IF HE was a bookmaker, Dave King would already be paying out on bets for Rangers to win the Championship this season.
He would also be slashing his odds on the Ibrox club mounting a serious challenge to Celtic for the Premiership title next year.
I think we should start [next] season with the intention to win the leagueDave King
Such has been the impact of new manager Mark Warburton so far, Rangers chairman King has dramatically revised his timetable for trying to lead them to domestic pre-eminence and European football.
Nine consecutive wins in all competitions – five of them in the Championship to open up an early lead in pursuit of automatic promotion – have proved enough for King to believe Rangers are certain to finish top of the pile next May.
It has also convinced the bullish South African-based businessman that going toe-to-toe with Celtic again could happen sooner than he initially anticipated when he took control of the bruised and battered club just six months ago.
“Mark has come in and hit the ground running and has been everything we hoped for,” said King.
“There were a number of considerations for the manager’s position. But it really has worked – I would go as far as saying significantly beyond my expectations.
“I honestly felt we would win this league comfortably, I felt we’d get it right. There is a personal comfort about the way we’ve started that allows me to now say to Mark: ‘Let’s start bringing in a level of player who can help next year and beyond’.
“I wouldn’t have thought we’d be in a position to be as well prepared for next season as we’re going to be.
“I’m not being arrogant but I think we can prepare for next season in the Premiership. It gives us a lot of time to think about it and get it right.
“When we had the last discussion about this, I think I said that we could be a solid second on our return to the top flight. Given the level of budget, the three transfer windows – we definitely felt we could come up and be second to Celtic.
“The way things are going now and the increased confidence that the board are feeling with Mark and the business makes it easier for us to free up money to back Mark’s judgement.
“My feeling now is that my confidence has grown and we can start next season intending to win the Premiership. Celtic are strong and experienced, but I think we should start the season with the intention to win the league.
“You are asking me to talk about football and if you’d seen me play the game you’d know that football skills were not my strength. But I think this team could perform very, very well in the Premiership.
“We are alert to the fact that we’re not at the level yet and we will add at least another five players at a high standard before we get to the Premiership.
“The gap between Celtic and ourselves is not as big in my mind as it was three or four months ago. We haven’t done it yet. Celtic have got a bigger budget than Rangers.
“But do I think the quality of player Celtic has is a multiple of the budget that Rangers have? I do not.
“Do I think the level of business that Mark has done is at a level that go on and compete with Celtic? Yes I do.
“I don’t see myself sitting here at this time next season making excuses to the fans about us not being able to win the league.
“If we could accelerate our entry to Europe [by winning the Scottish Cup this season] then that would be fantastic – but that’s hit and miss. We’re at an early stage and let’s use the enthusiasm on the field to start early and plan for next season. This season was put together quickly and it has worked out well for us.”
Resolving Rangers’ difficulties off the pitch remains far more complex and challenging for King and his fellow directors.
A legal injunction prevents him from providing any fresh detail on attempts to re-negotiate the unfavourable terms of the club’s retail contract with Sports Direct, while ongoing legal proceedings concerning Rangers’ calamitous recent financial history are a hindrance to any prospect of securing external investment.
“There are issues still to be resolved,” added King. “We are grateful that at least the football side seems to be working.
“That’s very important from the fans’ perspective and takes the pressure off us. There is still a lot we have to do. There are a lot of things behind the scenes which are still problematic if I was sitting down with a financial institution in London with regard to them investing £5 million in Rangers.
“They would ask me questions based on the recent history – some I could answer, some I could give them my best guess, some I could say ‘I think we are in control of the outcome and will get there’, others I would have to say there is a lot of other stuff going on behind the scenes we don’t know. That is a reality of the legacy we stepped into.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘toxic’ anymore. I would have used that previously, but I think ‘problematic’ is a better word to use at this point in time.
“The event that we call regime change was the beginning of a process of recovery and we are delighted with the progress we have made on and off the field.
“I put money in the club, I did what I said I would, which is fund the shortfall – and the shortfall has been funded. We have gone out and got players and we are winning the league.
“We are very comfortably funded for the next six months. Myself and the ‘Three Bears’ investors have indicated to the board and to Mark that we will continue to fund on the basis we are doing. The season ticket cash is not enough to get us through to the end of this season, we know that.
“But the deficit we had looked at when we held our previous board meeting five weeks ago is now less, because the season ticket sales have been better than we expected and we’ve had good walk-ups to games as well.
“If the guys keep playing football the way they are now, I think we can see the deficit coming down. You are just talking about hundreds of thousands now and the rest will depend on Mark’s transfer activity.”