FORMER Rangers striker Mark Hateley believes Scottish football can not afford to wait for the Ibrox club to play their way back into the top flight.
Rangers will collect the Third Division trophy on Saturday after their final fixture of the season at home to Berwick Rangers, completing the first stage of a currently projected three-year return to the Scottish Premier League following their financial collapse in 2012.
But, as talks over league reconstruction rumble on, Hateley has called on any new set-up to fast-track Rangers into the top tier immediately for what he believes will be the wider commercial benefit of the game.
“It is a massive problem for Scottish football right now and it needs massive decisions,” said Hateley.
“You can talk about sporting integrity, but this is bigger than that. It’s about saving the Scottish game.
“If we carry on the way we are going, even if Rangers win the leagues and are back in two or three years time, it could be too late by then.
“If someone was hired to run a newly unified league body in Scotland, if I was being interviewed for that job, the first thing I would want is Rangers back in the top tier. You need to reconstruct from top to bottom and that would be my way forward. People are going to say I’m only saying that because I played for Rangers, but I am looking at it honestly.
“Nobody wants to associate themselves with the SPL at the moment. You can do anything with reconstruction, you have a blank canvas. So you do what is right for Scottish football and that is having your best football clubs in your top tier. That attracts all the good things football needs.
“It is about understanding the Scottish game. To generate interest in the Scottish game, Rangers and Celtic are the top two in terms of commercial backing. Look at the Glasgow Cup final on Monday night. There were 6,000 people there for an under-17 Old Firm game. That is Scottish football, Rangers and Celtic, we’ve said it for many years.
“If you were to take Real Madrid out of the top tier of Spanish football, what would it be like? A one-horse race and nobody shows any interest or puts any investment into a one-horse race.
“The phrase sporting integrity might be used but sporting integrity is to save the football clubs. Rangers are down in the Third Division but they’ve done their time. The biggest picture is the good of Scottish football and it is not about what has happened in the past. It’s all about saving Scottish football.”
Hateley was speaking as he promoted the Rangers v Manchester United legends fixture which takes place at Ibrox next Monday. He will be joined in the Rangers line-up by Nacho Novo, who has recently expressed his desire to return to the club next season.
Now 34, Novo is currently playing for Huesca in the Spanish Second Division. Hateley believes the former Raith Rovers and Dundee player, who scored 71 goals in 255 games for Rangers between 2004 and 2010, would be an ideal recruit for manager Ally McCoist.
“I haven’t spoken to Ally for a few weeks, so I don’t know which way he intends on going next season in terms of signing younger or older players,” said Hateley. “But, if you are building a young side, you need a certain core of experienced players.
“Nacho is one of those players. He is a very lively character, very enthusiastic. His personality is infectious in the dressing-room. He is a fans’ favourite and if you bring him in for a season, it could be only good for the club.
“He actually phoned me at 7.30am this morning, he is so excited about coming back to play in the game here next Monday. He’s in a relegation dogfight with Huesca at the moment, it’s tough times for him. He had loads of good times with Rangers and he’ll be glad to be back. It will be like a trial game for him, trying to get a move back for next season.”
Regardless of whether Novo figures in McCoist’s recruitment plans, Hateley says the manager will simply be relieved to be spared the chaotic nature of his build-up to the current campaign.
“Last summer, he had just seven players turning up for pre-season training,” added Hateley. “You’d have to say it was a quick fix, scrambling around trying to get a team together.
“Ally gave the fans a Third Division championship win. There’s been a lot of humming and hawing about the way they did it, but it’s a championship. This summer, it’s about bringing in players of a level which will be advantageous to taking the club forward in the longer run.”