What a difference a year makes for Rangers.
Struggling through a disappointing Championship season, no-one knew the future for the Ibrox club 12 months ago as Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowall and Stuart McCall all tried and failed to get the results needed for promotion. Not only were the results bad, but there were serious questions marks over who really ran the club and whether or not they had the players, staff and fans at heart.
A Dave King takeover later and it seems Rangers can do no wrong as they prepare to end their memorable lower league adventure with the Scottish Cup Final. The Scots businessman undoubtedly has the club pointing in the right direction – up!
Not only do they appear on a better financial footing, but King’s got his big decisions spot on. And they’ve come no bigger than appointing the right man to seal the Championship title and ensure Rangers play Premiership football next season.
In Mark Warburton, King has the foundation to build his empire.
The Englishman’s results speak for themselves. While Rangers may have blown league games following their decisive title-clinching win over Dumbarton at the start of March, they’ve pretty much blown away all of their competition this season.
The 3-1 home defeat to St Johnstone in the League Cup would have been disappointing, but they more than made up for it in romping to the league, winning the Petrofac Cup and knocking Celtic out on their way to the Scottish Cup Final.
Not only have they got the results in big games, but they’ve played football the right way too. A brand of possession-based, attacking football which should continue to bring them success and plenty of plaudits.
Rangers fans celebrate Warburton and his magic hat – but what is the secret to the former Brentford manager’s success?
Sure, he’s well-spoken, intelligent and would have commanded the respect of his players and staff the minute he walked through the Murray Park doors last summer.
But the majority of his success has to be put down to having quality players – something he, his staff the club and players deserve credit for.
A story this week hammers home just how astute Warburton is proving to be with his signing policy.
Highly-rated Liverpool youngster Jordan Rossiter appears on the verge of signing a contract with Rangers as his current deal at Anfield approaches its expiration date.
The 19-year-old midfielder has been with the English giants for 13 years and, before falling out of favour with Jurgen Klopp, appeared the next biggest talent off the club’s Melwood production line. Five first-team games and representation for England up to Under-19 level suggest he’s a talent which probably shouldn’t be leaving Liverpool, let alone the country.
But all roads point north for him – and before anyone puts this down to being a transfer rumour, think again. Almost every major publication in Britain has Rangers signing Rossiter and there’s never any smoke without fire when it comes to these stories. This would have been put to Warburton or the club already and it looks like neither poured cold water on the move.
A shrewd signing like Rossiter probably shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone though.
Warburton arrived at Ibrox a year ago and immediately set about reinforcing a badly-depleted Rangers squad.
In came Wes Foderingham, Rob Kiernan, Danny Wilson, Dominic Ball, Jason Holt, Nathan Oduwa, Andy Halliday, Gedion Zelalem, Martyn Waghorn and James Tavernier – and it’s safe to say none of them have disappointed. Zelalem, Ball and Oduwa are all loanees, but they’ve all contributed. The rest are cast-offs who Warburton saw something in and offered the chance to prove people wrong. The outcome to this season – regardless of the Cup final result – suggests they’ve done just that.
Add mid-season signings Harry Forrester, Michael O’Halloran and Billy King to that and it only reinforces Warburton’s eye for a player.
Rossiter may not be the multi-million pound signing Rangers fans will no doubt demand in the future, but he’s a player tipped for the top of English football who fancies playing out the early part of his promising career at Ibrox. And the more impressive part is that they’ll get him for next to nothing too.
When his signing is confirmed, fans will then look forward to welcoming him to Glasgow in the summer alongside Accrington Stanley duo Josh Windass and Matt Crooks. The latter two arrive after signing pre-contract deals and their involvement in taking Stanley to the cusp of League Two promotion before narrowly missing out on the final day shows they could be yet another shrewd investment in Warburton’s spending portfolio.
For all the attributes Warburton brings to the Rangers job, it’s his eye for a player which impresses me most. And if he can keep on displaying 20/20 vision throughout his time at Ibrox then you can bet on more success for the club.