DCSIMG

Smith not the only possible Ibrox casualty

MAJOR change at Rangers is merely a matter of time. Either a new owner turns up and alters the club to his liking, or the Lloyds Banking Group ensures that the business is run in a way that reduces its exposure to debt.

Those are the only possibilities. Business as it has been hitherto under the ownership of Sir David Murray is no longer an option.

One way or the other, sweeping reform will come. The redbrick faade of Ibrox will remain, but much that is familiar about the club today could go.

Chief executive Martin Bain and manager Walter Smith are the most likely casualties of any change in ownership. Some factors might mean that the latter will turn out to be first of the two to go – not least the fact that he is out of contract in January – but judging purely by what the two do at the club it is Bain who has more to worry about.

Having been in his present post for almost five years, and having spent a similar period at the club before then in less senior posts, Bain has had the time to implement the kind of far-reaching reforms which the bank deems necessary.

Ensuring the financial viability of a company is normally regarded as one of the key tasks of a chief executive, and by that criterion Bain has been less than successful.

In his defence, it should be noted that he was a Murray appointee and remains very much Murray's man. In that sense he cannot be held ultimately responsible for the perilous state into which Rangers have fallen.

But that in itself is another reason to replace him. With no track record of independent action as a senior executive of a football club in need of reform, Bain is unlikely to be the man to turn Rangers round.

The appointment less than a fortnight ago of Donald Muir, a Lloyds employee, to the club's board of directors is not exactly a vote of confidence in anyone at Ibrox. Gordon McKie, the chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, has been rumoured as a replacement, and has the kind of CV required for the task in hand.

But, while McKie might be a good appointee from the bank's point of view, he is far from being the only person with more relevant experience in crisis management than Bain. Indeed, Muir's own business experience would suit him to take over as chief executive, even if for just a short period.

When it comes to the manager, no such considerations apply. At 61, Smith has decades of experience, and more than a small measure of success, in running football teams.

It is true that his greatest triumphs have come when he has had large budgets – that is true of a substantial majority of managers – but he has also worked in less prosperous circumstances. Having been in charge of Scotland, for example, as well as the national under-19s and under-21s, Smith knows what it is like to work without any transfer budget.

In any case, even if the new powers-that-be at Ibrox decide that Smith does not fit their picture of the kind of manager required to take Rangers into a new era, they would be well advised to take a look at the market before rushing to part company with him.

No manager can guarantee success, and those who come closest to doing so tend to expect the kind of remuneration which is no longer available to Rangers.

Speculation about the length of time Smith would stay in his post began some time before the present financial state of Rangers was revealed, and although the manager declined to discuss the whole issue yesterday, he has previously acknowledged that his own days in his post could well be numbered. Barring any hasty decisions by the bank, however, Smith's departure could still well be at a time and in a manner of his own choosing.

The same could hardly be said of Murray himself.

For around two years now, the Rangers owner has continued to insist that he has to make sure the club is sold to "the right person". This desire was repeated on Sunday when a statement from Rangers said that a prospective new owner should have "the capability to take the club forward". But that is simply not the case any longer.

If dozens of rival suitors were lining up with identical bids, the bank might conceivably allow Murray to select one on the grounds of his suitability to take the helm, but that is patently not applicable right now. Instead, one firm offer will suffice, and it will be up to the bank to decide whether the man or the consortium who make it are fit and proper.

Murray may like to think he will still be able to do something to leave Rangers in the right hands, but matters have moved well beyond that stage by now. Beggars cannot be choosers.

 
 
 

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