For a number of years Rangers were effectively owned by Lloyds PLC. The club had run up significant debts through years of overspending and were now financially stricken, in the red to the tune of around £18M. With a bank owning the club, there was little to no money to invest in the squad, with the majority of signings being supported from big money sales like Alan Hutton and Carlos Cuellar. Other signings exploited the famous Bosman ruling and saw out of contract players/free agents arrive at Ibrox, an outlay only involving wages.
The takeover saga seemed to run for years. Sir David Murray had long established that he wished to vacate the chairman’s seat at the 20 year mark of his tenure, but actually offloading the club was proving to be an incredibly difficult prospect. Rumours involving various Rangers supporting millionaires like Dave King were almost daily in their regularity, and indeed the saga seemed to be close to an end when a businessman with no previous apparent connections to the club, Andrew Ellis, appeared to be on the verge of clinching the deal. As with every previous link, however, this fell through, and left Rangers in an ongoing state of limbo.
Another name linked delicately with the club was Craig Whyte, a relatively unknown businessman who had made his money building up several large companies – his fortune remains unclear but speculation would have him owning a billion pounds worth of assets.
|Rangers owner Craig Whyte.
This was the man SDM finally handed Ibrox to, despite massive reservations from the existing board regarding his credentials. Those objections went as far as a statement released on their behalf urging caution against the new owner – from that moment on it was clear the majority of the board would not remain in their posts for a great deal longer. However, the nature of some of the departures courted tabloid controversy – both Martin Bain and Alistair Johnston were suspended pending investigation – the former is now suing the club for £1.3M regarding his contract. The latter appeared on a BBC documentary which accused Whyte of criminal activity in owning/running companies when he had been disqualified from being a director. This led to a blank ban on the BBC from Rangers, instigated by Whyte who has a firm conviction the corporation is institutionally biased against the club he now owns.
The question is where does this takeover and current club structure now leave Rangers? The first issue, foregoing the hierarchical questions, is the area of expenditure. The club had very little money in the latter period of SDM’s reign, yet still managed to bring in some quality players, notably £3.5M on Croat star Nikica Jelavic. Unlike previous signings, this one did not follow any significant star departures so there was no obvious sudden pot of cash for the manager. Now that Whyte has taken over, does the club have money to spend now? Well…no, not as such. The summer outlay in Whyte’s first transfer window was paltry – the chairman claims over £5M was spent, but the figures do not back even that small amount up. With the sale of Algerian Madjid Bougherra for £1.7M, if around £5M was spent initially, only less than £3.5M could have conceivably been spent from the club’s coffers. For a squad badly needing a huge overhaul, this was simply not good enough, and indeed it was not, with the side crashing out of both European competitions in quick succession.
The second, and possibly more important question which the previous section alluded to is the hierarchy. Feeling isolated and rejected from club matters, John Greig ended his 50 year plus association with Rangers and resigned as a club director along with former chairman John McLelland. Add to this the clear disgruntlement from the likes of Bain and Johnston and it is clear the current board is in a state of serious transition and not all of it is obviously of benefit to the club. Some is – many objected to Martin Bain’s position of Chief Executive, including yours truly, and were only too glad to see him removed. The problem arises when such an individual sues a financially stricken club to the tune of over a million. It leaves a huge dark cloud over proceedings.
There is also the final area of the tax bill. Now this is certainly not the owner’s responsibility, as it has been on the cards for some time, including before his takeover. The sum in question is £49M and to be perfectly honest, without too much research into it, it appears to be related to offshore payments to players during the club’s high spending days. Days which have caused the club to end up in its current state. Whyte is certain Rangers will win this case, but serious questions will be asked if this does not happen. Whether it could threaten the club’s future is something only the board knows.
This article may have seemed scathing in places, but that was not the intention. There are undoubtedly positives from this takeover – from the quick contractual negotiations of key players like McGregor, Davis and Whittaker, to the choice of keeping on Ally McCoist as manager to enable continuity. Yes, it could be argued the previous regime had already confirmed him as next boss, but it is effectively Whyte’s ‘toy’ now and it would be ultimately up to him whether or not to renege on that. That he did not is to be praised.
There is also the simple blunt reality that Rangers no longer answer to a bank. Lloyds were content with the takeover and the debt is now in one of Whyte’s companies, and is of no threat to the club at all. It could be said Lloyds would never have threatened the club’s existence anyway, but no organisation wishes to be in debt to a bank.
So then we are left with the question of whether or not to trust Whyte’s intentions. To trust his motives are sound and that he has the best interest of the club at heart. His statements have been fairly positive, but talk is easy. Action is where the proof of the pudding is found, and as yet only small to moderate action has taken place which appears convincing of a good reliable regime and owner. With the club recently confirming the BBC’s accusation of his disqualification from directing, Whyte has some work to do to show he is to be trusted, and that he can steer Rangers out of these difficult times and into a position of, if not prosperity (it is the Scottish game after all), then stability and healthy operational fiscal policy.
He has not earned that trust yet. For the sake of Rangers, let us hope he does.