Exclusive interview: Mark Warburton - 'I defy anyone to say I wasn't successful at Rangers'

John Percy
Warburton has now taken up a new task at Nottingham Forest - Photo Copyright of John Robertson

It is a sunny day with clear blue skies in Nottingham and Mark Warburton is reflecting on his time at Rangers, away from the claustrophobia of Glasgow’s ancient rivalry.

He is the new manager of Nottingham Forest, incidentally a club with a greater European pedigree than Rangers themselves, but Warburton should always have a place in the rebuild at Ibrox after what was one of the biggest crises in British football history.

The fall-out from his acrimonious departure last month continues to rage on, with Rangers chairman Dave King insisting last week he was “thin-skinned”, and lawyers on both sides are handling the detritus.

Rangers insist he resigned after talks with Forest and are now considering legal action, but Warburton, assistant David Weir and head of recruitment Frank McParland have claimed they were sacked and never offered to quit. 

Warburton is barred from saying too much but reclining on a sofa at Forest’s Nigel Doughty academy this week, he is adamant that his period at Rangers should be viewed as a success.

“I’m disappointed with how it ended and unfortunately there is now a legal process going on. But I must admit there is a frustration,” he says.

Warburton and Weir claim they were forced out at Rangers Credit: rex features

“We came in and promotion [from the Scottish Championship] was non-negotiable, we won it early by 11 points. We lost in the Scottish Cup Final, beating Celtic in the semi-final, and left with the club second in the Premiership table. 

“I can’t help but think that must go down as successful – not in an arrogant way, far from it, but I defy anyone to say that’s not been a good period.

“Some of the Rangers fans are magnificent but the expectation is hard because it’s very difficult for them to accept their club not being at the top of Scottish football and fighting European campaigns. But it was a fantastic experience and it can’t be taken away from me.

“I’ve read a lot of things [since leaving] that we’re supposed to have done and said that I know aren’t true. I’m not going to get drawn into an argument, we’ve kept our counsel and I hope the real story comes out.”

Warburton is determined to focus on the future, and has swapped one substantial challenge for another as he bids to guide Forest away from the Championship swamp.

Plans to recharge his batteries were abandoned when he answered an SOS from Forest early this month, with the club hovering dangerously close to the dreaded dotted line after five defeats in seven matches.

From the outside, it appears to be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. He is Forest’s eighth permanent manager since Fawaz Al Hasawi began his turbulent reign of instability in July 2012 while a potential new owner, Olympiakos’s controversial Evangelos Marinakis, is in advanced talks to complete a takeover.

Forest are also only a point above the relegation zone yet the weight of history is vast, with this interview taking place near a portrait of John McGovern lifting the European Cup at Munich's Olympic Stadium in 1979.

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Warburton, however, exudes positivity and could not appear more relaxed, seemingly the ideal appointment for a potentially messy situation.

“I’ve seen all the stats and I’m very aware of the history and what’s gone on. I’m aware of the impact it has on the players and staff here at the training ground because of constantly different managers, styles and schedules. But you’ve got to try and bring in stability and build something, like I did at Brentford,” he says.

“The short-term aim is survival and we can’t come in and make wholesale changes. We’ve got a mini-season of eight games and we’ve got to get the environment right to get the points required.

“The ultimate aim has to get back into the Premier League but now we’re in a battle and you have to appreciate it. 

“We are determined to be positive but the one negative I’ve told the players to focus on is that we don’t want to be playing at League One grounds next season.”

Warburton, 54, will take charge of his second game at Preston on Saturday and his return to the Championship comes nearly two years after his contentious departure from Brentford.

After guiding the club out of League One as runners-up, he was seventh in the second tier when it was announced he would be leaving at the end of the season “as part of a remodelling of the club's football management”.

Warburton is realistic about the challenge facing him at Forest Credit: john robertson

Brentford lost in the play-off semi-finals to Middlesbrough but his reputation remained high, with his style of quick, attacking football winning many admirers in the division. 

Preferring a 4-3-3 formation and short passing, Warburton made a huge impression on Forest when Brentford won 3-1 at the City Ground in November 2014.

“I know how I want to get the game played, looking at the emphasis on the technical ability and a creative attacking style of play that the fans enjoy coming to see,” he says.

“When I left the City [he was a trader with the Royal Bank of Scotland while playing for Enfield]  I did a lot of travelling, watching the likes of Barcelona, Ajax and Sporting Lisbon. It was a tremendous education.

“The players have to enjoy it, but most importantly it has to be successful. I love the idea of homegrown players coming through the ranks. The academy here at Forest is outstanding, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Warburton is already settled in Nottingham, recently moving into an apartment near Colwick Racecourse. Weir and McParland have both joined him in the east Midlands and thoughts are already turning to pre-season, despite the uncertainty over Al Hasawi’s future.

“We’re planning for the summer and our job is to ask and push. We’re pushing about players, staff, pre-season tours, pitches, whatever it is our job is to make the club better. 

“The previous job was intense and we had planned to reflect on it. I finished my pro-license last year and over the last three years I’ve probably had three weeks off.

“But suddenly this opportunity appeared and when a club of this stature comes calling you absolutely have to listen. It’s a privilege to be here.”

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