IF ANYTHING told of the drastically-changed times around Murray Park, it was the cry that so often rose up from the knot of assembled press yesterday morning once a player had driven through the gates of the Sevco consortium-owned training ground. “Who was that?” became a familiar refrain.
• Only 13 players turn up at Murray Park for pre-season training
• Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace - who have both pledged their future to the Rangers newco - turned up
• Ally McCoist due to return from his holiday on Saturday
Maybe that speaks of ignorance on the part of us journos. But, let’s be honest, Andy Mitchell, Scott Gallacher, Kal Naismith and Chris Hegarty are not exactly well-known figures in the Scottish football world. Or even well-known figures in the old Rangers world.
In the new Rangers world, however, this band of boys represented around a quarter of the 13-player ‘squad’ that committed themselves to Charles Green’s Ibrox club by turning up for the fitness tests with which Rangers kicked off their pre-season programme...for a season playing who-knows-where. These lucky old, or rather new, 13, were the work colleagues from the previous Rangers that club ambassador Sandy Jardine – a bloke all instantly identified, even through a rain-smeared windscreen – will still be able to look in the eye. Not for them exercising rights under TUPE regulations to reject their contracts being switched from the soon-to-be-liquidated Rangers to the newco version. Steven Naismith, Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker, Allan McGregor, Sone Aluko, Kyle Lafferty, Rhys McCabe, John Fleck and Juan Manuel Ortiz did that to go and drive their cars to some other training grounds. And drive Jardine demented in the process. “Greedy” he called them.
Well, there wasn’t much sign of the greed and corpulence associated with the footballer fraternity among the vehicles that made their way into the Milngavie complex yesterday. Indeed, for those of a certain means, there was a novelty in their design. At no time since the complex opened in 2001 until yesterday would there have been a time that at least half the motors driven by the senior squad would have appeared in the price range of normal, hard-working folk. The new Rangers can’t afford high rollers. Modest little numbers will require to be the way of it on and off the field. Precisely why there was excitement and no “aw, only him” when the club’s third keeper of last year, Gallacher, became the first player to whizz up at just after half eight.
The 22-year-old could well be first-choice keeper at the club next season. Neil Alexander, who turned up 40 minutes later, may be the senior figure in that position now that McGregor hasn’t transferred his contract. But, on £12,000-a-week, Alexander is on a wage that makes him unaffordable to Green’s Rangers, irrespective of if they are playing in the First Division or Third Division next season. He is, though, under contract, unlike Salim Kerkar, Mitchell and Hegarty, who didn’t allow that to stop them making their way to Murray Park yesterday.
The same is true of Lee McCulloch, whose impressive big motor screeched up to the gates at five to nine. Indeed, with the salaries of Alexander, McCulloch and Kirk Broadfoot – last in four minutes before the gates swung closed at 9.40am – in the region of £2 million a year, Green might be wishing more senior players didn’t turn down the contract switch. That is one of the many disingenuous elements in all this saga. Even if his Rangers had been voted into the SPL, Green would have required to reduce significantly the wage bill. Some of the slashing work has been done for him with so many senior players choosing to becoming free agents. Granted, as Jardine acknowledged, Green would have sought to move them on for the reduced fees they agreed when they took wage cuts to keep the club running in administration four months ago. But knowing the perilous nature of Rangers’ plight, clubs would have waited till mid-August and made derisory bids.
That could still happen with such as Lee Wallace, who drove in with hoodie obscuring face, just after McCulloch. Indeed, if it is the Third Division for the new Rangers then even some of their youngsters may be too much of a drain on their finances. Players such as Darren Cole, who had his dad drive him in shortly after Gallacher had been joined by assistant manager Kenny McDowall. It was curious that McDowall was the most senior member of the coaching team to be there to greet the loyal members of the Rangers playing cause. A band completed by Kyle Hutton, Kane Hemmings, and Ross Perry, who said on the Rangers website yesterday he stayed because he felt he “owed it to the club”.
Rangers manager Ally McCoist didn’t feel he owed it to those who appear to be willing to honour old contracts in troubling circumstances to cut short his holidays for their first day under new employment. McCoist returns on Saturday and will be at Murray Park for the start of pre-season training proper next Monday. Others such as Maurice Edu, Carlos Bocanegra, Dorin Goian and Alejandro Bedoya are not scheduled to appear until later. There is, though, no great expectation that the Murray Park gates ever whirr open again for any of these players.