Rangers & The Strange Case of Mark Warburton’s “Resignation”
The best line about Mark Warburton’s departure as Glasgow Rangers manager came from Irish-based blogger Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. Mac Giolla Bhain has recently produced running commentaries on Rangers board meetings (the continuing anonymity of his source(s) is a wonder). Yet even he hadn’t seen this coming. “I was very surprised when Mark Warburton resigned last night and, in fairness, so was he.” The story, Rangers claiming that Warburton and his management team had resigned and Warburton denying all knowledge, might simply be that Rangers wanted rid of their under-performing management team and attempted to portray the departures as financially consequence-free “resignations” because they couldn’t afford their pay-off. Or it might not.
We cannot be sure at least in part because Scotland’s football media have offered every conceivable explanation other than Rangers being in financial bother, a situation we have been in before. At nine o’clock on February 10th, Rangers announced that they had “accepted the resignations” of Warburton, assistant-manager David Weir and recruitment chief Frank McParland. A clumsily-worded statement said “the management team’s representative” had “earlier this week advised” Rangers that they “wished to resign” if “Rangers agreed to waive its rights to substantial compensation.” This “would assist (them) to join another club.” The Board urgently convened…and agreed to accept” the offer “despite the potential financial cost.
“The representative…subsequently attempted to alter the terms…in favour of the management team. A further Board meeting was held this afternoon to discuss this and it was decided…to hold with the original agreement.” The three were therefore “notified in writing that their notices of termination have been accepted.” This raised questions. What precisely was agreed? The statement described arrangements which “would” help them join another club, i.e. IF one was interested. Did the representative have full authority to conclude negotiations? The statement suggests he did, an unusual scenario, especially given initial reports that only two Warburton and Weir were his clients.
The “offer” was to “waive…RIGHTS TO substantial compensation” and the cost was “potential,” again, suggesting what would happen IF another club was interested (and such semantics “would” matter in court). And why did the representative remotely believe he could improve any deal if resignations had been accepted? Fundamental questions…which Scotland’s football hacks weren’t asking. By 10.40pm, the Daily Record’s Gary Ralston revealed the “inside story” in a 500-word article which, in the timescale, smacked of pre-preparation. Rangers “called” Warburton’s “bluff.” The three “left…after 48 hours of cloak and dagger moves.” Dave Lockwood, “representing Warburton and Weir,” asked to “broker a deal for his clients,” and McParland, “in midweek.” Rangers “suspected that Warburton had been hatching an escape plan” and Ralston inferred that the deal was accepted because of this.
“Subsequently,” Warburton was “heavily backed” to become Nottingham Forest boss “before they decided to stick with interim boss Gary Brazil.” “Approximately 24 hours” later, Lockwood “said the management staff would be happy to work on, but would still expect to leave for no compensation when the time was right.”ADVERTISEMENT Rangers’ “furious” directors accepted “what they claim was the trio’s original resignation” and put them “on notice.” And the inevitable “Rangers insider” said Warburton was “looking elsewhere,” a suspicion “confirmed when his agent initiated contact. The agent took a gamble on behalf of his client and it didn’t work.” But why did Rangers accept “resignations” from an agent? Why did “Warburton and Weir’s” representative take “a gamble” for McParland?
Twelve hours later, the Daily Telegraph’s Roddy Forsyth “revealed” that: Lockwood began “the contorted drama” on Tuesday. The board agreed the deal on Wednesday and were “stunned to be approached by Lockwood again.” They said the resignations “had already been accepted,” so they should go. Forsyth referenced “farcical denials by Warburton,” who “told this correspondent…there was no truth in allegations that he wanted to quit Rangers.” And he added that Rangers “would have had to pay £1.2m compensation” but “as it stands…outstanding contractual commitments will cost Rangers £500,000,” presenting the money saved as a virtue rather than a necessity.
