly a coup for the Gers. I’m sure he had plenty of opportunities south of the border, why take the eminently more risky option of Rangers? The answer is potential. If Rangers can sort their off-field issues – and this is a big if – there is almost no limit to what the Glasgow club can achieve. With the enormous fan-base, high-class facilities, stadium and pulling power of the club, they are a sleeping giant who, given the right management, can be restored to their traditional position at the top of Scottish football. There is light at the end of the tunnel for Rangers fans and with Mark Warburton at the helm, the future can only get brighter.