Rangers administration: Walter Smith defends former Ibrox regime
WHEN Walter Smith took his place in Rangers’ technical area at Ibrox for the club’s closing home game of last season, it was supposed to be for the final time. And so it proved.
Smith may well be back in the same spot tonight as he takes charge of legends’ team against AC Milan. Rangers, however, may never be back in the spot as they were last May, the club now unrecognisable from the one he left when they were champions and with zero bank debt.
Smith, back at Ibrox yesterday to promote the fundraiser, can’t get his head round the subsequent slide into administration and continued flirtation with oblivion. More than this he is bemused as to how the owner whose tenure this happened in, still effectively controls the club’s destiny. Smith only ever met Craig Whyte once. He never exhibited any enthusiasm for the Motherwell man’s buy-out of David Murray, but isn’t smug about his foresight.
As ever, Smith is merely pragmatic. Whyte has hoved back into view in recent days as it has emerged that the view of him as an “irrelevance” by the club’s administrators was hopelessly wishful thinking – as it always seemed considering he owns 85.3 per cent of the shares in Rangers. Asked if the best thing Whyte could do now was the “decent thing”, and step aside and let the club be passed on, Smith was straight to the point.
“He’s not going to do that, is he? If what has been reported this morning is correct [that he will not sell to former director and arch-critic Paul Murray, who heads up the Blue Knights consortium bidding for the club],” he said. “It is quite amazing to see that you can put a club into administration and then you have to say as where it is going to go in the future. I never imagined that as a part of any business, never mind Rangers.”
When it comes to finding “a resolution to the administration process” Smith admits to “bias” in favouring Paul Murray’s bid over the other three in contention to begin what he admits could be a long and painful road to redemption. Chicago-based turnaround specialist Club 9 Sports, a Singapore consortium and a British-based consortium are now the rivals in the wake of administrators yesterday rejecting Brian Kennedy’s offer.
“I know Paul Murray. I don’t know the other people so there isnt a fair comparison to make with any other buyer. I don’t know Paul that well. I only know him through his time on the board and Paul would have the interests of the football club at heart. Maybe that is what’s needed at present. If he does get it then I think that would be good for the football club.”
Yet Paul Murray was at the heart of the club when Rangers were running a potentially ruinous Employee Benefit Trust, which is interlinked with the possible failure to register their players in accordance with rules, in order to sustain a level of spending. These elements can all be factored in to why only a wheeler-dealer such as Whyte agreed to give Lloyds Bank their way out.
Smith is aware his name features in a long list of the culpable, but has his defence.
“I think there is a lot of misinformation put out to suit whatever party. I tend to put things into compartments. At the end of last season, Rangers Football Club was in its best financial position for maybe 70 or 80 years. They had no debt. Craig Whyte told us he paid off the remaining £18m to the bank so that meant Rangers were debt-free. The EBT case that everyone keeps talking about has no influence on Rangers until the judgement comes. The judgement, when it comes, would obviously have a detrimental effect if it goes against. If they win it, fair enough.
“I am reading it is Dick Advocaat’s fault, Walter Smith’s fault, David Murray, Walter Smith’s fault from years ago. You can make your judgements on what happened previously but the fact is that none of that mattered. In May of last year, all of that had disappeared. The club had managed to cut £16m off the overall debt, Craig Whyte gave the other £18m to the bank.
“Rangers weren’t a business going into administration or anything like that. How many businesses can take £16m off their debt during a period of recession? That’s what happened, therefore the directors that were in place there were doing a job.
“As chief executive, Martin Bain [who yesterday dropped his legal action against the club] seems to have come out this worse than anybody. He could be quite proud of what he did, handling a situation with the bank, having me moaning at him for not spending any money, having fall-outs with him and different things like that. He seems to be getting vilified only I think because he stood against Craig Whyte’s buying of the club.
“The previous people ran the club in a manner they thought was best. They were successful enough on the field and were meeting the bank’s criteria over those three years. Under protest on my part, but we were meeting them. You can’t say it was badly run in that period of time.”
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