The questions remained. But…shock…the broadcast journalists of Glasgow radio station Radio Clyde’s Superscoreboard (SSB) show at midday on Saturday were largely not asking either. Gerry McCulloch AND Rangers party line-toer Derek Johnstone agreed that Warburton “technically” hadn’t resigned “because there was no papers signed.” But Hugh Keevins retrieved the situation. The “whole matter” was “open to conjecture” and he conjectured that the trio “tried to work their ticket out of Ibrox and were caught out.” Gordon Dalziel, meanwhile, insisted: “You’ve got to admire the board for their stance.” Keevins offered the “chastening thought for Rangers fans” that Warburton and Weir were “prepared to dump Rangers” for the club “fifteenth in the English championship…FIFTEENTH!!” But by 12.15, McCulloch was rebranding Keevins’ “conjecture” as “information.”
Four o’clock was statement o’clock for Rangers’ chairman Dave King, whose “reliable update” re-wrote recent and immediate history. His personal willingness “to invest £30m,” which he revealed in March 2014, became “I personally estimated that we would require an investment of £30m.” Last summer’s “going for 55” titles mantra became “our realistic expectation was to come second.” And: “It was confirmed to me,” anonymously, that media leaks of boardroom discussions “didn’t come from a board member” (“only board members were there…and Mark Warburton,” said Johnstone, who knew because…er…).
King also referenced “rumours” of Warburton’s negotiations “with English clubs.” He claimed he himself was “informally approached” about compensation, something curiously “unsubstantiated by direct confirmation from the Club in question.” And he was “alert to a conversation” (you’d hope so as he was involved) in which Warburton revealed his “long-term ambition…to manage in the EPL” to which Rangers were “a stepping-stone.” King then told his “resignations” tale. Lockwood’s first meeting was “on Monday” (moving further back in time with every statement). Lockwood “offered that (the trio) would resign with immediate effect.” The Board agreed and “employment was immediately terminated.” But while Rangers “dealt with” the “admin and press releases, (Lockwood) asked to defer the resignation until the management had secured a new club. I assume that the new deal had somehow collapsed at the last minute.” The board refused. But…but…if everything happened so “immediately,” why were the trio still working on Friday? And what was this previously unmentioned “new deal”?
SSB were again embarrassingly uninquisitive while Johnstone was just embarrassing (“they’ve equalised, West Ham 1 West Brom 0”). The statement was “good” and “detailed.” It “set out how much of this £30m has been spent” (£18m), “and the fact that (King) may need to dig deeper.” And one listener called it “off-the-scale on the transparency-o-meter.” More embarrassingly, selected match reporters at on-going Scottish Cup-ties were dragged in for comment. When its statement o’clock at Rangers, live football can go hang. Proper perspective briefly emerged. McCulloch’s suggestion that King could have “outlined exactly where this £18m was spent” drew high-pitched incredulity from Keevins: “Are you saying ‘I don’t believe him?’” (Johnstone said it was spent “on the stadium…and Auchenhowie…the majority of it…I would imagine,” which drew silent incredulity from everyone).
Mark Guidi actually asked a pertinent question. Was the £30m what “King pledged to put in by himself or does that include season-ticket money…because (he) said ‘it will be my kids’ inheritance.’” And McCulloch admitted: “We are hearing one side of what could be very complex discussions.” However, Keevins retrieved the situation again. He was non-plussed about Warburton, who “surely” should have had his “business sorted out with Nottingham Forest before…any other financial matter” and went off “without having anything in place.” But he couldn’t/wouldn’t contemplate this as a hole in King’s story. And when a listener noted: “King said the management were immediately terminated on Monday, so yesterday a non-employee was taking a press conference? No chance,” McCulloch insisted that: “if you actually read the statement…there was a little bit of a delay” within which Warburton “had to take another press conference.” A “little bit of a delay”? FOUR days? No chance.
Even obsequious print journalists called this out. The Herald’s Neil Cameron and the Record’s Keith Jackson wondered why Warburton had a ”post-resignation” Rangers career. And Jackson said Rangers should have paid the trio “more than £1m…as contractually obliged.” But he side-stepped the obvious conclusion, even suggesting “King and his men” had “pumped…their own hard-earned into bankrolling the club.” However, loyalists remained loyal. BBC Scotland’s Richard Wilson labelled the “resignations’” costs a “red herring.” And Forsyth suggested that Rangers’ “evidence that the three had been complicit in trying to move back to England” meant “the affair is unlikely to go the distance (to court).”
