EVERTON and Scotland forward Steven Naismith fears that he may never be able to set foot in Ibrox again due to the ill-feeling which accompanied his departure from Rangers during the summer.
Like most of last season’s first-team squad, he refused to transfer his contract from the soon-to-be-defunct oldco to the new club owned by unknown investors and fronted by chief executive Charles Green.
He subsequently joined Premier League club Everton as a free agent but Green’s company is pursuing Naismith and Steven Whittaker (who signed for Norwich City), Kyle Lafferty (who relocated to Switzerland with FC Sion), Stoke City’s Jamie Ness and Sone Aluko, now with Hull City, for compensation.
The players believe that they were within their rights to leave under employment law and, indeed, Lafferty, Ness and Aluko are suing the newco for constructive dismissal.
However, in spite of the fact that he and Whittaker have refused to join their former team-mates in that course of action – nor are they among the 67 players on behalf of whom PFA Scotland is taking the club to court – he believes that the perception of him as a money-grabber has turned a section of the club’s support against him.
Green described those who left the club as being guilty of opportunism and criticised: “Players who are ready to breach their contracts want to secure handsome signing-on fees for other clubs, while Rangers get nothing.”
Naismith maintains that he was right to act in the way that he did and, despite having his motives questioned, claims he bears no hard feelings towards Green.
“He’s going to say everything he can that he thinks is right, that he needs to say in the position he’s in,” said the 26-year-old.
“I’m a Rangers fan, I grew up a Rangers fan and the hardest decision of my career, not just to leave, but everything we went through… it was more than is in the job title.
“It was hard. In hindsight, everyone involved could have done things differently. I’ve made the decision I have: in the future who knows whether I could [play there] again? Who would have ruled out Mo Johnston going from one side of the Old Firm to the other?
“I don’t have a personal issue with Charles Green or anyone involved at Rangers. I spoke to the management before I left and everything seemed to be fine. I’ve got a lot of good friends there.
“The situation we were in, I got all the information I could, looked at all my options, weighed them all up and made the decision I made.”
However, with feelings still running high over the alleged disloyalty of those who left, Naismith will choose to monitor his former club from afar.
“To be honest at this moment I wouldn’t go back for a game,” he said. “A lot of fans aren’t happy with what’s happened and what went on but you never know in the future.
“I wouldn’t say it hurts me, it’s just part and parcel of the situation we are in at the moment. It’s probably still raw.
“I’m proud of the fact I played for Rangers for five years, I won trophies and won leagues with them and played in Europe. It was probably the proudest I’ve been in my career.
“Without what happened, the whole squad would still have been there unless the manager wanted to sell them or a player wanted to leave and they allowed it. I had three years left on my contract and thought I would have had that at least.
“Will I be able to go back through the front door at Ibrox one day? Who knows? I would like to but I’m not going to sit here and say: ‘I would love that day blah blah blah. . . because it might never come. You just never know. It’s something I’m dealing with.”
Those who accuse Naismith and the others of merely exploiting Rangers’ predicament in order to line their own pockets conveniently forget, of course, that they volunteered to forfeit 75 per cent of their wages for the final three months of the previous campaign so that jobs in the non-footballing department would be saved.
“In a couple of years people will look back and say: ‘They did that for the good of the club.’ People might think there were agendas or we were only doing it for certain reasons, but the players know and everyone that was involved knows what we were trying to do at the outset and that was to try and stop the club from being liquidated.
“Ninety per cent of people that talk about it don’t know half of what happened. I took legal advice and made the decisions I made. I’m not looking to go after the club for money for 90 days’ pay or anything like that: it’s not something I’ve thought about or been interested in.
“You’ve got to deal with the situation you are in now but time is a great healer.
“It’s quite good to think that Rangers are in the Third Division and they have got more fans at their game last weekend than were at the Manchester derby. That’s what everyone down south talks about.”
Naismith was back in Glasgow to support the Loaves and Fishes foundation, which provides food for homeless people.
“It was an independent charity that wasn’t being funded by anyone,” he said. “It’s great that people want to make a difference. I found one down in Liverpool that’s much the same that I’ll also become involved with.”