Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Glasgow Rangers - Ready?

Glasgow Rangers, love them or hate them, if you follow Scottish football then along with their fierce rivals Celtic, you simply cannot ignore them. The two Glasgow giants are the two main institutions of football North of the border. The two are heavily reliant on each other as is the rest of the game in Scotland for the revenues the two provide which are the very lifeblood of the game. Unfortunately, for all that they provide in that regard they take away in terms of the hatred and bile that emanates from their mutual empathy. So much of the talent - and there is some - that the other clubs produce is so often also prised away to either end of the West of Scotland's capital rendering the competition anything but. During modern times, but for a brief spell in the eighties it has always been the way.

At the end of last season, Craig Whyte completed his protracted take over of Rangers for a nominal fee of one pound. The club obviously came saddled with huge debts relative to its revenues and with possible sanctions looming large from HM Revenue and Customs. It is a bleak picture for a supposedly proud and wealthy club. Last nights reverse to Malmo puts Rangers' finances in an even more perilous state given that Champions League revenues now look highly unlikely this season.

For the outgoing owner Sir David Murray, it is a peculiar end to what should have been remembered as a fantastic stewardship of the club. Murray took over the club in 1988 and started what was known as the Rangers revolution by bringing in firstly Graeme Souness as player manager and then embarking on a period of spending never before seen in Scotland and one which reversed the traditional trends.

Rangers took full advantage of England's European ban by signing such illustrious names as Terry Butcher, Ray Wilkins and Chris Woods, these were followed by the likes of Trevor Steven, Mark Hateley and Mark Walters, the list went on. Even after the re-admittance of the English clubs, Murray forged on with the arrival of players like Mikhailichenko supplementing a fine Scottish pool of talent featuring the likes of McCoist, Durrant, McCall and Goram all marshaled by the imperious Richard Gough. Other players such as Seb Rozenthal and Daniel Prodan were signed despite appaling ongoing injury problems as the lavish - and now poorly judged - spending continued. Next up came the fantasy football days with the pairing of Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascgoine.

Further players such as Amoruso and Negri came as Smith's first reign came to an end and the break up of the nine in a row team. The arrival of Dick Advocaat heralded fresh spending with an oranje hue with the big name signings of Numan, Mols, Van Bronkhorst, Konterman and Ricksen - the last two proving names don't necessarily equate to quality. The spending reached a peak with the ill judged 12M move for Tore Andre Flo from a delighted Chelsea.

Rangers throughout this period were swapping players with the big boys, talent arriving from AC Milan, Sampdoria, Everton, Tottenham and Lazio to name but a few. Even when their players were poached, it was by the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and a Bernard Tapie bankrolled Olympique Marseille. How the mightly have fallen with Rangers having the finances now to only compete effectively for Bosman, loan players or simply third rate ones which the big English and European clubs have no interest in.

Rangers and to a large degree Celtic now look to the riches of the Premiership with painful longing and for Rangers and David Murray in particular there must lie the irony. For such a previously savvy businessman as Murray, something more than ego or just blind stupidity must have precipitated the unsustainable level of spending that he embarked on during the nineties. During that period we saw a large amount of rhetoric from the Old Firm and debate amongst the Premiership chairmen as to the merits of adding Rangers and Celtic to the competition South of the border, this was what Murray craved and it would be his legacy.

Many cried 'foul', how could this be? Yet Welsh teams have always played in the English leagues and kept their own National team whilst maintaining their FIFA status, there was clear precedent. Swansea indeed will be playing in the Premiership this very season. Monaco is a separate state yet their club plays in the French league. Some said they should have to work their way through the leagues, no doubt Rangers in particular would have agreed to this such were the riches that lay ahead. The simple fact however was that the Premiership did not want them. Supporters of Rangers and Celtic will feel their clubs would have added much to the spectacle but the English did not and it is their ball and they can choose to play with whom they like.

To make Rangers attractive to the Premiership they needed success, big names and the glamour that came with it so Murray rolled the dice and quite simply he lost. In the meantime the saturation coverage of the Premiership did much to diminish interest and therefore revenues in the Scottish game and so the ironies continued.

Whatever the reasons, the reality is that Rangers have been left behind exactly where they always were, the difference now being they are effectively bankrupt and with a playing staff that would struggle to keep the team in the English Championship. Their 0-1 reverse to Malmo in their Champions League qualifier shows an indication as to where they are by continental standards - a million miles away from the top table that they so craved to sit at.

Little is truly known about Craig Whyte and the most remarkable thing about him seems to be a passing resemblence to DCI Michael Jardine from Taggart. Whilst he has undoubtedly made himself wealthy personally, his career path is opaque and at least one of his businesses have previously gone bust. It is mere speculation but much of these types of businesses are layered, all leveraging off each other with little true cash in abundance which is what Rangers crave. The behaviour and attitude of several Rangers board members and their 'sackings' after the completion of his takeover spoke volumes as to what their thoughts on the matter were.

Whilst not wishing to sound ungrateful given Rangers current predicament, a promise of a twenty five million pound transfer kitty over five seasons is hardly the level of investment that Rangers require. Given that West Ham recently relegated to the Championship are contemplating spending eight million pounds on a striker, can Whyte expect Rangers fans to believe that he really holds Champions League aspirations? If he truly does then he is also telling us that he knows not the slightest about the realities of the situation.

If Whyte is indeed a true fan then no one can blame him for wishing to take charge of the club and to turn its' fortunes around, he may indeed surprise us all and do so. One must however look at the example of Mark Goldberg, a lifelong Crystal Palace fan. His buying of the Selhurst Park club was famous only for it being an unmitigated disaster, the main reason for which was an utter lack of funds. This was follwed by his nonsensical hiring of Thomas Brolin and Attilio Lombardo as his management team, it led to the teams' inevitable relegation before he sank without trace.

The fact that the signing of long term contracts by several senior players at Rangers was seen as some kind of coup shows how far the club has fallen. Alastair McCoist, the new manager has been left to scrabble around in the backwaters of the transfer market trying to find bargains which are few and far between given the scurrilous behaviour of modern agents. Most of Rangers 'interest' in players seems to be little more than PR on behalf of the club.

It is possible that Whyte may be the Knight in Shining Royal Blue Armour that Rangers so require but even with three consecutive league titles in the trophy room, the short to medium term prospects for the club against their rivals at Celtic Park look extremely bleak and there is little need to make reference to their European prospects. Rangers will surely survive this period of upheaval but it will be a long road back to recovering anything close to the position and stature they once held in the game. In any event, it may all have been an illusion that they held such a position in the first place - No Nonsense.