THE bloodletting at Ibrox has begun with the announcement yesterday by Scotland internationalists Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker that they have no intention of playing for Charles Green’s Rangers newco.
Naismith, 25, and Whittaker, 28, who signed for the stricken Glasgow club in 2007 for £2million apiece from Kilmarnock and Hibernian respectively, have delivered legal letters to Green, informing the Yorkshireman that they were refusing to allow their contracts to be transferred from the oldco, which held their registrations, to Green’s prosaically named Sevco 5088.
It’s anticipated that several other senior professionals (and high earners) will follow suit in the next few days, including captain Steven Davis, defender Carlos Bocanegra, midfielder Maurice Edu and striker Kyle Lafferty.
The players believe they are entitled to terminate their agreements under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) legislation, although this has already been disputed by Green, who stressed last night that he will not allow the pair (plus Sone Aluko and Rhys McCabe, who also indicated over the weekend that they will take advantage of the TUPE regulations) to walk away.
“The SFA has been considering [this] issue and has issued a preliminary guidance note on registration issues,” said Sevco 5088’s CEO in a statement released by the club.
“That note has made it clear that it is open to the club to challenge the actions of the players.
“Our lawyers have written to the SFA today intimating that we do challenge the actions of the players and explaining why that is. They have also asked that the SFA confirm how it proposes to resolve the dispute between the players and club.”
However, the solicitor advocate representing Naismith and Whittaker, Simon Catto of HBJ Gateley, countered by arguing that not only was Green’s interpretation of employment law off the mark but that his company had failed to follow the correct procedure.
“It is very clear-cut,” he said. “Under TUPE regulations, there is an obligation on the transfer companies to inform the employees of their plans and, then, the employee has an opportunity to object. If the employee takes that opportunity and decides to object, that is the contract at an end and the TUPE regulations are absolutely clear on that.
“Steven [Naismith] mentioned he received an email from Charles Green on Thursday of last week and that was the first contact made.
“The rules would normally see information given to employees in advance of the transfer and that did not happen. There can be exceptions to that rule in certain circumstances, but he had done nothing until Thursday.
“Normally, there would be consultation. The point of TUPE is for the protection of employees and not for the protection of the employer.
“The employee will always have the opportunity to consider whether he wants to go to a new company. The registrations of the players are held by the SFA and a question would arise if a player signed a contract with another club outside of Scotland.
“My belief is that the SFA will issue an International Transfer Certificate. There was a long-running saga with Andy Webster in relation to this when Hearts objected to his transfer.
“Fifa will insist an ITC is delivered so that the player completes transfer and there will be then be an issue of compensation [to be
claimed]. The transfer will take place. Our position is that the players are out of contract, can do what they want and there is no question of any compensation.”
Naismith revealed that the refusal of Green to name all the people who are providing the funding for Sevco 5088 was a contributing factor in his decision to abandon the club.
“Myself and Steven have basically said ‘no’ to the transfer of our contracts,” he said. “As a footballer, you need to know all your options before making any decision.
“You need to know where you’re going to be playing and what your opportunities will be. We’ve tried to do that from the outset but, with all the info I had, I’ve made this difficult decision.
“This is a new company called Sevco. I’ve never met Charles Green or anyone from Sevco. I don’t know who the investors are or what league they’ll be in.
“So how can I push forward into a new company that I don’t know anything about or any person involved in it? That was part of my thought process and led to my decision. I have concerns about who is in charge of the new club, definitely.
“You need to know what business you’re going to be part of. If you don’t, it’s inevitable there will be problems.”
Naismith also revealed that there is a feeling of resentment from the players, who agreed in March, to have their salaries slashed in order to help the old Rangers exit administration that the company will be liquidated in a matter of weeks. “There’s a frustration there, definitely, because for the majority of the squad it wasn’t in their best interests to accept that pay cut,” he said.