This nightmare scenario was spelled out by Fraser Wishart yesterday, as he criticised the Ibrox club’s administrators for having so far failed to appoint a preferred bidder.
The PFA Scotland chief executive cited the Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment [TUPE] regulations while highlighting another significant obstacle to the sale of the club. It is understood that the status of the playing staff is one of the “complex issues” referred to in a statement released last night by Duff and Phelps, as the plan to name a preferred bidder is dragged out further.
Wishart has warned the parties interested in buying Rangers that a newco route is not an option if they want to retain the registration of the players, whose agreement to take a wage cut is thought to have saved the club £3 million.
However, these players are due to return to their old salary levels on 1 June, with payment due at the end of that month. With the club’s future looking little brighter than it did on the day these cuts were agreed, and frustration among the players increasing, Wishart stressed yesterday that “time is of the essence”.
“I think it’s so important, given the size of the debts Rangers have, that someone is given exclusivity as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re at a stage where we are four weeks on from wage cuts which was to buy Rangers time to get a preferred bidder and that bidder could negotiate with creditors. As of today, there has been no-one appointed.
“We are three weeks away from the end of the season when the players go on holiday or, in the case of the foreign boys, go home. We are six weeks away from them going back to their old salaries so time is of the essence.”
The players, he added, are “aware of their rights” in the event of liquidation, a course of action said to be favoured by one of the parties interested in buying the club. “We advised the members, we advised Duff and Phelps and we trust that has been handed over to the prospective bidders as it forms a huge part of what they are taking on,” he said.
“Our guys are not individuals, they are assets and they have a figure on their head,” said Wishart. However, this would not be the case in the event of Rangers returning as a newco, he revealed.
“Under TUPE regulations, they [the players] are protected by the law of the land. A newco can’t come in and change the terms and conditions of their employment. Secondly, and something that has not been discussed, is that they don’t have to go [to the newco]. They are free agents. If the player chooses not to go then that registration dies with the club, and he is free to go.”
Both the players and club are “in limbo”, said Wishart. “We have to see who is made preferred bidder first of all, then what their plans are,” he added. “If it’s a CVA [Company Voluntary Arrangement] then great, if it’s a newco, which is essentially liquidation of the old company, then the players have different rights. That is where decisions will be made.”
Wishart seemed to suggest that it might have been different had the administrators agreed to the players’ preferred system of wage deferrals, rather than insisting on wage cuts. “If they had chosen that route then there would have been no negotiations to contracts,” he said. “But they chose not to take on board and instead go down the wage cut route. At that point, and quite rightly, the players said: ‘Hold on you are asking me to take a huge, huge hit here so I would like to alter one or two terms in my contract’.”
Wishart admitted that once the transfer window opens again, in June, then “the whole dynamic changes”. He ruled out the possibility that players would agree to take any further wage cuts. “If the administrators are still there [in June] and ploding along, then they have the opportunity to sell players to get themselves funds to keep the club going,” he said. “Every single player, in an ideal world, will want to be with Rangers next year. The longer the players are uncertain the more the chance their heads will be turned.”
Wishart implored the administrators “to make a decision, appoint somebody and then the players can sit down collectively and individually and speak to them”.
Negotiations, however, take time. According to Wishart, “we’re already in a critical point at the moment”.