THE man the Rangers fans see as their saviour says he is basing his rebuilding plan on Fergus McCann’s business model rather than following the riskier strategies employed by the Ibrox club’s former owner David Murray.
Dave King sat on the board during the Murray era, alongside his current ally Paul Murray, during a period of high spending that ultimately helped bring Rangers to its knees and saw the club offloaded to Craig Whyte for one pound. King said that they had been led to believe that David Murray’s personal finances could cover the spending and he was not in a position to do anything about it once the truth came to light.
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But, with the general meeting of Rangers shareholders now set for 4 March in London, when King and his allies hope to assume control of the Ibrox club, they insist they have learned lessons from past mistakes and that a successful ousting of the current board will allow them to steer the club towards a brighter and more stable future, using McCann’s 1990s revamp of Celtic as an example of how it can be done.
“Fergus’ model was a more responsible model,” King said. “It was a managed approach and he did very well, whereas David’s model was fine as long as he’d the money to put into it. It’s one thing if you’re [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich and you’ve so many billions that spending a couple of million doesn’t really matter to you. Ultimately, even big clubs can hurtle down the leagues quite quickly when a dominant owner isn’t around any more. We’ve gone through event risk [an unforeseen event negatively affecting the company] too often after 135 years of ups and downs in football terms. It’s been turmoil and this board has to make sure we’ve a funding and financial policy to make sure we never even have the responsibility of event risk again. Hopefully the fans will understand that, that we won’t take them to the abyss again.”
Reports have suggested that Rangers football board chairman Sandy Easdale and his brother James, a member of the PLC board, may jump ship before the general meeting, with multimillionaire Indian businessman Lalit Modi expressing an interest in buying their shares, but King has already dismissed their shareholding as an irrelevance in his quest for control. He is adamant that he has enough backing from other parties.
His intention is to never again leave the club reliant on one man’s wealth but in the short-term King and Paul Murray acknowledge that they and other wealthy fans will have to dig deep, even if King’s family would prefer him to be splashing his considerable cash on Liverpool. “My family are Rangers fans because they have to be and they’re Liverpool fans probably because they have to be as well. My son at university streams every Liverpool game so I think they’d prefer Liverpool but they understand why I’m doing it. It’s part of their inheritance.”
From stadium and training ground maintenance to more realistic staffing levels on the football front and behind the scenes, the men attempting this takeover say a massive cash injection will be required to take the club back to the Premiership and, eventually, Europe. But by re-engaging with supporters and proving themselves attractive to commercial partners and sponsors, they say the long-term approach will be self-sustainable.
That view is at odds with the scenario outlined by the incumbent board who, in announcing the date of the general meeting requisitioned by King, launched a scathing attack on him and his assertion that he is a fit and proper person to control the club.
King has baggage, of course, having pled gulity to 41 different contraventions of South African tax law. He paid a £4,500 fine for each contravention, as well as settling a £40 million tax bill. The tax case remains a stick with which to beat the South African-based businessman, while his involvement as an investor and director in the David Murray board is something else he says he will have to answer to if he wins his battle for control and has to face up to an interrogation from the Scottish football authorities.
But those who have been slinging the mud will have to hope they are squeaky clean themselves, according to King, who dismissed the idea of launching a witch-hunt but stressed that people would have to be held to account for any wrongdoing.
“One of the things about the last four years is that if there is a level of impropriety by anyone with a fiduciary responsibility to the club and who – not through incompetence – but knowingly and negligently did not carry out their responsibilities, it’s important that we hold them to account and that we’re seen to hold them to account. So one of the first things we’ll do is conduct a forensic investigation into all commercial contracts negotiated during that period.”
But King feels that with his tax issues settled, and relaxed at the idea of any SFA or SPFL scrutiny, he now has the best blueprint for success at the club and he is confident that fellow shareholders agree and will vote with him and his colleagues in next month’s crucial ballot.
“If they do win, the wheels will be quickly set in motion. If the resolutions are passed, we are in and we have the first board meeting within a minute,” said King. “There’s no waiting period.”
Describing last Sunday’s League Cup semi-final performance against city rivals Celtic as surprising, he said he had not expected such a clear gulf in class. “It just looked like a squad that was ill-equipped to go and compete without a major overhaul next year, which is of some concern given the financial restrictions and the fact that one has to get that balance right,” King said. “It goes back to needing more of a coach than a manager because it’s going to be a critical appointment.”
Underlining the need for swingeing changes in the football department, he has ruled out a return for former manager Ally McCoist, who is still on gardening leave and picking up a salary, claiming the striking legend has no desire to be reinstated. But despite the financial burdens, King and Paul Murray agree that they cannot scrimp on what they consider such a pivotal role, agreeing that they would pay compensation, within reason, to another club to get their number one target. Although they admit they have still to identify who that would be.
“I think everyone would accept that Rangers have to completely rebuild the squad and one wouldn’t easily take the second choice when a little bit of money would have got you your first choice. I think we have just got to get it right.
“It’s not as though we are bringing a manager into a strong team, we are bringing a manager into a team that is obviously not equipped to compete in the Premier League and is really struggling. You would have thought that when Rangers were demoted they would have fairly comfortably come through the lower leagues into the Premier League and then maybe struggled around fourth or fifth for a season or two but right now we are struggling to get out of the league [Championship].
“Given the need to balance budgets and be more sensible about the way the money is spent, we are going to have to get a manager who has the capacity to identify and manage players. So, I would imagine that the single most important decision will be identifying the right manager, who has all these qualities.”
But, on the field and off it, getting the right men in the key positions has, arguably, been Rangers’ biggest failing in recent times.