Rangers bid: Robert Sarver denies Mike Ashley link

Ibrox Stadium. Picture: John Devlin
Ibrox Stadium. Picture: John Devlin
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AMERICAN banker Robert Sarver has moved to reassure Rangers supporters of the complete autonomy of his takeover bid for the Ibrox club after submitting a new and improved £20 million proposal to the embattled current board.

The 53-year-old felt it necessary to respond to online rumours linking him with both present and past Ibrox boardroom figures, who are unpopular with the disaffected and now deeply suspicious fanbase.

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Among the mooted connections on internet forums was a relationship between Arizona-based Sarver, currently waiting for an answer from Rangers, who rejected his initial £18m proposal on Tuesday, and Mike Ashley, the Newcastle United owner and influential Ibrox shareholder, who has a branch of his Sports Direct retail operation in Phoenix.

But Sarver’s camp moved quickly to insist the owner of the Phoenix Suns basketball team has had no involvement with Ashley and his Rangers allies Sandy and James Easdale, or with former chief executive Charles Green and discredited former owner and chairman Craig Whyte.

“There appears to be some speculation in online fans’ forums, prompting questions from the media asking if Mr Sarver is working in conjunction with other figures associated with Ibrox,” said a spokesman for Sarver.

“Let me assure you he is not. To be very clear, Mr Sarver has never met or spoken to Mike Ashley, Sandy Easdale or James Easdale. And, for the complete avoidance of doubt, he has never met or spoken to Charles Green or Craig Whyte.

“He is not working with, acting for, or alongside any of these individuals. Mr Sarver is acting on his own behalf, although he has repeatedly said that if he succeeds in acquiring a majority stake in Rangers he would like to work with others who clearly have the best long-term interests of Rangers at heart.”

Sarver earlier outlined his intention to solve Rangers’ immediate financial crisis and then restore the Ibrox club’s condition both on and off the pitch if he his takeover bid is successful.

After having his initial bid turned down by Rangers on Tuesday, Sarver returned with plans for the £20m investment, of which £6.5m would be made available immediately by way of a short-term loan.

Rangers, who confirmed receipt of proof of funding from Sarver, announced they would consult with major shareholders before deciding if it was feasible to accept the new proposal.

In order for Sarver’s funding plan to proceed by the placing of new ordinary shares, it would require the support of 75 per cent of existing shareholders.

That remains problematic, with former director Dave King and the “Three Bears” consortium of George Taylor, Douglas Park and George Letham now in control of around 34 per cent following their recent share purchases. The Three Bears have also offered £6.5m to underwrite a new share issue.

Sarver, who was alerted to Rangers’ situation by former Ibrox defender David Robertson – now coaching in Phoenix – has stressed his willingness to work with other parties and individuals.

“This revised proposal hopefully helps the board deal with its short-term cashflow crunch and also addresses my desire to see the club on a solid long-term financial footing,” said Sarver.

“It would also enable Rangers to repay the loans from Mike Ashley and Sandy Easdale, and free it of debt.

“If the board agrees to my proposal, I would provide a total of £16.4 – £20m to be invested in the club as the board determines – £6.5m immediately and the remainder following a share issue, taking the major step necessary to restore financial stability to the club.

“I know, of course, that there are various groups of prominent fans who have been working hard for a long time to bring change to the club and they can rest assured that I am committed to building a strong partnership with fans and key stakeholders to do what is best for the club.

“I fully realise that a strong sports club needs local investment, local directors and local support to be successful.

“I’ve received messages of support from many Rangers fans and really appreciate their good wishes – even if sometimes I don’t immediately get their Scottish sense of humour!

“After everything they have been through in recent years, I understand some are rightly cautious about a guy they’ve never heard of wanting to get involved in their club. I’d feel exactly the same way.

“But, hopefully, I can combine my financial resources and knowledge of professional sport with strong local leaders and top-notch management to bring Rangers back to elite level.”

In a statement to the stock exchange, Rangers provided details of Sarver’s second proposal.

“Further to the announcement on 6 January by the board of Rangers International Football Club plc (‘Rangers’) of their rejection of his initial proposal, Robert Sarver confirms that he has made a revised proposal to the board,” it read.

“The revised proposal involves investing up to £20m for a majority shareholding by way of a placing of new ordinary shares in Rangers at 20 pence per share (‘Placing’) followed, if the Placing is completed, by a mandatory offer for the remaining issued and to be issued ordinary share capital under Rule 9 of the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers (‘Code’) at 20 pence per share.

“As part of the revised proposal £6.5m would be made available to Rangers in immediate short-term funding by way of a secured loan to be repaid in 90 days or out of the proceeds of the Placing.

“Nothing in this announcement constitutes an announcement of a firm intention to make an offer for the purposes of Rule 2.7 of the Code and there can be no certainty that any offer will be made.

“Mr. Sarver, who has owned the successful Phoenix Suns NBA franchise since 2004, is CEO of the $10 billion Western Alliance Bancorporation. He has already provided proof of funds to the Rangers board. The directors thank Mr Sarver for his continuing interest in Rangers. They are studying the revised proposal which was received (on Wednesday night), and are consulting with major shareholders, to understand whether the proposal is capable of being implemented.

“A further announcement will be made shortly.”

Rangers also announced to the stock exchange that the £500,000 loan provided by football club board chairman Sandy Easdale on Monday, amid reports of a potential winding-up order from HMRC for non-payment of National Insurance contributions, had been repaid to the Greenock businessman following the receipt of the transfer fee, believed to be around £850,000, from Brentford for midfielder Lewis Macleod.

The club’s supporters, meanwhile, are stepping up their efforts for increased influence at the club with the Rangers Supporters Trust purchasing another 100,000 shares yesterday as part of the “Buy Rangers” initiative.

“It takes our shareholding over 1 per cent,” said a Trust spokesman. “We will be making the required stock exchange declaration in due course.

“A recent influx of new members and contributors to Buy Rangers has allowed us to make this purchase and with the continued support of the Rangers community we hope to increase our shareholding further in the near future.

“All funds from the sale of Red and Black and Lion Brand shirts have been retained for use in a future share issue.

“We will continue to work closely with those pushing for change at Rangers and we would ask fans to visit www.therst.co.uk and help us to take back our club.”

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