AS A promotional gambit ahead of Rangers’ impending share issue, the projected attempt to restore the esteemed Walter Smith to an executive position at Ibrox doubtless will have had Charles Green and his PR team salivating over what could justifiably be considered a publicity coup.
For the former manager himself, however, a return to his old fiefdom could be as ill-advised as bringing back Dallas.
The revived television series could fairly be said to be around 30 years out of its 1980s prime, but that is a distinction that cannot be applied to Smith; it is, after all, a mere 18 months since he vacated the managerial chair.
What may surely be claimed without risk of argument, though, is that the events of the past year-and-a-half at Rangers equate to at least three decades of what passes for “normal” evolution at less feverishly operated companies.
Smith himself declared his shock at the pace at which Rangers accelerated from seeming financial stability to administration (and, ultimately, this week’s liquidation), from cock-of-the-walk champions to death throes in the space of eight months.
He would prove to be noticeably less than precise in his assertion that he had left “a debt-free club” that was “in its strongest financial position for many years” – liabilities were at least £25 million, without the infamous big tax case settled, and there was little prospect of prosperous trading – but his astonishment at the rate of decline serves to underline the extent of the organisation’s altered circumstances.
Indeed, the upheaval of recent times has had such a shape-shifting impact on the landscape that to talk of “a possible return to Rangers” for Smith would be a misnomer. He would be entering familiar premises, but the sweet smell of success, along with other pleasantries associated with his old workplace, would be conspicuously absent.
When he was invited to return to Rangers by a troubled owner, David Murray, in 2007 (the result of the failed tenure of Paul le Guen), Smith would be made aware that Murray’s famous extravagance in the transfer market had been greatly modified. There remained, however, a seven-figure salary (more than three times his wages as Scotland manager) and endorsement of a purchasing policy that still allowed him to spend more on team construction than any of his SPL rivals.
Not only would such rewards be unavailable today, but there seems to be only vagueness about the role he would take. The reported offer of non-executive director (i.e. unpaid) completely lacks definition. Given this background, it is not fanciful to suggest that Green’s introduction of “the Walter factor” is nothing more substantial than a tactic designed to lure potential shareholders.
More specifically – and of special significance – it is clearly aimed at the fan investors, those courted by Green over the past few weeks in the hope of seducing great numbers of them to spend the minimum £500 on new stock.
Institutional investors, the kind most coveted by any company in the process of a flotation, are not in the business of being wooed by the sudden appearance of a figure from the past whose achievements are irrelevant to the present. The Smith business, in short, suggests strongly that, in advance of the event, institutional investors are thin on the ground.
Despite the present chief executive’s assurances that his newco would not be affected by the seemingly imminent judgement in the big tax case, there remains the distinct possibility of trouble from another legal source.
In giving consent to start the liquidation, Lord Hodge made known his determination to investigate the possibility of dubious practices in the administration, particularly the accusations of a conflict of interest against the administrator, Duff and Phelps. If malfeasance is proved, there could be a revision of the entire process by which Green and his consortium assumed control of the company.
The liquidator, BDO, is also empowered by HMRC to carry out investigations into all aspects of the management of Rangers over the past 12 years or so. Enabling the probe is the very reason the tax authorities refused to accepted the proffered CVA in the first place.
Walter Smith has always had an acute sense of what is best for him and his family and there is no evidence to suggest that he has changed in the past 18 months. He seems much too astute to venture back into an environment in which the busiest workers could be those digging for dirt.
Inconsistent Celtic prove McNeill’s theory
IN the days when Celtic could be relied upon for a protracted engagement in Europe, Billy McNeill ascribed their success – continental football beyond the turn of the year in eight of the 11 seasons from 1964 – to the fact that they had two teams. The much decorated captain did not mean that Jock Stein had 20-odd players of equal high calibre at his disposal, but that the relatively small first-team squad was sufficiently flexible and talented to give the effect.
“It was the same personnel, but two different teams,” said McNeill. “The European game presented different styles and challenges from those you met in domestic football. Tournaments at different levels have their own standards and the teams who tend to do well are those who are able to change to meet those demands.”
McNeill’s observations reveal a truth that remains constant. In contemplating Wednesday’s collision with Barcelona, the present Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, will be encouraged by the knowledge that his players have shown flexibility that has transformed them from outsiders in Group G to odds-on at least to finish third and reach the Europa League.
Their “versatility” also, typically, extends to beating Spartak Moscow away and losing at home to Kilmarnock and St Johnstone.