SIR David Murray's vigorous defence of his stewardship at Rangers yesterday included an admission, heard on many occasions, that mistakes have been made on his watch at Ibrox. He said that he had grown tired of acknowledging that fact.
It would of course be extraordinary had someone who has for so long occupied a position where the stakes are so high not fumbled the ball at some point. Murray, who has resumed having daily involvement at the club despite myriad other business interests, has suffered for this desire to be as hands-on as possible. Few other chairmen have taken such vicious swipes as he pays the price for being both visible as well as perhaps too ready to back managers with whom he always seeks to cultivate strong, enduring relationships.
Evidence of this was Graeme Souness's presence on Murray's Perthshire estate on Wednesday, as the Ibrox chairman continued to digest the appearance of a "David Murray must go" banner in the away stand at McDiarmid Park on Tuesday night. Souness has not been employed by Murray since 1991, but can attest to his former chairman's unequivocal support. It is possible to interpret this style of operating on Murray's part as both a strength and weakness.
Murray's keenness to take Rangers away from their rivals – which, in the late 1980s, meant not only Celtic, but also Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United – saw Rangers embark on a big-spending strategy which did indeed keep the club ahead of the pack, and was rewarded with nine successive titles.
The surprise at Celtic's success in spoiling the historic bid for a tenth championship only hardened Murray's resolve, and led to Rangers re-doubling their efforts to reign supreme in Scotland.
This intention, together with the boost of Sky's investment in Scottish football, saw Rangers stun British football with the purchase of Tore Andre Flo for 12 million. It is a sum which it is difficult to imagine will ever be beaten in Scottish football.
It is also something which haunts Murray. He accepts this was a wrong call, made when "we were all caught up chasing the dream". The use of 'we' here is interesting, since it suggests group culpability.
Former Ibrox manager Dick Advocaat, in the run-up to last season's Uefa Cup final, recalled the deal which brought the Norwegian striker north from Chelsea in 2000.
"They can blame me for one thing – buying Tore Andre Flo for 12 million," he rattled. "At that time, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole cost 12 million for Manchester United and we could only, with a lot of pressure, get Flo. Unfortunately, he did not do it for us. I asked the board if we could do something and they could decide on the signing, but I was a big part of it."
There was some method in the madness. Murray perhaps reasoned that the risk was one worth taking, since Rangers' finances had recently been bolstered by an increase in turnover of 15 million to 51.7 million. There was also the not inconsiderable matter of a 15-point gap which separated Rangers from leaders Celtic at the time.
The plea that there were others involved in the decision-making process is not so easily made when one considers Murray's most notorious chest-beating pronouncement, uttered nine years ago: "For every five pounds Celtic spend, we will spend ten," he promised in 2000. He was true to his word in that the outlay for Flo nearly doubled the price for which Celtic had bought the undeniably more productive Chris Sutton.
The later appointment of Paul Le Guen brought more elation from Murray, though the capture of the brightest young coach in France was a greeted as a triumph by nearly all observers. Amid such enthusiasm Le Guen was allowed to recruit players of dubious quality at great expense. Only Sasa Papac has remained from a discredited job lot, which included misfiring striker Filip Sebo. Murray is again right when he issues a reminder that "we were all caught up in it", but will also up-braid himself for not acting on his instinct when he found Le Guen to be "quite cold" on their first meeting in France.
He was never able to shake off this aloofness during a tenure which Murray later recalled was a "real disappointment". The Frenchman, he said, had simply not selected the right tools to do the job, but when Walter Smith rode in to the rescue these mistakes were almost immediately revisited.
It is now possible to name a team comprising exiles at Rangers. They are costing the club over 130,000 a week, many of them brought in by Smith.
Andy Webster and Andrius Velicka are among the most mystifying purchases. The injury-plagued Webster may yet become a great player, but it is unlikely to happen at Rangers. Lee McCulloch's star was perhaps already dimming when he enrolled at Murray Park for a now hard-to-credit sum of 2.25 million.
Perhaps the greatest source of regret for Murray is the decision not to invest prior to what proved a very truncated European campaign, although the chairman could hardly be criticised for imagining a Rangers side still brimming with expensive captures in comparison to their Kaunas opponents would prevail over two legs.
The subsequent sudden plunge into the transfer market came very much after the horse had bolted. Smith spent almost 6 million on the capture of Pedro Mendes and Maurice Edu. The latter has not yet been able to leave any impression whatsoever, and remains an intriguing case.
Murray has been at the tiller throughout a period which has seen Rangers lift nine titles in a row, get to within a game of the European Cup final and contest the most recent Uefa Cup final.
There have been mistakes, revealed mostly with hindsight. Few Rangers fans complained when Flo signed on at Ibrox. Instead they revelled in one-upmanship. Football has changed since then, as has the world.
Murray, too, has changed, from a young businessman flushed by the thought of fame in an alternative sphere to those he had known, to a businessman in his late fifties, alert to the rising tide of recession.
The reaction in recent days of many Rangers fans suggest they think trophies are a birthright, but nothing can be guaranteed. Not even the club's survival.