Have you noticed how often Mark Warburton mentions respect? It’s in most interviews and was said after the Hibs defeat. Outside the ninety minutes he means it. It’s a necessary courtesy and no-one would want to see a Rangers manager do a Ronny Deila.
The Celtic manager let himself down by having a pop at the Gers to hide his own ineptitude. It’s an old PR trick, but shows he’s under pressure even though Lawwell could pick a random guy from Parkhead Cross to manage them to the title. There is talk the Norwegian will be dumped in the summer, but ‘jealous’ Rangers fans everywhere hope he stays. They know he’ll fall apart like a soggy digestive when facing real opposition.
Off-the-field Warburton correctly emphasises respect for other players, management and clubs. But when it comes to the game of football don’t believe it for a second. The truth is, he doesn’t think anyone in the Championship should beat his Rangers. He doesn’t respect other teams above his own. He’s often described as humble but he has a self-confidence, touching on arrogance, which all good managers have. He just knows how to play the media game.
“There was [only] one team in it, very respectfully”, he said inside an empty Easter Road. At once letting the world know who deserved to win, while keeping a lid on it. When asked what he and the players should take from the game, he replied, “Get angry!” This isn’t the analytical Warburton we are used to seeing. It’s in adversity you see the true measure of someone, and it was pleasing to see the Rangers manager with fire in his belly.
There might possibly be some personal annoyance Alan Stubbs managed to get one over his team. Serial whiner on any other occasion, Stubbs was all smiles after the match. He’s like the guy in work who avoids you when your team wins, but is full of snide banter when you lose. Hibs now believe Rangers will collapse and they’ll continue winning. In reality, it’s only 50-50 they’ll get all three points at St Mirren Park in the next game.
But regardless who the Gers lost to, this is when we’ll see what Warburton is made of. Thankfully the Englishman’s personal history should give us a clue. Everyone knows the story of him being a financial trader in the City of London, then giving it up to enter football. What is often overlooked is how brave this was. It’s easy to use hindsight and see a pre-ordained narrative, but there was no guarantee of success.
He was earning a good living in his early forties to then chuck it and start at the bottom of football. He not only lost out financially, but faced ridicule. Think of the reaction to someone you know deciding to leave their job to become a professional coach or manager? At best you would be dubious. In his first few years coaching boys football he sometimes wondered if he had made the right decision. He admitted, “I have doubted the choice I made. There were times when I was filling the minibus with petrol and pumping up a bag of balls and I thought, ‘I’ve taken a 95 per cent pay cut, I must be mad, what am I doing?’”
The decision to change careers was brave enough, but once the excitement wore off and the uncertainty increased, it would be easy to give up. His journey has had disappointments. He worked his way up to Watford Academy manager, before a ‘reshuffle’ saw him demoted to become the assistant Academy manager for 17 to 19-year-olds. He then left under a cloud and years later said: “I had a fall out with one or two people. I was treated very shabbily but they have gone now so I've got no grudges against the club.” His NextGen Series for youth teams – although a footballing success which UEFA copied - failed financially.
To make your own chances and overcome so many obstacles needs incredible self-belief and passion. This is the Mark Warburton we saw after the Hibs loss. His message to the players could very easily have been statistics and platitudes, but he avoided dispassionate analytics. He wanted them angry because he knows it will drive them on. Strategy and nuance can come later.
Lee Wallace epitomised the attitude Warburton wanted his team to have. The Rangers captain said, “I think it is more of an angry dressing room than disappointed, down to the fact that we don’t know how we’ve lost the game. I think there will be no problems in that dressing room about getting back to work tomorrow, preparing for the next game and just reacting to it.”
So far Warburton’s emphasis on youth, new ideas, professionalism and class is exactly what Rangers need. It works and there’s no reason to suppose it will change. For much of the Hibs match the light blues dominated. The post, cross-bar and some bad finishing should have brought home a win, never mind a draw. But it was not to be. Losing is never good, but the players will learn more about themselves this week than easy five-nil demolitions. Rangers will still win the Championship and the tougher version of Mark Warburton will be as important to the victory as the respectful, thinking manager.
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