IN A way it was apt that Sone Aluko chose to go biblical on Twitter yesterday, for the events that are playing out in front of our eyes will have an end-of-the-world quality for many haunted Rangers supporters.
Aluko paraphrased from the Book of Romans, but with the Rangers finances in such a dizzying mess it might have been more appropriate had he quoted from the Book of Numbers instead.
He mentioned a passage that speaks of trials producing endurance, endurance developing character and character bringing hope. It was a message of optimism for the fans of his club who are losing faith in the future in these dismal days as well as a volley of defiance directed against those from across Glasgow who have sought to torment him with their gloating. “Bore off,” he told the cyber Celts on Twitter. No doubt every Rangers player with an account on social media would have had an online visitation from these people in these momentous past few days.
To go back to the beginning. At first, Sir David Murray, his empire toiling under a debt mountain, must have thought Craig Whyte was a mirage, a figment of his own desperate imagination. As we know, in fiendish economic times, Murray needed rid of Rangers and along came a guy who was willing to take it off his hands without seemingly asking too many questions of the impending horrors of HMRC’s investigation into Rangers’ use of the infamous EBTs.
Murray had never heard of Whyte before. That was a curious one for a start. He’d been keen to find a buyer for years and here was a Rangers-supporting multi-millionaire (apparently) that he had never heard of until, supposedly, a journalist phoned him and said, “You should talk to this guy, Whyte.”
The knight liked Whyte from the outset. He said he saw something of his younger self in him. A bravado, perhaps. A focus. Maybe he wasn’t looking all that hard.
Unlike his dealings with Andrew Ellis, a previously interested party, Murray suspected from the off that Whyte was the real deal. He convinced himself that Whyte had the money to take the club forward. Maybe at that point Murray didn’t need a lot of convincing. Maybe the recession and the damage done to his other businesses did the convincing for him. That and Lloyds Banking Group sitting on his shoulder. Ultimately, he wanted out. Whyte opened the door and let him go.
Over the past few days, weeks and months Whyte has been described as a Walter Mitty character, but to dismiss him as a fantasist is to grossly underestimate him. Whyte has given precious little away since he appeared on the horizon last year, but occasionally – very occasionally – his mask slipped and some of his likely intentions could just about be seen. When asked about the thought of putting Rangers into administration he remained deadpan. He thought it would be regrettable, but not shameful, not a blight on the club’s tradition. When quizzed about the idea of forming a new company (liquidating 140 years of history) he hardly recoiled in horror. He merely stated that there would always be a Rangers in some guise or other. That was his commitment. New Rangers? Rangers 2012? It didn’t seem to trouble him unduly what they might be called. Emotion didn’t come into it.
A fantasist? No. A person with a clear but secret vision of where he wanted to go right from the beginning? Without question. A ruthless operator? Absolutely. Unembarrassable? Quite possibly. How many people did he trust along the way? None that we can think of. Some of his advisers? They hadn’t the first clue what he was up to in this business of the £9 million in tax that was withheld from HMRC since he assumed ownership last May. Whyte doesn’t do transparency. If he caught sight of himself in a mirror he’d be minded to ask, “What are you looking at?”
Rangers’ descent into administration shone a light on him. On Monday, Whyte allowed the opinion to be formed that he was seeking administration on account of a possible £50m-£75m bill in the big tax case with HMRC. Those were his numbers. Everything he said in his statement seemed to suggest that he had become resigned to losing the case and that a mammoth judgment was going to be made against the club. He was saying, “What option have I? We can’t pay £75m. We have to reluctantly consider administration.”
Even in that late hour he refused to reveal the real story of why Rangers were actually going into administration. Nothing at all to do with the big tax case, where there is as yet no verdict, and, said HMRC, everything to do with him not paying income tax and VAT to the tune of £9m.
This was no accidental non-payment. It was a tactic, a deliberate device to bring HMRC on to him and get the club into administration, which is precisely where he wants it. He now has his favoured administrators in place (as opposed to HMRC’s chosen men) and they are attempting to negotiate with creditors. If they can’t strike a deal, Rangers enter the end-game of liquidation, a full torching of creditors and the likely reappearance of a new and debt-free Rangers football club, perhaps with Whyte at the helm. If he pulls it off you have to say it would be one of the most remarkable victories (of a sort) in the history of the club, a triumph of shameless brass neck over decency, a win for cold-blooded business at the price of an institution’s dignity.
Whyte might well counter that playing a game of hardball was the only way Rangers were going to shake off the big tax debt, that somebody had to plot a route through the financial shambles he inherited (and has added to) and that nobody else came forward. Whyte has a disregard for the old board that is impossible to overestimate. He sees them as the guys who got fat in the rich years and then didn’t have the guts to step up to the plate when things went wrong.
The gist of his argument might be, “Did you want me to get HMRC out of our lives or not? Well, I’ve done it. You don’t like the way I did it? Tough.” Anybody waiting for Whyte to apologise for the things he has done and said and the way in which buckets of money just seem to have disappeared in a puff of smoke should give up now. He has the same view of contrition as he has of transparency.
Of course, he also has a desperate lack of appreciation of quite how much his credibility among the Rangers fans has been shot. In the eyes of the majority, you would have to assume, he’s a busted flush, a person they will hound rather than support. The £9m revelation was a huge turning point. Lazarus did pretty well in his day, but the notion of Whyte carrying on serenely as head of New Rangers seems improbable. Not impossible, mind.
If Whyte is too toxic to take Rangers forward, then who takes his place? It’s been said that once the big tax case is dealt with and the club’s finances are restored to some semblance of order then Rangers will be reborn as an attractive commercial opportunity. If true, it’s time, then, for the troops to mobilise.
The former director, Paul Murray, has been talking a big game. He speaks of a Blue Knight consortium. There is no doubting Murray’s love of and concern for his club, but he’s been down this road before. The last time he made a bid for Rangers it was predicated on his namesake assuming liability for the HMRC debt. Grand in theory, doomed to failure in reality. It’s like ringing Barcelona and offering a million quid for Lionel Messi. You made a bid, sure. But you did so knowing too well that you were going to be told to get lost.
Whatever happens at the end of this, they will get the owner they deserve. The former directors, some of whom should have guilty consciences, don’t like where Whyte is taking Rangers, so we return to the question that Sir David, his legacy in tatters, spent four years asking. “Does anybody else want this club?”