Steven Whittaker’s pain clear as he and Steven Naismith quit Rangers
THOSE of a cynical disposition, who regard professional footballers as little more than callous, badge-kissing mercenaries content to flit from club to club while displaying all of the emotional investment (but none of the manners) of a high-class hooker, would have found Steven Whittaker’s press conference instructive.
Edinburgh-born Whittaker has never pretended to be a boyhood fan of Rangers. Unlike his colleague, Steven Naismith, who also announced yesterday that he would be scuttling away from the shell of that club, he was not fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition by pulling on the famous light blue jersey following his £2m move from Hibernian in August, 2007.
Yet it was the older man who appeared to be the more traumatised by the decision to end his association with the stricken Glasgow giants. On several occasions during an interview with journalists in a plush, West End hotel, Whittaker welled up. He sipped mineral water compulsively in an attempt to keep his feelings in check. As the interview wore on, that clearly became more difficult for him to manage. His answers became shorter and it was a relief to all when the session drew to a close.
There are undoubtedly a minority of players who don’t care about their employers, supporters or team-mates but Whittaker is definitely not among their number. He made it clear that he had agonised over whether or not he should exercise his right to freedom of contract by refusing to join Charles Green’s reborn Rangers – and that he also has doubts over the latter’s ability to resurrect the club.
“I suppose it is a worry where they are heading,” he admitted. “It is definitely a decision which has been going through my mind. I’ve had sleepless nights and endless conversations with my wife and family trying to come up with the best outcome for myself. It has been very stressful. But I think I have made the right decision.”
When asked to explain his refusal to transfer his contract to Sevco 5088, Whittaker said: “I didn’t sign up because of the problems they are going to encounter and the sanctions which are going to be put on the club. It’s a short career and I want to try and play at the top for as many years as possible – and it doesn’t look like I will have that opportunity if I stay with the new company.
“We tried to keep the club going and we tried to stay competitive but it wasn’t to be. Now the opportunity to progress my career elsewhere is one I need to take up.”
Veteran striker Alessandro del Piero elected to stay with Juventus following their enforced relegation (as a result of their involvement in a betting scandal) to Serie B in 2006 and 34-year-old midfielder Lee McCulloch has similarly vowed to stand by Rangers next season.
However, Whittaker, understands that such a sacrifice is easier to make for individuals who are past their prime.
“Every player has their own agenda. I am 28 and I think I still have a few good years in me yet. It’s important to me to play at the top as long as I can.
“I hope I can walk away with my head held high and that I don’t owe anyone anything. Different people will have their different opinions. I hope it will come up okay.”
When asked whether he and his team-mates felt betrayed after giving up 75% of their salaries in order to help Rangers avoid liquidation when it was obvious to most onlookers that such a fate was inevitable, he replied: “It’s hard to know what has been going on in the background. I signed a five-year deal last year thinking I would see that out. Circumstances have changed.
“I would like to think the pay cut wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. We gave the club the best opportunity to survive. The CVA wasn’t pushed through and then circumstances brought us through to liquidation. At least we gave them the opportunity to try.”
Naismith, while appearing more composed than his team-mate, made no attempt to play down the importance of the choice he had made. “This has been the biggest decision of my career and one that I haven’t taken lightly,” he said. “I’ve had to sit down with the people closest to me and work out what’s best. When you’re at Rangers, winning things and playing in Europe, everything’s great. But you have to take into consideration the career you’ve got.
“The uncertainty surrounding the club, in terms of what league they’re going to play in, has been a major factor in my decision.
“It probably hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m not a Rangers player any more. It’s been a tough few days reaching this conclusion. A big decision had to be made and I believe I’ve made the right one.
“The first I heard from Charles Green was on Thursday through an email. My agent met with him the next day. You would think they might have been in contact before then considering the enormity of the situation.
“Everything is so uncertain, for all of the players. It’s hard for anyone when you leave your employer and don’t hear much from them.”
According to Naismith, the lack of clarity regarding the make-up of Green’s consortium and doubts over whether he has the wherewithal to continue funding the club helped him make up his mind to leave.
“As a footballer, you need to know all your options before making any decision,” he said.
“You need to know where you’re going to be playing and what your opportunities will be. We’ve tried to do that from the outset but, with all the info I had, I’ve made this difficult decision.
“This is a new company called Servco. I’ve never met Charles Green or anyone from Servco. I don’t know who the investors are or what league they’ll be in.
“So how can I push forward into a new company that I don’t know anything about or any person involved in it?
“That was part of my thought process and led to my decision. I have concerns about who is in charge of the new club, definitely. You need to know what business you’re going to be part of. If you don’t, it’s inevitable there will be problems.”
In a statement issued on Saturday, manager Ally McCoist took a swipe at players who may leave the club, claiming he didn’t want to read about how “devastated” players were after taking advantage of TUPE regulations. However, both Naismith and Whittaker claimed to have had an amicable discussion with McCoist ahead of yesterday’s bombshell. “The first person I spoke to was the manager,” he said. “That wasn’t down to his statement on Saturday: it was always my intention. I have so much respect for Ally McCoist,” said Naismith. “We had a pleasant chat and he could understand my point of view. I wanted to speak to the manager personally because he deserves that. He deserves to know the reasons why I’m doing this and he deserves to hear it from me.
“Obviously, it put him in an awkward position. The manager has a job to do. He has a squad going back this week and he needs to prepare them for the new season. He wants to know who will and won’t be there and, all along, I intended to let him know first if I decided that I was going to leave Rangers.
“There’s going to be criticism of players who leave. That was always going to happen but I hope that a lot of people see the good that the majority of them did for the club.”
Naismith also expressed his fury at the financial vandalism perpetrated by those with a duty of care to his former club. Who was to blame?
“Many people,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think that anybody will ever know the full story. We’ll never really find out.
“Transferring my contract to Sevco so that they could get a fee for me was never really brought to my attention. Nobody ever spoke to me about that.
“As a fan I’m angry about what’s happened to Rangers because I grew up supporting a club that has been liquidated and now a new company, Sevco, has effectively taken its place.
“Hopefully, one day it can turned back into the Rangers everybody knows. Is the new club the same? To be honest, I haven’t thought that far ahead.
“My loyalty was to Rangers Football Club – that was the team which signed me and the one I took a 75% pay cut for.
“This is a new company which started only a matter of weeks ago but I wish Charles Green all the best and I hope he can bring to this new company the same success that the old club had.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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