Where now for Rangers?

Was this really just a year ago?
(Credit: Uefa)

Rewind to May 2011. It was the perfect end to a season. Going into the final game just a point ahead of Celtic, and knowing their rivals had the relatively easier match at home to Motherwell, Rangers headed to Rugby Park with the pressure on. And how they handled it. Kyle Lafferty scored his first of a hat-trick within seconds, and Rangers were 3-0 up inside 10 minutes. A goal apiece from Naismith and Jelavić saw them walk out easy 5-1 winners – securing their third title in a row and ending Walter Smith magnificent return to the club.

Now fast forward to June 2012. Has there ever been a heavier reversal of fortunes? The reality of Rangers’ financial meltdown started to really kick-in last February. Having already missed out on the Champions League at the start of the season, the increasingly pressures led them to sell Jelavić in January, and having failed to pay the £9m HMRC bill handed them, administration hit Rangers hard. An immediate 10 point penalty saw an end to any title hopes. Then came the further blow that due to failure to submit the the club’s accounts for 2011, Rangers would not be allowed to play European football in 2012-13. The impact of two seasons without the additional cash from the Champions League would under any normal circumstances have been a huge blow to the bawbag – with the added hole in the finances this placed a huge mountain to climb both this year and next.

Would that the ordeal had ended then. The repercussions of Craig Whyte’s disastrous 9 month spell are still playing out, as are the full details of the £1 purchase of 85% of the club’s shares from former chairman Sir David Murray. Last week Strathclyde Polis were directed to conduct a criminal investigation into the sale and his subsequent mismanagement, with ex boss Paul Le Guen breathing a huge sigh of relief that his own disastrous time at Ibrox has now been eclipsed. Criminal proceedings against Whyte no doubt appear trivial to Rangers fans right now though, with complete uncertainty about what division they’ll be playing in next season.

Where they certainly won’t be playing is the SPL. Owing reportedly up to £134m to unsecured creditors, the HMRC refused the Company Voluntary Arrangement presented to them by Charles Green, the saviour-apparent. Understandably the 9p-in-the-pound offer for the debts to their creditors wasn’t acceptable, and subsequent liquidation was inevitable. The CVA would have saved Rangers’ SPL status. Now, the ‘newco’ formed by Green and his Sevco group has two immediate priorities – finding a league and retaining whichever members of the squad are willing to stay. They are arguably losing the battle on both fronts. Today’s vote by the remaining SPL clubs ended any lingering hopes of staying in the top flight.

No doubt Green wasn’t naive enough to think that all the current players would willingly agree to have their contracts transferred – and why would they? All of them are SPL players, and this financial mismanagement certainly isn’t their doing. When the likes of Steven Whittaker and Kyle Lafferty have offers of top-flight football at Norwich and Sion respectively, and immediately, why would they pick the limbo of Rangers newco? Some like Lee McCulloch are valiantly agreeing to their contracts being transferred (though, presumably, on the same high terms they enjoyed at SPL level). Green is now seeking compensation for those that have already left – the Scottish PFA believe employment law gives each player a solid case. More are expected to depart – Naismith seems the next one to walk away, Everton seem keen to pair him with Jelavić again.

Before that’s resolved, there is the small matter of which division the club will actually be playing in. Today a majority of the SPL clubs rather understandably voted overwhelmingly against readmitting newco Rangers to take the remaining SPL berth. Green must therefore pin his hopes on the place that will become available in the First Division. This in itself isn’t simple. When it became clear newco Rangers hadn’t the votes to replace oldco Rangers, Raith and Falkirk quickly released statements that if the SPL wouldn’t have them, neither should they in the First Division – many more have since followed. A vote to allow the newco in would Apparently have to be approved by a three-quarter majority and an emergency meeting of the SFL clubs – set for Thursday next week, where this proposal from the SFA will be heard.

This is fraught with understandable self-interest from the SFL clubs, in the same way that the SPL clubs didn’t want a potential top-two club back with them if they could help it. For the SFL clubs, there are obvious financial considerations that multiple games with Rangers in a season would bring, and also the threat of reduced TV sponsorship earnings if Rangers are dumped to the bottom. But it would clearly be a huge disadvantage to any clubs promotion chances to have Rangers parachuted into their division. In the case of Airdrie in the Third Division it would likely elevate them up a division – a reality that has bizarrely resulted in their chairman Jim Ballentyne stating this week that they’d abstain due to the conflict of interest. Which Scottish clubs don’t have an immediate interest in this though? This issue affects them all.

It’s inconceivable that Rangers newco would simply be allowed into the First, and you have to imagine any acceptable proposal would involve sanctions in points and/or cash. If you want to cash in on Rangers being with you for one season, why not help to prolong it to two if possible through a large points deduction? If they were to be plunged into the Third, all the SFL members would be able to enjoy that extra cash a few games with Rangers would bring in the years it would take them to return to the SPL. Any relegation to the Third would mean three seasons outside the SPL at the very least, assuming the league isn’t reorganised as a whole. In many ways, under such a scenario it would make more sense petitioning to be allowed into the Conference and using those years to climb up to the Championship.

It’s a dilemma. Who’s to say Rangers newco even have better men at the top than Rangers oldco did? Charles Green I can remember from his time at Bramall Lane – the man that helped assemble a promotion-winning team on ridiculous contracts the club could ill-afford and the same man that then started to dismantle that team before it had secured the all-important promotion bit. His most memorable act on this part was to sell the strike-partnership of Brian Deane and Jan-Aage Fjortoft on the same day in 1998. It was a bit of a shock to find him at the helm of the ‘rescue bid’ for Rangers. This is a man few Blades would consider the ideal candidate for an act of rescue – more someone to be rescued from, as the financial repercussions at the time were very serious. But it’s possible in 14 years out of the game he’s learnt from those mistakes – and Rangers fans better hope that he has.

Whatever happens, this sort of financial nightmare can’t be allowed to happen elsewhere. It was only a matter of time before a really big team went under Rangers should serve as a wake-up call to overspending clubs everywhere.

Written by Joseph Clift (@josephclift)

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