Tom English: ‘Fans need a strong rivalry, a threat to title chances, a fear factor that quickens their pulse’
You are more likely to get sympathy from the devil than empathy from Neil Lennon in the business of Rangers’ ongoing financial woes. When the Celtic manager spoke about the Ibrox club’s plight the other day, he looked like a man who’d been waiting quite some time to get this stuff off his chest, which was fair enough.
Ally McCoist might have been disappointed by his counterpart speaking about another club’s affairs but the Rangers manager would be best advised not to pursue that line of argument too far in the future. He will lose the debate the minute Lennon brings up the nose-rubbing hubris of the past at Ibrox.
Nearly everything Lennon said is unarguable.
The chickens are, indeed, coming home to roost at Rangers. There has, unquestionably, been financial mismanagement at the club, even with the HMRC case in the pending tray. Take that out of the equation – and, boy, how they would like to – then you still have the matter of the £10 million seasonal shortfall that Craig Whyte speaks about, a gap in funding that forced him to pre-sell chunks of season tickets to keep the club on the go while also selling their principal goal-scorer to Everton on the cheap on Tuesday.
“Somebody must have seen it coming,” said Lennon of the financial problems. “Do I have sympathy in that respect for them? No. Have they brought it on themselves as a club? Yes.
“If you have mismanaged, if you’ve spent beyond means for a long, long time then eventually it comes home to roost. It has happened at a lot of clubs. The people who suffer are the supporters.”
This is fact and Lennon has every right to talk about it, given that his own club have managed their finances with a caution that has, at times, infuriated the supporters.
It’s easy to understand their ire at seeing Jelavic score the goal that saw them beaten in the League Cup final last season and at being pipped for the league championship on the back of a weighty contribution from the Croatian. He was brought in for £4m despite Rangers not having £4m to spend. A player they couldn’t afford but bought anyway – another contribution to their already enormous debt mountain. It was debt upon debt at a time when they were becoming aware of the full potential horror of what lay ahead of them in the HMRC case. They ploughed on regardless.
Call it reckless, call it irresponsible but, whatever you call it, that decision and many, many others going back years are now accompanied by a soundtrack of clucking chickens.
Celtic, on the other hand, have been prudent. They are pretty much at break-even point in transfer business over the last number of seasons.
They have brought in a flood of players but these deals have largely been financed by money they made in the market on Aiden McGeady, Scott McDonald, Artur Boruc and others. They sold players and reinvested the cash on players, many of whom might reap them a handsome sell-on profit if, and when, the time comes. Rangers sold Jelavic and will reinvest the money in keeping the grass cut at Ibrox.
Craig Whyte gets plenty of stick for his secrecy and for the fact that he does not have limitless funds to chuck at the problem. But, for all his faults and inconsistencies and daft threats of legal action to all and sundry, he is the one who has called a halt to the madness of Rangers’ spending.
The hubris has gone at last. There’s some humility there now. Can you imagine Sir David Murray coming out last week and admitting that he’s £10m short every season and that he’s had to flog advance season tickets to deal with the problem? No, he’d have sooner signed a player for £3m and carried on as before.
Whyte didn’t do it willingly, of course. He was flushed out. But he’s in this paper today facing up to some harsh truths about life at Rangers.
He plays his cards close to his chest – too close – but he reveals enough to tell you that the club is in a desperate plight and that things cannot go on the way they were.
He stopped short of saying that he is going to try to do what Celtic have done but you must imagine that’s pretty much what he’s thinking. Financial responsibility, self-sufficiency, no spending money they don’t have, an end to the ego that got them in this trouble in the first place.
Peter Lawwell for Ibrox? Er, no. But maybe some of his philosophies on finance in football wouldn’t go amiss at Rangers.
Where I disagree with Lennon is on this point: “I’m not in the camp who believe the SPL, or Celtic, need a strong Rangers,” he said the other day. “A lot of people think Celtic and Rangers need each other, well at the minute we don’t.”
Actually, they do. The fans need a strong rivalry, a threat to their title chances, a fear factor that quickens their pulse and makes them want to go to games. Celtic need those pulses racing because it’s good for business. They want an easy stroll to the title but it’s a novelty that would wear off pretty quickly. If the Rangers threat dissipates then who will take their place? Nobody. This is not the 1980s.
The fear of a cliff-hanging title race sells tickets, it fills stadiums, it maintains the passion and the obsession, all of which is critical to the balance sheet. It ensures that the Sky Sports cheque book remains open. The Old Firm is the flagship. The selling point. They need each other for a million different reasons, no doubt about it.
Everything else that Lennon said was unarguable. And, however hard it was for Rangers people to hear it, he had every right to say it.
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