In football, great leadership- really great, title-winning, long-lasting, squad-rebuilding leadership - often comes down to motivation and squad management. It's no surprise that the greatest British manager of the last forty years, Alex Ferguson, was a genius at both and decidedly mixed in other areas. It's the two things you absolutely have to nail if you want to be a success at a genuinely big club, and while Mark Warburton might not quite be at that level, he's certainly following the same blueprint.
Systems and formations are overrated for their importance, but they do affect that blueprint and, for want of a better expression, philosophy. Rangers under Warburton have solidly opted for a 4-3-3, and have used it to deliver terrifying attacking football, and, well, terrifying defending as well. For some reason, the solution to this is reckoned to be the signing of a new, solid, traditional number 9 by many fans. The focal point to make it all come together. But do we even need one?
It's hard to say, because when a team plays 4-3-3, it's always difficult to know exactly how many strikers are required. 4-4-2 has had a comeback in recent years, helping to transform Atletico Madrid and Leicester City to two of the most improbable success stories in a long while. It's often seen as an attacking formation, but now it's used as a solid, counter-attacking system due to it's ability to switch so rapidly between defence and attack, so long as the players are disciplined.
But one of its biggest, most unheralded advantages that it has over 4-3-3 is when it comes to squad management. 4-4-2 is easy to build a squad for - you have two of everything, so for the squad, you just have four of everything. Centre-backs, full-backs, midfielders, wingers, and strikers. You don't need anybody particularly world-class, you can move people in and out easily, and you can rest great players and give backups plenty of game time.
In contrast, teams that have used a 4-3-3 tend to have two big problems over the course of a league campaign. Number one, they tend to have one great striker, who is undroppable and irreplaceable. You can't accommodate two great strikers in your squad if only one can play at a time, so one ends up being shoehorned onto the wing, or more usually, one overplays, burns out, and the team becomes lost without him. The second problem is in the midfield - five seems too few for the squad, six is often too many. It's hard to manage. Celtic's dependence on Leigh Griffiths and total mess of a midfield is testament to what happens when you use a 4-3-3 badly.
Rangers have thus far avoided this, but last year our squad was dangerously thin, which we got away with through sheer luck until the shambles at Hampden Park. Now, Andy Halliday and Jason Holt look like they'll be seriously struggling for game time, and the prospect of another striker to add to Martyn Waghorn, Joe Dodoo and Kenny Miller seems to leave the forward options pretty overstacked too. Competition for places is needed, but Warburton himself has often talked about a squad being better off too small than too big. Pathways to the first team, anaw that.
By some balance of luck and design - probably design, and a wee bit of luck in that it's been able to work out - Rangers have avoided this by pretty much playing without a striker. It's not a great tactical innovation, and one that's been deployed by a few top teams over the years, but most managers are reluctant to go into a league campaign without one guaranteed, goal-getting out-and-out striker. Warburton isn't. When your fullbacks can score 25 goals a season, your midfield is free-flowing, and your forwards consist of highly versatile players all capable of scoring and assisting, you don't need a Kris Boyd.
This is the path Rangers should continue down. It's worked so far, so why change it? We don't need to risk becoming dependent on one man, and it allows us more freedom both on the pitch and to make opportunistic transfer moves. There was a bit of profligacy last season, but that's a consequence of the unpredictability and fluidity of the team. At no point whatsoever could it be reasonably said that we struggled for goals. By far the biggest problem in the team was the lack of a solid base for the midfield to protect the defence, an issue which should hopefully have been rectified with the additions of Joey Barton and Jordan Rossiter.
With Rangers' central striking role not being a focal point, and instead just another playmaking semi-winger, it adds variety, and makes us less predictable. Martyn Waghorn, Barrie McKay, Michael O'Halloran, Josh Windass, Harry Forrester, Joe Dodoo and even Kenny Miller can play all of the front four positions well. Why do you need a guaranteed striker if the goals and assists are flying in from all directions? This is a team where a decisive pass, wonder-strike or lethal one-two could come from any outfield player. To demand we sign a Kris Boyd type would be to suggest that's somehow a weakness. Fans of other teams would kill to have that kind of attacking prowess. If it ain't broke, don't sign Danny fucking Graham, as they say.