WHAT a waste of money. It’s a well-worn and much-loved chant used by football supporters to taunt an under-achieving opponent.
When Dave King took his seat in the Ibrox directors’ box for the first time after winning his battle for boardroom control in March, he found himself fully endorsing that sentiment as he analysed the state of Rangers on the pitch.
As much as King has to address the legacy of the gross mismanagement of Rangers off the field since Craig Whyte led them into insolvency three years ago, reconfiguring the structure of the football department is no less of a priority.
The recruitment strategy deployed in the bid to return to the top flight of Scottish football in the shortest timescale possible proved to be deeply flawed, culminating in last month’s 6-1 aggregate humiliation at the hands of Motherwell in the Premiership play-off final.
As he tries to persuade Rangers supporters to fork out for season tickets in huge numbers for another year of Championship football, King has pledged to personally oversee a more effective approach to building a squad which can earn automatic promotion next season and be restored as competitive challengers to Celtic within three years.
The new Rangers chairman claims he will set no limit on the budget available to the club’s new manager, whom he expects to appoint early next week, but insists there will be an end to the squandering of resources of recent years.
“It might be semantics, but it’s not the case that the club has over-invested,” said King. “The club hasn’t invested – it just spent money.
“If you look at the last year, the club had the second biggest wage bill in Scotland by a mile – but look at the performance of the team. That was actually a lack of investment.
“The advantage Rangers and Celtic have is an ability to pay higher levels of wages, relative to our competitors in Scotland.
“But that level of wage must be invested in the right players. There’s no point paying more for the same kind of players. That’s not investment, it’s just a waste of money.
There’s no point paying more for the same kind of players. That’s not investment, it’s just a waste of money.Dave King
“I watched the team play Queen of the South at Ibrox just after the general meeting in March. Queen of the South’s total wage bill for players and management was around £7,000 a week. We had more than that in players sitting on the bench we chose not to play.
“So, I think there wasn’t investment in the squad, there was just an expenditure pattern. We have to be far more disciplined in getting players who can also be assets for the club.
“It’s not a question of blame. I don’t know who was making those decisions on players in the Charles Green era or in the Easdales era.
“But what I can say is that it speaks for itself, if you look at the wage bill last season and look at the performance of the team.
“Not winning the Championship, with the wage bill of the team, was unthinkable at the beginning of the season.
“Then we struggled to get through against Queen of the South and Hibs in the play-offs. I was at both Hibs games and we certainly weren’t the better team. In fact, we were fortunate to get through against Hibs. You wouldn’t have expected us to be struggling for the level of wages we were paying.
“It’s not a worry for me that it might happen again, because I’m involved in the process now. I wasn’t previously. I’m in a position to influence that and make sure we go about it in the proper manner.
“We need to make sure that while we are willing to spend the money, I use the word ‘invest’ deliberately. We are going to make an investment.
“Just because it’s a negative cashflow doesn’t mean we are losing money. If we invest wisely in the right squad, do what we have to do this year and go forward with the nucleus of a strong team, that’s far preferable to shuffling along and doing the minimum to win the Championship, then having to rebuild again for the Premiership. So it makes business sense to accelerate that level of investment.
“I want to see over-investment not from the club’s point of view but in terms of accelerating the timing of the investment in terms of what might
be required to win the Championship,” added King.
“What struck me that night at Ibrox in March was the extent of the wage bill and the fact that what I saw on the park was a fair fight. It wasn’t as if it was a draw, but we’d dominated the game and didn’t score.
“The teams looked quite even – even from a fitness point of view. Queen of the South actually looked fitter than we did over the last 15 minutes.
“Some of these things just made no sense to me. We just looked completely out of sorts, and, although I hadn’t seen Rangers play for quite some time, it was completely disproportionate to what I recognised as Rangers Football Club.
“I have to say my expectations of the state of the club were so low that I don’t think they could have gone any lower. It’s as bad as I thought.”
King will head to London this week to assess the potential for a new share rights issue by Rangers and to discuss the club’s re-listing on the stock exchange, which he expects to take “three or four months” to complete.
On Friday, he will be back at Ibrox for the shareholders’ general meeting called by Mike Ashley to seek the repayment of Sports Direct’s £5 million loan to the club.
“I have to talk to some of the other investors and see if they would be interested in following a rights issue or not,” said King.
“It’s uncertain, for example, whether the Easdale block would follow their rights or not. They might. Will Mike Ashley follow his rights? He may. They are all entitled to do so, so we have to go through that process and see who will and who won’t.
“Will I underwrite the share issue? It will depend on the appetite of other investors. It is something I will discuss with the Three Bears [George Letham, Douglas Park and George Taylor] and my understanding is that it is something they might like to participate in. As far as I’m concerned, the funding going forward will still be a team sport between myself, the Three Bears and other investors.
“I don’t see the Ashley loan being a loan in isolation. In fact, I don’t see it as a loan, quite frankly.
“It is one of those situations we will certainly discuss with Sports Direct. But I don’t think the club should be repaying the loan. If we have to, we will. But I’d much rather see funds going into the club, rather than repaying that loan.
“That’s part of the broader commercial discussion we will have with them.
“One way or another, we will cater for it. It is an interest-free loan, it is free capital for the club and I think it should stay on that basis.”