If, on Thursday, the battle for the control of Rangers looked to be positively one-sided in the shape of Paul Murray and his so-called Blue Knights, a different picture emerged yesterday with administrators Duff and Phelps revealing that there is more than one show in town in terms of potential bidders, or as they put it: “More than a handful but less than 10.”
The administrators are now talking about Craig Whyte almost in the past tense, as if his involvement with the club is over bar the shouting (in a court of law, perhaps). Paul Clark, the co-administrator, possibly stung by a serious criticism of the way he, and his colleague David Whitehouse, were doing their business, spoke yesterday and said that, in his considered view, Whyte is not a secured creditor on any of the Rangers assets and is not entitled to any money.
Clark went even further when claiming that it is likely that Whyte actually owes Rangers money rather than the other way around.
“I see little or no prospect of Craig Whyte being a creditor,” he said. “He’s never paid in any money so I don’t see how he can be.
“There’s financial wizardry and financial wizardry but this would be beyond the beyond. I don’t see how it is possible. It’s unfathomable.”
If Clark has got it right then there will be euphoria in Rangersland this morning. Above all else, the Rangers fans want rid of his toxic presence. It’s probably the case that these supporters would stomach any penalty that the SFA or the SPL would care to throw at them for the gross financial mismanagement at the club as long as they are not liquidated, thereby losing their history. Demotion to the Third Division, a prolonged absence from Europe, a succession of domestic points deductions. The feeling is that the fans would sooner suffer that kind of fate rather than go out of business and be reborn as a new company shorn of its dignity.
The potential bidders, it seems, are many. “They’re really now just starting to motor,” said Clark. “There are individuals and there are consortiums and also what you’d call Corporates or Funds as well.
“There’s a broad mixture of interested parties, some Scottish, some wider British and some international. There is enough of them to make us confident that we will have one or more bids.
“I won’t name names but some of those parties have come with what I would call heavyweight advisors, big professional advisors. None of their identities have got out in the public domain and some have been so private about it that they don’t want at this stage to appear anywhere near Ibrox or Murray Park. They want to go through the process off site and when the time comes – if it comes - they will send people in to have a look. Some parties want to remain entirely anonymous.”
All of this, of course, is predicated on at least three things. Craig Whyte must be taken off the scene – and the administrators are confident that that can, and will happen. Secondly, there needs to be clarity on the Ticketus deal for any potential buyer – and our information is the deal will come apart in the coming weeks. And thirdly, the big tax bill about which there is still no news of when a verdict may come and how much it may be.
From their first involvement, Duff and Phelps have downplayed the significance of the big tax bill, more than once calling it a red herring. Their belief is that it will be taken care of in administration and that even if the bill comes in at a whopping £40m-£50m, HMRC will do a deal to take a percentage of the creditors pot so long as Whyte is off the scene and a more palatable owner is in place. Whyte’s removal is paramount. Otherwise, HMRC could get hostile in the recovering of whatever it is decided they are owed.
The administrators believe that all of these things will be taken care of and that a new owner will be in place towards the end of April, or possibly early May. “Once it starts to move it will move incredibly quickly,” said Clark last night.
Clark didn’t divulge the identities of any interested parties but he gave certain clues as to what he thought about one group in particular. “Right now, we’re teasing them out, we’re having more intense discussions and can root out the parties who just want to be on the front page of the newspaper and therefore talking to the media more than they are talking to us.”
He was, unquestionably, referring to the Blue Knights, the only group, with the exception of the decidedly low-key Brian Kennedy, who have declared their interest publicly. Clark was engaging in gently mocking humour when speaking in broad terms about those men who have such visibility in the newspapers. In no way was he ruling the Knights out of contention.
“I’d say there are more than a handful and less than 10 of what I would say are credible bidders that could take things forward. I’m reasonably comfortable that at least one will deliver. I hope we have two, three or four parties who can deliver because if we get competitive tension into the equation then you drive a better deal that’s good for the supporters and easier to get past the creditors.”
The drama and intrigue continues. There seems to be no end of it in this story.
•Celtic will not be holding their normal Friday pre-match media conference today ahead of Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final against Dundee United at Tannadice.
The Parkhead club took the unusual step amid the crisis enveloping Old Firm rivals Rangers. No reason was given for the decision.