KENNY McDowall believes the five Newcastle United players loaned to Rangers for the rest of the season have been placed in an “unenviable” position after it emerged he has been ordered to include them in his starting line-up whenever they are fit and available.
The Rangers caretaker manager revealed he first knew about the arrival of Remie Streete, Kevin Mbabu, Gael Bigirimana, Haris Vuckic and Shane Ferguson when he saw it reported on Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day.
In a subsequent meeting with Rangers chief executive Derek Llambias and football board chairman Sandy Easdale, McDowall was informed he must pick the loanees for first team action, beginning with Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Raith Rovers at Ibrox.
Only three of the quintet are currently match fit – central defender Streete, central midfielder Bigirimana and left-sided wide midfielder Vuckic. Defender Mbabu and winger Ferguson are injured and have not yet reported to Murray Park to join the Rangers squad.
The multiple loan deal has already caused controversy with questions raised about the sporting morality of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley moving a batch of the English Premier League side’s fringe players to Rangers where he currently holds a shareholding of 8.92 per cent but is effectively running the club through his close associates Llambias and finance director Barry Leach.
Ashley is due to face an SFA hearing into alleged breaches of regulations concerning dual interests in clubs on 2 March, with Rangers facing a separate hearing on similar charges two weeks later.
McDowall, currently serving a 12-month notice period after tendering his resignation three weeks ago, will follow orders and select the players but insists he will also reserve the right to replace them during matches.
“As far as I’ve been told, providing they are fit, the boys will play in the team and I’ll carry that instruction out,” said McDowall. “In terms of once the game has started, I will make substitutions as I see fit.
“It’s a slightly unenviable situation for the boys who’ve come in. But let’s not forget these boys have come from Newcastle, so they’ll be good players and it’s a good addition to our squad. It can be a positive, absolutely, and you’d hope that other people will get a lift from it.
“When they are fit they will play. I have been told that by Derek Llambias and Sandy Easdale. They have come up to play. I’m absolutely fine with that as I’ve handed in my notice and my remit is to work with the team, so that’s what I will do.
“I’d gone down with Ally McCoist to watch a Newcastle reserve game in November, in which two of the lads played, but, in terms of deciding which ones were coming in, I spoke with Derek about a month ago and he made me aware that he was trying to bring players in and it could possibly be five coming up. I didn’t know who the five were going to be. Derek
phoned me on Monday evening this week to say that he had managed to secure the services of five Newcastle boys on loan. I had seen reports on Sky, so that was the first time I’d heard anything about it but that doesn’t frustrate me. To be fair, when I took over the post I was told that players incoming and outgoing wouldn’t be my responsibility which I was fine with, especially now that I’ve handed my notice in. I’m more than happy to continue to do my job to the best of my ability.”
The prospect of loan players being guaranteed first team football carries an obvious threat of disharmony and resentment with the dressing room at Rangers. With 13 first team squad players out of contract at the end of the season, it casts fresh doubts on how much incentive they have to help Rangers try to secure promotion to the Premiership.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“I think all the players here have to just accept that’s what happens at big clubs,” added McDowall.
“Players come in but they have to continue to work hard to try to make themselves better and hope to get their chance at some point. If I have to tell a player that I can’t pick him, that’s just where it’s at. They have to be professional, accept that and continue to keep their standards high and work away.
“In terms of new contracts, that’s not my gig. It absolutely makes things more difficult but the lads have got a duty to perform. They are contracted here until the end of the season and it’s up to them to keep their standards up, get in the team and try to win matches for Rangers.”
Asked about his own levels of motivation in what is clearly a situation he would prefer not to be in, McDowall attempted to remain positive.
“I will give my best until the end,” he said. “I have intimated I am working my notice but every time I pick a team to go out there, I want to win for Rangers. That will not change.”
Llambias later denied that the board was picking the team.
In a statement given to Sky Sports News HQ, Llambias said: “There’s no way the board is picking the team. The basis of any loan deal is that the players who arrive bolster the side and give the squad more depth. That’s exactly what is happening here.”
Speaking at the Murray Park training centre, McDowall, who has signalled his intent to leave at the end of the season, said: “On Monday night I got a call from Derek (Llambias, Rangers chief executive) saying he had secured five players on loan.
“Three of them arrived and two of them will be coming the next three or four weeks - they are injured.
“When I was given the job I was told players incoming and outgoing wouldn’t be my responsibility.
“I take the team and coach the team and I am more than happy to get on with it.
Asked if he was duty-bound to play them, he replied: “Yes.”
Then asked if he had to play every one of them every week, he again, replied: “Yes. They are obviously good players - they play for Newcastle - but I will carry on and do what I am told to do.”