RANGERS may be under a new regime but the rhetoric offered up by those in charge yesterday seemed strangely familiar. Worryingly familiar, you might even say. Meeting members of the Sunday press in the less than salubrious surroundings of Cowdenbeath’s stadium yesterday, what major shareholder and power behind the throne Dave King and new interim chairman Paul Murray had to say about again making Rangers grand had echoes of an old, ill-starred plan.
In essence, both reiterated that Rangers will need to spend beyond their income levels to be restored to their previous standing. That is precisely what got this incarnation of the club into its current mess, and what put paid to the last incarnation.
The task facing the new men, who were joined by amiable new director John Gilligan, following their victory at the club’s general meeting on Friday, is hellishly difficult. They have to square the circle, in essence. Reduce costs, grow income and improve quality.
If the average wage bill for a lower-tier Rangers now scrabbling around in the Championship hadn’t been around £6 million in the three years since liquidation, maybe King, Murray, Gilligan, new fellow board member Douglas Park and would-be backers wouldn’t have such a arduous entry point. Yet King almost defended the post-liquidation Green regime for their strategy to push up the leagues.
“The idea from a couple of years ago, which hasn’t been executed properly, is that Rangers would operate with a higher cost level to the other clubs, and part of that was to win the leagues and slowly improve the squad so that, when they re-entered the Premier League, there wasn’t a huge gap to restructure. It hasn’t happened,” said King.
“[And] even if we end up playing in this league for another season, I still think we have to be looking ahead to the Premier League, start focusing and start getting players who can play at Premier League level. What we don’t want to be doing is moving up the league then trying to rebuild another team. It has to be a seamless process from now onwards. Walking through the club without seeing the numbers, it wasn’t obvious to me how you could take costs out of that. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Perhaps the money has been spent in the wrong areas, but the club looked absolutely desolate walking through it.”
Desolation and, Gilligan mournfully reflected, “despondency” was what the three men had a palpable sense of when they met the staff at Ibrox and Murray Park. Staff they said had been essentially ignored and abused by the various asset-strippers who have filed through in recent years.
The alchemy required is to grow the assets without placing Rangers in financial peril or leaving them pursued by HMRC, which pretty much sums up the past decade for the club. Yet, within that era, Murray believes Rangers had a sustainable business model, with the direct access to the Champions League afforded them by league wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011 allowing the club to post healthy profits.
“This thing about cutting costs. You have to remember that when myself and Dave were on the board previously, the reasons we brought the debt down was not just about cutting costs,” Murray said. “It was about a business model where we ran the club – latterly when Alastair Johnston was chairman – basically breaking even on domestic matches. The Champions League income led to an investment fund and we used that to invest in infrastructure and players. That is a model I think should be sustainable.”
Murray sought to downplay the added difficulties presented by the fact that Mike Ashley remains in control of the club’s retail contracts through his Sports Direct empire, which has been preposterously presented as some sort of serfdom by his critics. The sums are permanently disputed, but it has been quoted in some quarters that Rangers took in only around £1.5m for the deal last year. Murray could draw on the past to give insight into how this is hardly the be all and end all.
“Latterly [in my time before], we didn’t have that [great returns] either, with JJB having an arrangement with the club. We only got £3m a year,” Murray said. “It wasn’t as if it was a massive amount of money. It was welcome but not earth shattering.”
On radio on Friday night, former chairman Johnston said, through his friendship with Celtic’s largest shareholder Dermot Desmond, that he was sure the Irishman would welcome the regime change at Rangers.
King said: “Celtic’s business model is an exact mirror of Rangers’ business model. For Celtic to be successful commercially requires a strong Rangers. Rangers winning nine in a row is great for the fans, but it isn’t good for the club financially, just like dominating isn’t good for them financially. Celtic need us to be competitive with them and we need the same.”
As much as business acumen, central to success for any club is having football acumen in the dug-out. Murray, as he had on Friday, maintained again that there would be no rush to appoint a permanent successor to Ally McCoist for a job that has only been held by 13 people.
“I haven’t sat down and spoken to Ally and Kenny [McDowall] about their positions,” said Murray. “We can’t have a public discussion about their contracts of employment. We will sit down with them but I’m sure they are delighted with the changes.”
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