IN WHAT passes for normal times, you could be accused of befuddlement by claiming that it’s been a bad week for a club that has just won a league title. But Rangers in their present incarnation have long since abandoned the principle of conforming to received wisdom.
Even if the capture of the SFL’s Third Division certainly does not equate to a national championship, it should still have warranted a certain level of celebration. Instead, the Ibrox club’s supporters would be dumbfounded by the bizarre sight of the party being vandalised by the host.
During his short tenure, Charles Green has demonstrated a voracious, possibly insatiable appetite for the arresting headline, but it takes a spectacularly special talent to create a climate in which even the good times are bad.
The boorish Yorkshireman’s most recent series of invasions of the front and back pages ensured the only chink of light in the otherwise unrelieved darkness of Ally McCoist’s managerial career was abruptly snuffed out by his own chief executive.
The issues and affairs in which Green seems to be directly involved are too numerous, too complex and too murky to be quickly and concisely resolved. Since these encompass all manner of alleged goings-on between David Murray, Craig Whyte, Green and many others, official investigations and legal manoeuvrings will be required to reach conclusions.
For the club’s supporters, however, the most unnerving of Green’s wide-ranging, newsworthy interventions in recent weeks is surely the ditching of personnel that is likely to have a profound effect on the prospects of the yearned-for return to the highest echelon of the Scottish game.
The ready discarding of chief scout Neil Murray, physiotherapist Pip Yeates, striker Francisco Sandaza and others, along with the projected removal of McCoist’s coaching lieutenants, Ian Durrant and Kenny McDowall, should cause among fans the kind of uneasiness that precedes a declaration of war.
Such a mass of evictions, with the promise of more to follow, should be viewed as a discomfiting portent. It should also serve as a reminder of the widespread failure among so many of Rangers’ followers to appreciate the extent of the financial damage inflicted by Murray and Whyte and the complications of recovery.
Since the formation of the newco under the aegis of Green’s group, there has been a tendency among a substantial number of fans to imagine that the worst is behind them and that the depression of administration and liquidation has been replaced by a kind of gung-ho, onwards-and-upwards ethos inside Ibrox.
The chief executive’s cull is evidence of a lingering, uncomfortably close relationship with penury and the urgent need for a telling reduction in expenditure. However Green dresses it up – and the transparency of so many of his previous fantasies convince that he is very bad at camouflage – the recent terminations of employment were driven by economic imperatives.
In any consumer society, enforced skimping inevitably means loss and diminishment, the quality of services adversely affected by the need to apply the cheaper option.
Modern professional football in a country that is no longer a prolific producer of exceptional players is an area in which financial muscle brings a definitive advantage.
If, as Green himself has said, the present Rangers team is the worst ever – and their status in the lower reaches of the SFL makes the claim statistically sound, even without recourse to visual evidence – it should be a matter of deep concern to their support that Green’s recent actions hint strongly at deterioration, rather than essential improvement, in the coming year.
In any ailing business, staff jettisoned out of economic necessity are replaced, if at all, by cheaper – that is, less capable – substitutes. It is an inescapable consequence of poverty that is especially pronounced in football. When Neil Alexander, the Rangers goalkeeper, said recently that he would “love to stay at Ibrox”, but did not believe it would be possible to agree a new deal, it was easy to infer has he has been offered only a fraction of his present earnings and that, at 35, he is unlikely to attract interest from elsewhere. The evidence so far also suggests that it is legitimate to speculate that Green is impatient for the expiry of the highly-paid veteran Lee McCulloch’s contract. And that players should take great care to avoid the traps of social networking sites and hoax approaches from impostor agents that could give the chief executive an excuse to show them the door.
All of these indicators of pecuniary precariousness add up to an impression of uncertainty that is difficult to reconcile with the general presumption among Rangers fans that the team will, as a matter of course, climb through the various tiers and back to the top of the SPL “where we belong”.
It is possible, too, that Green himself has come to recognise the hazardous nature of his self-commissioned assignment. It is no simple matter to re-stock a club of Rangers’ proportions while operating among the cheapest stalls in the market and simultaneously achieving the on-field success demanded by supporters and the profits promised to investors.
This is not to say that successive promotions from the fourth tier to the first will not or cannot be accomplished, but its is extremely unlikely that it will be done by a team capable of progressing without hindrance to the summit and taking what its more quixotic followers call “our rightful place” in the Champions League.
If and when Rangers do make the SPL (in whatever form that may take) it is highly probable that, like most other promotees, they will be equipped for survival, rather than contention, at the business end.