Rangers administration: Future shows kids aren’t ready to fight yet
CONSIDER this. A half-empty Ibrox, a team, ostensibly the Rangers first-team but really a youth side in all but name, valiantly attempting to prevent Kilmarnock scoring a sixth goal in an exercise which will have to pass for entertainment down Govan way on a Saturday afternoon.
And it will be a Saturday afternoon, given that the Sky Sports television deal has fallen through because it looks certain that only three, rather than the stipulated four, Old Firm matches will be staged, due to Rangers’ straitened circumstances.
After the split, the Ibrox side will prepare to engage with the task of escaping relegation, with a squad full of weary teenagers who are already becoming sick to the back teeth of a game which was once such an enjoyable one to play.
Not even the imminent end of a 12-month signing embargo can lift spirits at Ibrox. The limited pot of money raised from the sale of Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith and Steven Davis – they all exercised the clause in their re-negotiated contracts which stipulated they could leave for a cut-price fee – has long since been used to fund running costs, as game revenue suffers from the huge downturn in interest resulting from non-competitive matches.
This could be a glimpse into the future for Rangers, with the club having been hit with a string of sanctions by the Scottish Football Association to go with the ten-point penalty automatically triggered by February’s fall into administration.
It could get worse. On Monday the Scottish Premier League clubs meet to vote on imposing a ten-point penalty for two seasons on any “newco” emerging after liquidation. The youngsters charged with keeping the flame of competitiveness alight might have to do so from an even more disadvantaged position from the start of next season. It obviously wouldn’t be a desirable scenario for Rangers. Neither would it be a welcome one for Scottish football as a whole, argued David Whitehouse, joint administrator of the Ibrox club, last night. “It would not bring credit to the SPL or Scottish football,” he said, while admitting it would be “extremely difficult” for Rangers to function with only youth players.
The Ibrox club could seek to be canny in their response to the new burst of sanctions. Dundee negotiated a way round it last season, as they sought to cope with the double-whammy of a 25-point deduction and a signing embargo imposed after the club went into administration for a second time in seven years.
The Dens Park side turned to former player Neil McCann, who once also starred for Rangers. Already without a club, he could sign for a three-game trial period. Dundee further tested the limits of the embargo by negotiating a way past the rule which prohibits cross-border trialists. Jake Hyde signed for junior club Lochee United, and then was immediately released to ‘sign’ temporarily for Dundee. The Dens Park side discovered rules permitted them to play two trialists in a game and for a maximum of three matches.
This won’t, clearly, help Rangers maintain a title challenge next season if their appeal fails and a player exodus during the summer follows. Harry MacLean, who was chief executive at Dundee last season, has sympathy with the “draconian” measures imposed on Rangers. “The only people being punished are the fans and the young players who will have their development stunted by being fast-tracked into the first-team,” he said. “What good is it doing them to go out each week and get hammered by seasoned pros? It’s demoralising. They will be trying their level best to keep the ball out of their net each week. But is it sport?
“I can’t see any good in it. At present 50,000 people go and watch Rangers each fortnight. What if half of them, at best, are turned off football for ever? No-one is going to want to pay-out for season tickets to watch that.”
Alan Kernaghan, who until February was in charge of the Rangers Under-17 side, believes some of his old charges would be up to the job of stepping up to first-team football, but not every week in a season-long slog to avoid relegation. That, he contended yesterday, could be ruinous for both the club and, perhaps just as significantly, for the young players themselves.
“They would need to be complemented by experienced players to have a chance,” said Kernaghan, now a coach with League One side Brentford.
“They could come in for short-term stints, perhaps four or give games in a row,” he said. He singled out the likes of Lewis MacLeod, who has been a regular in the club’s Under-19 team this season and made an appearance on the substitutes’ bench for the recent match at Motherwell. Rhys McCabe, too, has performed more than creditably since breaking into the first-team, but, at just 19, is another who requires careful nurturing as he stands at the threshold of regular first-team football.
The SPL recently voted through a new Under 20 league in an attempt to bridge the development gap between the Under 19 league and the top tier of Scottish football. Rangers were one of the clubs who voted unanimously for this new league, which aims to better equip young players for the exacting nature of regular first-team football. The Ibrox club may need to consider whether they are in a position to field a team for an U20 league, since it could be that these same youngsters will be required to maintain the club’s SPL status. It is a demand that some fear could break them.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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