Champions League just a £12m payday, warns Walter Smith

WHILE Rangers continued to celebrate a second successive title win yesterday manager Walter Smith could not help displaying some dread as thoughts turned to the struggle to remain competitive in Europe in the event of further financial cutbacks.

• "We're not going into it to win it anyway – it would be a folly for anyone to think that" Walter Smith. Picture: SNS

The Ibrox side's title triumph has been viewed by Smith as a success against the odds but the Champions League is a less forgiving environment, as was highlighted this season. Rangers lost all of their home ties in the group stage, conceding ten goals in the process while scoring only twice. The Ibrox side will likely be the last Scottish side for some time to be parachuted into the group stage, thereby ensuring a payday estimated to be 12 million.

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Without this income last season, Rangers would be in a much worse state financially. But even with it and the promise of another such sum to come the future for the Ibrox club is far from certain, and Smith has repeated a call for the situation to be clarified. The current impression being given is that of a club operating in limbo and Smith has stressed that for everyone's benefit this cannot continue. He is clearly not prepared to hang around much longer if the status quo persists and the manager will be seeking assurances from the club's board in the coming days. Otherwise, he warned, "the club will suffer".

The manager has been openly critical of the way the club's bankers are running Rangers and his own future remains very much in doubt, even in the aftermath of Sunday's triumph. He is set to discuss his own plans with chief executive Martin Bain this week, but he has again expressed fears about Rangers' future. His chief concern is pinned to the club's Champions League ambitions, and his fear that they could again risk embarrassment next season.

"The thing about the Champions League is, if we don't strengthen and get extra players in, then we are basically going into it for the money," he said.

"That's how it is. I mean, we're not going into it to win it anyway – it would be a folly for anyone to think that.

"But the year that we had the big European games, challenged for the championship, won a couple of cups and got to the final of the Uefa Cup, we had 26 players on the staff. We're now down to roughly 16, taking away the younger ones. I'm talking about boys with reasonable experience. We're down to 16, six of whom are out of contract. You start to the see the problems that can occur."

But Smith, who has been working without a contract since January, acknowledged that the situation is out of his hands. All he can do is ask the question: what is happening with the club?

"The financial situation is well documented," he said. "If anybody wants to look at the business columns, then you will see exactly what it is. But we have to handle the problems that we're left with because of that situation. As I've intimated on a few occasions, we can only handle that for so long. I would feel, right at the present moment, that the 'so long' period is up.

"I said the other day that it has to settle down, so people know where the club is going in the future. If it's going to be the bank's plan, if it's going to be a new owner, if something else like a supporters' buy-out or whatever comes along, then we don't need it in a month's time. I can only have an opinion on how long it can be allowed to drift. And what I am saying to you is that, if something does not happen shortly to let us know exactly where everybody stands at the club, then we've got a major problem."

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Smith yesterday released an official statement thanking the fans for their continued support. He made a point of praising the 10,000 supporters who turned up at Ibrox on Sunday night in order to welcome the team home after the 1-0 victory over Hibs. This victory confirmed Rangers as champions and sealed Smith's ninth title triumph. But the manager is obviously disillusioned by the off-field situation and is frustrated at being left in the dark.

"I've stated that I can only stay so long," he said. "If the position does not get clarified, then it will not matter who the manager of Rangers is. The club will suffer.

"(But] you keep asking me the questions and I don't know anything about it. They (the money men] just tell me what they want to tell me, which is very little."

Rangers chief executive Martin Bain hopes Smith will reveal in the next few days whether he wants to remain at Ibrox next season.

"That's a decision for Walter and I'm sure he'll make it in the few days to come," Bain told the BBC. "I think that depends on a number of factors. I think it depends, not just for Walter, but for many others at the football club."

Bain insists Smith deserves enormous credit for securing the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title for the second year running. "Walter Smith, his assistants and the whole team have performed tremendously well," he added. "A second championship in a row, six trophies and a European final in three years.

"I don't think you can get any better and I don't think there's a club in the world that wouldn't take that if offered them so all testament to Walter and his team. It's just been fantastic.

"We've had our critics this season. We know we've got great spirit and determination.

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"We know that we can go on to further success but there's a number of factors that have to be discussed and until we get answers to some of those factors then we won't know what's happening."