This was a slightly-unhinged theory. As Donald Mackinnon, of employment law experts Law At Work, wrote in the Record: “A general expression that an employee is planning to leave at some point in the future…is, in itself, not enough” to constitute a resignation. “Even by the standards of football clubs,” he added, “where employment law niceties are often ignored…the debacle…at Rangers stands out.” Mackinnon “presumed” that “Rangers took expert legal advice before…announcing the resignation(s)” and were “confident that their version…will stand up in court.” But “based on what has been placed in the public domain to date,” he remained “to be convinced.”
The trio said their piece via the League Managers’ Association (LMA). As “the club has seen fit to make detailed public statements” they “formally” stated that “at no stage did we resign from our positions.” It was a “surprise to us and to the LMA, which is advising us, that…the club has not answered key questions put to it by the LMA, in writing, requesting an explanation of why it suggested that we resigned.” The LMA only represents England’s Premier and Football League managers, hence their mere advisory role. So, Rangers were not obliged to answer. However, they’ll have to answer in court, where the trio are reportedly determined to see them.
But whatever the rights and wrongs of this Rangers-themed shambles, the attitudes of Scotland’s, predominantly Glasgow’s, football press are again the most depressing aspect. “For the last five years,” Keevins sanctimoniously drivelled on Friday’s SSB, “every football fan in this country has become an expert on tax law and now the tax law experts have turned into employment law experts.” McCulloch agreed: “With anything to do with Rangers, Scottish football fans turn into experts.” Yet Johnstone, sat alongside them, could declare: “It wasn’t the club themselves that got rid of (the trio), it was them themselves that wanted to get out of the deal. This wasn’t engineered by Rangers. This was engineered by Mark Warburton and David Weir,” and they didn’t offer the slightest disdain. Compared to such one-eyed speculation, some fans ARE experts
But shorn of key information and fed by ill-informed speculation, Rangers fans are encouraged to dream of unaffordable new managers and to believe that the job is only appropriate for “a certain type of person” (though Rangers fans who truly believe the club’s arrogant “We are the People” slogan probably don’t need such encouragement). Some therefore swallow Johnstone’s high-minded claim last Friday that “a lot of people are saying ‘oh, Rangers, you wouldn’t touch that with a bargepole.’ I beg to differ. There are plenty of applicants that want the job” (“Kilmarnock had over 50 applications,” said McCulloch, with casual dismissiveness). It is little wonder they rage when the immediate future is the affordable Graeme Murty, already on the payroll.
Johnstone had said “they’ll be trying within the next week to get someone in.” They failed. So, Johnstone wrote in Glasgow’s Evening Times that this was because “the man they want…may not be available right now” and “they are right to give themselves breathing space to think about what they do next.” But last night it seemed he had seen the light, suggesting that “Its maybe a financial thing they’d rather not have to pay anybody else to come in.” But alas, no: “This might mean more money for whoever is coming in,” he concluded, dismally.
Superfluous debate therefore continues over WHY Rangers parted company with the trio, when the issue is HOW they parted company. And speculation surrounds Alex McLeish and “director-of-football” structures, not affordability, which may be severely affected by HOW they parted company. Scotland’s football media, it seems, are getting the past AND the future wrong. The gormless Johnstone knows no better (“the two most important things in football are defending your goal and scoring goals,” he proclaimed at one stage…insight for which he is PAID). Presumably Keevins was, in his heyday, better than…that. But Ralston, Wilson and Forsyth are clearly betraying their journalistic talents, wilfully or otherwise.
Questions raised in this article may have legitimate answers. Rangers’ resignation announcement may have been merely unprofessional. McCulloch may be right that the, English, LMA are involved because Warburton’s “biggest gripe” is with the English club he supposedly wanted to join. But there would be better-educated “conjecture” if Scotland’s football media were asking those questions…or any serious questions. They’re not. And they might…MIGHT, therefore, miss the story. Again. Five-years-and-a-week-ago, Rangers entered administration after months/years of financial turmoil. And, unlike the fan “experts” he derided last week, Keevins was among those who missed it, because when legitimate questions emerged about Rangers’ shoddy finances, they were shunned. Five-years-and-a-week later, it’s happening again.
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