He had just watched Rangers drop two points at home on their return to the Scottish top flight, but Dave King was in no mood to re-assess the target he has set Mark Warburton in the league this season.
It’s second – at least.
Some interpreted Rangers’ 1-1 draw with Hamilton Accies as being something of a reality check for the club. But King, who flew into Scotland from South Africa just in time for kick-off, made sure Warburton knew how high expectations are at Ibrox. The Ibrox chairman was speaking shortly before Celtic tied up a reported £4 million deal for winger Scott Sinclair.
“The resources Celtic have got at this point in time are clearly very, very substantial relative to ours in terms of the footballing side,” said King. “But Celtic have resources to compete in Europe. That is really what they are there to do. We are not competing in Europe this season so our standard this year is that we expect to compete with Celtic this season. Last season, I said the non-negotiable was winning the Championship. I would say this year we should at least come second.”
Warburton will be happy to hear that the chairman gave the green light to further strengthen a squad that could be in need of reinforcing after Martyn Waghorn’s hamstring scare on Saturday. The striker left the field with eight minutes left after clutching the back of his leg.
King, who admitted the joy of seeing Rangers back in the top flight had been tempered slightly by Saturday’s result combined with Waghorn’s misfortune, promised more funds are available.
“Obviously we are hoping that the level of success that Mark and Frank [McParland – head of recruitment] had last year in bringing players in who competed will repeat again this year. We can’t be certain. We will see how this season goes. I certainly anticipate the possibility of more signings before the end of this window.
“From a financial planning point of view, we have already catered for the fact that we will have to look at the position again in December and probably do some business in January as well.”
Asked where this money would come from, bearing in mind the on-going saga with Sports Direct which has prompted an appeal from the club to supporters not to buy strips, King added that “core investors” would again be required to dig deep.
“The position remains that any net funding of the club still has to come from core investors,” said King. “That position hasn’t changed.”
On the subject of Mike Ashley, King was withering. Ashley’s recent decision to step down from the Rangers retail board is a step in the right direction as far as the Ibrox club are concerned. “He kind of cut and ran, I suppose, when the going got tough from their point of view,” he said. “So he’s disappeared. So we don’t deal with Ashley at all.”
King welcomed Ashley’s decision and noted that without his “negative energy” there could be more scope for reaching a resolution to the licencing issue between the two parties. “He went on the Rangers board to try to impose himself on Rangers,” added King. “He failed miserably and he has cut and run. I guess he has bigger problems in life right now than worrying about the retail relationships with Rangers.”
King claimed progress was being made in the legal battle over Sports Direct’s profiting from selling Rangers replica strips. Puma, the club’s current strip manufacturers, have been caught in the crossfire.
King reiterated the club’s preference for fans to withhold from buying strips at present, meaning valuable income is being lost at a crucial stage of the season. But he accepted it is the supporters’ call. “It is a decision supporters will have to make themselves,” the chairman said. He did, though, lament the situation – and how it affects the Ibrox club’s finances. “It is a huge thing,” he accepted. “But we have budgeted for it.
“The dispute really belongs between ourselves and Sports Direct. So what we want to try and do is find a way forward over the next couple of weeks that possibly accommodates Puma. But if we can’t do that then we will proceed on our own.”
Remarkably, this could mean Rangers finding a way to produce new strips mid-season. The chairman described finding another kit supplier at such short notice as “commercially awkward”.
“So I think there might be another alternative where we just perhaps launch our own kit – if we can’t get a way forward with Puma, which is clearly our preference,” King explained.