By the first week of June 2015, Rangers still had no manager, but club director Paul Murray was telling the North American Rangers Supporters Association (NARSA) that someone would be in the hot-seat soon. Meanwhile the bookies had either slashed the odds on Mark Warburton coming North or suspended betting. On social media and football forums, there were posts telling anyone who would listen that it was a done deal. A week before it happened, bookmakers Paddy Power described Warburton getting the job as “an absolute shoo-in.” Within that week the Daily Record’s Keith Jackson said Burnley were interested and more seriously, Warburton was in talks with Fulham. With the latter club it was implied he was interested and awaiting an answer.
Whatever the truth, on 15 June 2015, Mark Warburton officially became manager of Rangers. Club legend David Weir followed him to become assistant manager. Both men signed a three-year deal. Warburton admitted it was a huge moment for him. It was the first time he had seen Ibrox and Auchenhowie. At his first press conference he told how he was impressed with the obvious history and tradition which comes through every part of the club. As he put it, “when you look at the Blue Room and the Trophy Room here, how can you not be inspired by that?” He added, “As a football supporter you know about the big clubs around the world. But Davie [Weir] spoke so passionately about Rangers and his experience and his knowledge of the club was really important. You get a real feel for it. Now this morning, seeing it for the first time, it is a real privilege. It's a magnificent stadium, a great venue, and our job is to come here and fill that stadium."
One of the biggest selling points was the fans, and it was a video of Rangers fans singing at Ibrox possibly the video of Ibrox before the 3-2 win against Celtic in 2012) which made Warburton realise what this great club was all about: “I have never been to an Old Firm game, but when I was thinking about the job my son showed me something on YouTube. Rangers fans singing their song at a Celtic match. James [Warburton] just said, 'Dad, look at this. You have to go there'. I had met with Rangers once already and was thinking things through but all the things in my head were moved to one side when I saw this footage. I had already had my appetite whetted from the interview, but the video blew me away. It was the nudge I needed.”
Another obvious factor was David Weir speaking about Rangers “every day” they were working at Brentford. Weir was a true blue and Warburton knew it could work for him. He said, “Davie [Weir] and I were coaching together at Brentford but Davie always spoke about Rangers. You could hear the passion in his voice; he talked about the club and what it could achieve. His knowledge of the game up here, his experience and his standing among the supporters and the people at the club is very important for us. Davie and I work very closely so I will lean on him a lot over the coming months.”
During his time at Rangers Weir won three league titles, two Scottish Cups and three League Cups. He was signed on a short-term contract after Walter Smith returned to Rangers in 2007. No-one expected anything more than an older player who would give his all to shore up a defence. Weir stayed for five years, eventually captaining the club and playing in the run to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final. He departed Rangers for Everton in early 2012 as a player/coach. The next year he joined Sheffield United as manager, but things didn’t turn out as well as he hoped. He was sacked after four months. Later in the year he joined Brentford as assistant to Warburton.
It’s fair to say he is adored by the Rangers fans. If one person encapsulates all that is good about the club, it is him. Speaking to RangersTV the Rangers Hall of Fame member and new assistant manager said: "It's really exciting to be back. It's not any secret that I grew up supporting Rangers. I had five really enjoyable and successful years as a player, and now to come back in another capacity is also great. I haven't been back for quite a while now, so I wondered what it was going to be like. You try and prepare for it, but when you come back in you remember how impressive the place is, and the memories do come flooding back. He spoke of himself and Warburton as a team and added, "We've both got to work really hard to try and get the club back to where it needs to be."
Mark Warburton couldn’t have a better partner in telling him what was expected. When asked what Weir said, the Englishman replied, “He told me many things, but one single thing? Recognise the expectation of supporters. Be aware of the expectation of where the club needs to be, where it should be. He has drilled that into me.” He admitted he would be lying if he was prepared for the Glasgow goldfish bowl, but he trusted the people around him. Included in that was the “fantastic” David Weir. He would be asking the Gers legend questions every day. David Weir also spoke of their relationship. When asked if he had any input on Warburton’s decision, he said, “I didn't have to persuade Mark he's his own man, and if he asks me a question I give him an honest answer. That's how we work and vice-versa. He's a man who makes his own decisions. I just help him with that where I can. Rangers doesn't need selling as a football club though. Everyone knows what it is capable of being, and also the history behind it, so there was no selling involved by me."
He knew about the recent troubles surrounding the club, but he had no issues as he got the right answers from the board, including a budget he believed would be enough. Weir would know about the local politics and who the board were now. This wasn’t guys who didn’t care for Rangers - these were fans. He could tell Warburton they could be trusted.
The Londoner was also asked if he had any doubts when Rangers failed to get promoted. “Not at all, he replied, “you look at the club and where it wants to go, where it needs to be, That’s the opportunity for us". The former trader understood value when he saw it. If anything, being in the Championship would make it easier for him to build the proper foundations. Taking Rangers from the doldrums to the very top would also look better than a possible mid-table struggle in the Premiership.
He wanted a “fortress” Ibrox again. He said, “we’re going to dictate to the opposition, in a very respectful way, and it’s about playing our way. It’s not about them, it’s about us. If we do what we can do well, we’ll win the game.”
Instead of worrying about the opposition and terrified to attack, he spoke the Rangers way. You be respectful to teams off the park, but on it you let them worry about you. And they will worry about the Rangers. That’s not arrogance, that’s just a fact. You don’t become a nation’s most successful club and not have others see the Royal Blue and feel the presence. Ally McCoist was a winner on the park. He wasn’t the cheeky chappy many think. He has a working-class steel to him, and can look after himself. Yet, for all his well-known positivity and determination in his playing days - his own team had fear of failure as their motto.
The comparison may not please Warburton, but it was back to the original Jock Wallace mentality. There’s a terrific clip still available on YouTube where Jock says, “I fancy us very strongly, we’ve got the battle fever on”. As we have seen, Warburton didn’t like Wallace’s methods, or speak like him. No-one would nowadays since he was of his time. Warburton joked, “I was standing there earlier when the photographer asked me to smile – I looked up and saw a picture of Jock on the wall looking down on me and thought: ‘No, I’d better be very careful.’” He added, “Firstly, I’m very respectful of what he achieved at this club. All jokes aside, I’m very respectful of a fantastic manager and player, but it was different for me then. And I learned from that. I learned at 17, 18, 19 years of age what I wanted to do in terms of coaching and dealing with people.”
Yet, if you listen to Warburton speak and read his interviews from the beginning, self-discipline and a positive mentality is always at the forefront. Even in the first press conference he brought it up. He said, “If you go to Barcelona, watch the way the players conduct themselves off the pitch. They are immaculate in everything they do. There are no earphones or mobile phones. Their appearance is important and they win matches before they step on the pitch. There is no reason why you can’t replicate that at the smallest club in the country. Hopefully at a club of Rangers’ stature, we can take a lot of those things on board. We want players who want to play for Rangers, who are passionate about the club. We ask them to work hard every day and it’s up to us to create an environment where they know that if they don’t work hard, they won’t get picked. Simple as that. Without that clear guideline, they have a problem. We will make demands of the players every single day they come into work.”
His language is always humble and respectful, but he gives his teams enormous self-belief and confidence. So did Wallace. They can only do that because they possessed those qualities. There couldn’t be more difference in the methodology of Wallace and Warburton, but the winning mentality is the same.
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