IF there was ever any doubt managing Joey Barton isn’t easy, it was dispelled over the past few days.
The midfielder, appearing on a Sky TV chat show, admitted to having challenged Mark Hughes to a fist fight while under his charge at QPR.
It didn’t happen, Hughes reasonably pointing out the club would frown upon him battering his players.
If the news taught us anything – other than that Barton could do with watching footage of defenders bouncing off Hughes when Manchester United used him as a battering ram in his playing days – it was that the Welshman wasn’t one of the men who supplied Joey’s references ahead of his move to Rangers.
Mark Warburton is a thorough person, so we can be sure he sought the opinion of several men in the know before going ahead with what was the most-commented on transfer in the Scottish game this year.
As anyone who has been involved in recruitment will tell you, however, references only really inform you about the relationship the responder had with the applicant.
Sean Dyche, Barton’s manager at Burnley last season, for example, would likely have talked in glowing terms about a man who, after all, helped him secure the English Championship title.
Given Dyche and Warburton know each other well, we can also be pretty sure he will have been one of the first ports of call.
Once the contract was signed, though, he became the responsibility of the Rangers manager.
And, as we all know now, an almighty distraction.
The saga could have rolled on for many months but, as I predicted in this column, common sense prevailed with the contract being mutually cancelled last Thursday.
Rangers have, by all accounts, had to pay with figures of some £150,000 quoted during the week. That’s not bad business, considering a total pay-out could have run to nearer £2 million.
With Barton’s wage off the bill, Warburton can turn his attention to using the cash to freshen up his squad in January.
Diego Poyet, once of West Ham (and son of Gus), has already been mentioned as a possible target.
As a young striker with something to prove, he fits the profile of the type of signings Warburton was after far more than closely than Barton – at 34, a veteran – ever did.
I do believe, though, the end of the Barton saga is not all good news for the Light Blues boss.
While it was ongoing, it provided him with a ready-made excuse.
He didn’t even have to make reference to it himself. The media would do that, stating the distraction of the Barton saga needed to be sorted out if Rangers were going to make the most of this transition season.
Now that Barton is gone, they will be judged on what is happening on the pitch. Which isn’t always good.
Sure, the recent 3-0 victory over Kilmarnock was very impressive. But after that it was back to a 1-1 draw with Ross County.
While that draw was at Victoria Park, Rangers have come up short at Ibrox, too. Drawing with Hamilton and St Johnstone.
If they aren’t already, those results should be sounding the alarm bells for Warburton.
Fans accept this is a transition year for the club. For possibly the first time ever, they accept there won’t be a viable title challenge to Celtic.
What they won’t take lying down, I think, is finishing the year behind Aberdeen or Hearts – or even both.
With the resources at the manager’s disposal, they believe, that should not be happening.
After losing the one player who, history would suggest, could potentially ask him for a fight, Mark Warburton is now facing the battle to win back the Rangers fans he has lost in the first half of this season.
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