Rangers manager Ally McCoist acknowledges that the Ibrox club will eventually have to spend big if they want to reclaim their place in the Champions League, but has all but ruled out offering up a transfer fee for any of his targets during the January window.
McCoist has this week confirmed contract offers for Bosnian centre-back Boris Pandza and former Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas were rejected by the players, although he did manage to swell his squad with nine new arrivals during the summer.
Rangers have not paid a penny in transfer fees since agreeing a £700,000 deal with Hearts for forward David Templeton in August last year, but looking further ahead, McCoist claims the club cannot rely on free transfers if they are to compete with Celtic for a place in Europe’s premier competition.
However, he is uncertain if he will be allowed to splash the cash before the club – forced to start in the bottom tier 12 months ago following their liquidation crisis – manage to fight their way back to the Scottish Premiership.
He said: “It’s my job to get the best possible team out on the park for the fans. Like any other manager I’ve got a budget to work within.
“Without doubt I am more mindful of what I spent after all the hardships we went through last year. I have to think about the long-term future of the club because we don’t want what has already happened to happen again. But we’re talking about [wage] budgets here, not even about transfer fees.
“I believe longer term, we will definitely need to spend once we get back to where we want to be. But I can understand the argument right now that we should have a team built within the budget limits to get through the divisions.
“That said, you saw the criticism our team got last year for winning a title by 24 points. They [the supporters] are quite hard to please.
“Not having discussed it fully with Craig [Mather], I would imagine there would not be a lot of money to spend on transfer fees. We are working within our budget at the moment and it will be the same again next season. If there is any money available for transfer fees, believe me I will be asking him, because it’s my job to do that.
“But longer term, you can’t lose £45 million worth of players, replace them with boys signed for nothing and expect to get back into the Champions League.
“I can understand the argument that we should be stockpiling our money for when we do get back to the top flight. We can buy players again [after the club’s transfer embargo ended] in the January window but I would imagine we won’t.”
Zaliukas knocked back Rangers’ contract offer but now hopes to land a deal with Championship side Queens Park Rangers, while Pandza has agreed a one-year deal with Polish outfit Gornik Zabrze. But McCoist says that with striker-cum-defender Lee McCulloch and Bilel Mohsni now showing signs of forming a solid partnership at the back, he is not overly concerned. He said: “Are Lee and Bilel our first-choice pairing in central defence now? It would be hard to argue with that fact.
“We have kept three clean sheets and Lee and Bilel have scored six goals between them and it would be hard for me to say anything other than we are delighted with them.
“We do have one or two players that can cover and we would be more than happy for them to start. We have Emilson Cribari, Sebastien Faure and Jon Daly, who can play there at a push. So we have for the first time in a while one or two options for a few areas, particularly at centre-back.
“Are Lee’s defensive capabilities more important to the team this year than his abilities as a striker? Yeah, that could be the case, especially if he is still chipping in with his goals like he has.
“The one thing I can say about our captain is that he has never once asked to play in a specific position. He’s asked to play and that’s important. He’s just happy to pull that jersey on and we’re delighted to have him.”
All eyes this afternoon are likely to be on Ian Black, who returns to the Rangers squad after serving a three-match suspension for breaking betting rules. Black was handed a ten-game ban – seven of which were suspended – but is now free to play after missing matches against Arbroath, Queen of the South and Forfar. The midfielder is expected to start after coming through a bounce game unscathed earlier this week.
McCoist’s side are looking to make it seven wins in a row and have Lewis Macleod available again, however Sebastian Faure is out with a knock and Kyle Hutton is not ready to return after injury.
Stenhousemuir travel to Ibrox for the first ever time on league duty without experienced midfielder David Rowson who is set to go through knee surgery next week. Everyone else in the Ochilview squad is available to manager Martyn Corrigan who is promising that his side will attack their Ibrox hosts.
“Rangers have a budget that other teams in this league can only dream about, but we are looking to go there and have a go,” said Corrigan.
“We have good strikers and they have the chance to shine on a big stage. Hopefully they will take it and as long as everyone gives 100 per cent we will be happy.”