THERE is no love lost between the current Rangers board and the men who would replace them – South Africa-based businessman Dave King and the group known as the Three Bears, George Letham, Douglas Park and George Taylor.
But they do appear to be in harmony on one thing: while they would welcome investment from Robert Sarver, they do not want him to buy control of the club.
The board’s statement to the Stock Exchange yesterday made no explicit reference to its rivals, but it is clearly aware of their intention to take over at Ibrox, and therefore of their resolve not to sell out to the American owner of the Phoenix Suns basketball club.
Sarver’s bid, the statement said, would fail to get the 75 per cent needed to be accepted. Given that King and the Bears now control around 35 per cent of the shares between them, no canvassing of other shareholders would be required.
As things stand, however, a further block of between ten and 20 per cent would appear to support King and the Bears. Add the holdings of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and Rangers director Sandy Easdale, and the reality is that, if a vote had been taken yesterday, Sarver might not even have got 25 per cent.
The Arizonan made a measured response yesterday to the board’s rejection of what he stressed had been only a potential offer, and he still has nearly four weeks before he must decide whether to make an actual bid. He acknowledged that Rangers supporters might initially be wary of a man with no track record of supporting their club, but explained that he had been made aware of its plight by former Rangers full-back David Robertson, who is now football director of the club for which Sarver’s three sons play.
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“Initially, I’d had some of my advisers examining potential investments in teams in the English Premier League and in Spain, but Davie encouraged me to take a close look at Rangers,” Sarver said. “Like all Rangers fans, he’s really upset about how far the club has fallen in recent years and the more we spoke, the more interested I became. I’d be the first to admit that I’m not a lifelong Rangers supporter, but anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a genuine sports fanatic and owning two major basketball franchises for the past decade [he also has the women’s team Phoenix Mercury] has been an enormous privilege.
“I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in public companies and I’m used to working in very highly regulated environments. I understand the crucial importance of business integrity and transparency.
“Rangers fans have every right to be wary about someone showing an interest in the club they love, especially given some of the events of recent years. First and foremost I believe what the club needs today is a very quick, major injection of capital to stabilise things and I can give the Rangers supporters a categorical assurance that I have the resources and ability to get this club back to its elite level.
“I’m looking forward to building a consensus amongst supporters and prominent Rangers-minded figures who have the long-term success of the club at heart. I’ve had detailed research carried out on Rangers and I’m convinced that we could take it back to the top of the Scottish game on a stable and sustainable basis.”
Robertson, who played for Rangers from 1991 to 1997, said he had no doubt that Sarver had the will and resources to transform the club’s fortunes. “I’ve known Robert for several years,” he said. “He has been very supportive of our local club and has a very good reputation in the US.
“When he said he was looking to invest in football in Europe, I told him right away that Rangers could really be doing with someone with his track record. I explained how far the club has fallen, but that there was huge potential to rebuild it.
“Even though I’m now based over here, I always watch really closely how things are going at Ibrox and it’s tragic to see how a club which was once a force in Europe has been brought so low. I can tell every Rangers fan in Scotland and abroad, if Robert Sarver is successful in becoming part of the club, he’ll not rest until they are back on top again.”
Both the current directors and their adversaries might have no problem with Sarver becoming “part of the club” – if by that they meant pumping in funds, possibly in exchange for a minority shareholding and a seat on the board. But it remains to be seen whether Sarver would be content with such partial influence, or whether he opts to switch his attention to England or Spain and look for a club over which he can wield complete control.
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