What a roller-coaster few weeks it has been for Rangers! The 5-1 Old Firm humiliation was followed up with the Joey Barton saga before last weekend’s home draw with Ross County.
Admittedly at 5:00pm on Saturday, the roller-coaster resembled a kamikaze mission until Tuesday night’s win over Queen of the South in the League Cup lifted some of the negativity surrounding Mark Warburton’s side. It’s still very early in the season, but already fans are wondering just what’s going on at Ibrox right now.
The 5-1 defeat to Celtic wasn’t the end of the world. Dick Advocaat’s side lost their first Old Firm game 5-1 and they weren’t too bad. At Celtic Park, Rangers were miles off the pace and the gap between us and them on the day badly shone through.
Only Josh Windass came out with pass marks and the performance of some of the senior players was nothing short of embarrassing. Coming away from the Old Firm game, there was still a belief that there would be a reaction from the players and there would be a marked improvement.
There was a reaction from the players… Although it took a few days for word to get out. On Tuesday at training, Barton and Andy Halliday got into an argument of some sort and, by the end of it, Barton was sent home for the rest of the week to think things over.
I’ve no idea what’s went on at Auchenhowie, although I’m far from convinced it was anywhere near as big a deal as it has since become. Taking Barton’s tweeted apology and radio interview after being sent away at face value, it all sounded like two passionate footballers getting carried away after a heavy loss to their bitter rivals in the biggest league game in Scottish football since the last time Rangers won the title on the final day.
What came after all of that, however, took it into the realms of the absolutely ridiculous. Suspending Barton for three weeks, Warburton has made his position on the ‘respectful’ environment around the club perfectly clear, but he’s now created a situation where for, the next three weeks at least, the focus on everything will be Joey Barton.
Press conferences, newspaper headlines and online blogs, like this one, all the focus will be taken away from Warburton’s side and placed squarely on ‘What Joey tweeted today’ or fairly bland quotes from a book launch about his desire to play in another Old Firm game.
Warburton has been stuck between a rock and a hard place with how to deal with the issue. If Barton does have a future at Rangers beyond his suspension, then it could be a few weeks after he returns before he is back up to speed fitness-wise.
If he doesn’t, then there’s processes that need to be followed when it comes to terminating his deal without it coming back to haunt the club.
Just to top it all off, Barton is now facing a Scottish FA investigation for breaching betting rules which forbid players from betting on any football, anywhere in the world. The midfielder apparently bet on Celtic to lose by at least three goals against FC Barcelona (he done better than Ian Black did when he got popped for betting at least).
Of course, Scottish football being Scottish football, there has been some incredible reporting of the whole Barton nonsense, with one newspaper going as far as to print claims by a solicitor that Barton (who has spoken on numerous occasions of his atheism) could pursue action against Rangers if he could prove he was forced out because of his “Roman Catholicism”.
It’s bad enough that that comment would be made in 2016, but for it to come from a solicitor AND be published is absolutely astonishing.
Despite Barton’s issues there have been signs of improvement. Despite the poor scoreline against Ross County, Rangers did look better than they probably have all season and followed this up with a comprehensive win over Queen of the South to seal a place in the Betfred Cup semi-final. Martyn Waghorn’s treble against QoS hopefully gets the forward firing ahead of this weekend’s trip to Aberdeen.
There were numerous positives to take from Tuesday night, among them Matt Crooks’ return from injury and the clinical performance in front of goal, and Sunday’s game against Aberdeen might just be the kick-start our league campaign needs if there’s to be a title challenge this time around.