Mark Warburton: Where does manager exit leave Rangers?

Rangers manager Mark Warburton
Warburton won 55 of the 82 games he oversaw as Rangers manager

Fake news. Alternative facts. Call it what you will, but high-farce returned to Rangers on Friday night.

Whatever version of events you believe - the Ibrox credo or the gospel according to Mark - this is now like a scene from a drama, a throwback to some of the hair-on-fire chaos that Rangers experienced in the recent past.

The club saying one thing, Warburton saying another. Rancour and suspicion played out in the open for the football world to see.

In Rangers vs Warburton - or Warburton vs Rangers - the jostling to influence the news agenda is ferocious. Briefing and counter-briefing. Every syllable from both sides of the divide needs to be put through a sieve to determine fact from spin from something else.

It's the most bitter divorce. It wouldn't be a stretch to call it poisonous.

When did the relationship first show signs of fragility? Hard to say, but early. Put it this way, it was in Warburton's first season. Rangers were still in the Championship at the time. The supporters were still under the impression that Warburton was in the possession of a 'magic hat'. Everything looked rosy.

Mark Warburton with Joey Barton
The high-profile signing of Joey Barton backfired for Warburton

Behind the scenes at Ibrox there was a simmering disquiet about Warburton and his chief scout, Frank McParland. Not widespread by any means, but it existed close to the board. Maybe even on the board.

There was a lack of discretion about some of the communications. Whatever the truth of what was being said, the fact that it was being aired at all - albeit privately - was instructive.

There was an episode in December 2015 when Warburton was linked with a move to Fulham. The report was strenuously denied by Warburton, who admitted to being furious at what he felt was a portrayal of him angling for an exit. He swore loyalty to Rangers, but not everybody at the club was buying it.

Warburton's problems cranked up some notches when Rangers hit the Premiership. The failure to focus Joey Barton on football rather than trash-talking Scott Brown diminished him as a manager. That wouldn't have mattered had the results been good, the recruitment strong and the sense of progress been unmistakeable. None of those things applied.

He didn't have the budget to compete with Celtic, but the gulf between the Glasgow teams wasn't really the thing that brought further doubt on his ability to do the job.

It was the lack of a gulf between his team and Aberdeen and Hearts, two clubs with a fraction of Rangers' spending power, that put him under pressure. The only fair comparison that could be drawn was not between Rangers and Celtic, but Rangers and Aberdeen and Hearts, and week on week that comparison did not look clever for Warburton.

Warburton with chairman Dave King (right)
Chairman Dave King is yet to comment on the removal of Warburton

His recruitment last summer was dreadful. He didn't have the fortunes - or the over-spend - that chairman Dave King had promised in those hubristic moments when he 'jetted in' to Glasgow as the great redeemer, but he had enough to show more, a lot more.

Players came in and sank. His and McParland's choices. Flops, for the most part. Add the transfer fees and the wages together and the total was chunky. A bang for their buck? Barely even a pop.

A list of Rangers' summer signing

Rangers lost 5-1 to Celtic in September and Warburton thought it was smart play to criticise the media for their negativity towards Rangers' performance. They lost 4-1 to Hearts and again Warburton grew truculent when asked about the continuing weaknesses in his defence, the continuing bluntness in his attack and his on-going failure to change tactics on the hoof.

He pointed out that Rangers were second in the league, as if a struggling second was job done.

"If Celtic had won four games less they'd be 13 points ahead. If we had won one of our games, it would be 10."

It was a puzzling way of looking at things.

Rangers lost 4-1 at Tynecastle recently
Rangers have been soundly beaten twice at Tynecastle this season

When, last weekend, Rangers drew with Ross County for the third time this season, Warburton was interviewed by the club's TV channel. He explained his team's failure to take their chances as a series of random events, as if some higher power was at work.

There was nothing random about Rangers' lack of accuracy - an uncomfortable truth. Kenny Miller, age 37, is the club's leading scorer in the league with six goals.

Celtic, Hearts, St Johnstone and Motherwell have two, or more, players who have scored more in the league than Rangers' principal goal-scorer. Aberdeen, Ross County, Hamilton and Kilmarnock each have one one player who's ahead of Miller in the scoring charts.

It's not randomness that denies Rangers - or causes them such problems in defence - it's poor recruitment and the lack of solutions to glaringly obvious problems.

Mark Warburton and David Weir
Who will replace Warburton and Weir at Ibrox?

If Warburton became aware of the whispers within Ibrox then you can have some sympathy for him. The job is stressful enough without thinking that those who should be with you are not on your side. The entire situation became unstable and then nasty. The end was coming, you could sense it.

There was always a feeling that Warburton would return to English football in pretty quick order. Despite his travails in Scotland, he is still valued in England. His good work at Brentford trumps his ropey experience at Rangers in the eyes of some important decision-makers in the Championship, where he made his mark.

There's squabbles now about the facts of the break-up - who did what and when. There is surely an unarguable truth amidst all the confusion and that is the one about irreconcilable differences. This relationship is done. Best that both parties go their separate ways and have a serious think about what they do next.

For Rangers, that need is great. They need many things; a new manager, a new assistant manager, a new chief scout, a significant increase in their professionalism, as much off the field as on, a sizeable reduction in the divisiveness of their communications.

A new focus starts with an honest evaluation of where they're at; a question posed to certain personnel - 'What, exactly, are you bringing to the table here? What is the point of you?'

Rangers are moving on without Warburton. That needed to happen. But in the fog of Ibrox it's difficult to know which direction they're going in.