THE Scottish Premier League last night announced it has appointed an independent commission to look into alleged EBT (Employment Benefit Trust) payments and arrangements made by Rangers in relation to players.
The commission will determine whether the club breached the relevant SPL rules in relation to alleged EBT payments and arrangements for players between 2000 and 2011. The commission will have powers to determine what sanctions, if any, are appropriate if they decide that any breaches occurred.
The SPL probe was launched in early March and delayed for months by the failure of Rangers’ administrators to hand over documents.
There has been talk of the Ibrox club being stripped of titles if found guilty and the issue is a sticking point regarding Rangers newco’s bid for membership of the Scottish Football Association.
Charles Green’s club, who were voted into the Third Division of the Scottish Football League by the SFL clubs after being refused admission into the SPL, gained conditional membership of the SFA last Friday which allowed them to play against Brechin City in the Ramsdens Cup last Sunday.
The SPL had “reserved its position” over their probe but Ibrox chairman Malcolm Murray said at the time: “We still have outstanding issues with the SPL but we will challenge them at every turn.” Rangers manager Ally McCoist declared he would never accept the Ibrox club being stripped of titles.
The new SPL season kicks off tomorrow and the demise of Rangers this summer has led many to assume the top flight now faces the prospect of becoming a one-horse race for the foreseeable future. But Willie Miller – the captain of the last side other than Celtic or Rangers to clinch the title when Aberdeen were victorious 27 years ago – yesterday said that so long as there are other runners and riders in the stalls, he believes there is hope that a fresh challenge can be presented to Celtic.
He even dares to suggest that his former club may emerge as the surprise packages in a campaign the bookmakers contend will be the most predictable yet. “Aberdeen could be dark horses this season if they can keep their key players fit,” said Miller.
“Celtic are going in as clear favourites but you haven’t got Rangers taking points off the other teams now.
“It might give other teams, particularly those who competed well last year like Motherwell, Dundee United and Hearts, an opportunity. I’d also like to think Aberdeen will take the opportunity to get themselves up there, certainly to be challenging for the European spots.
“Is anyone going to be better than Celtic? I’m not going to say that will be the case, but I’d hope the other clubs will push them hard. I hope it’s not just a procession towards the title.
“You never know, Celtic might just think it’s going to be too easy. Neil Lennon will be doing his best to ensure his players don’t think along those lines but I know, having been a player myself, that it’s easily done. If you think it’s going to be an easier campaign for you, you can get lulled into that false sense of security. If that happens to Celtic, it will give some of those other clubs a chance to put pressure on them.”
Despite his dismissal as a director of Aberdeen in June, Miller remains a committed supporter of the club with whom he will always be associated. Ahead of tomorrow’s SPL opener at Celtic Park, he feels they are well set for a good campaign under Craig Brown following the summer recruitment of wingers Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn.
“I want to see Aberdeen doing well,” added Miller. “The last time I left the club, as manager in 1995, the team I put together won the League Cup later that year. I was at that game, cheering them on. So I’ve got too much affection for the club to wish them anything other than well for the coming season.
“Saturday could be a good yardstick for Aberdeen, an indication of how well they are going to do this season. They have brought in players during the summer that they had to bring in, lads with flair and width. It’s been obvious for a while that Aberdeen have been pretty solid defensively but lacking in creativity.
“So with the experienced players Craig has brought in, along with a much fitter squad after all the injury problems he had last season, he has got a
decent squad to pick from.
“It’s a good time for Aberdeen to go to Parkhead, with Celtic having one eye on the second leg of their Champions League qualifier. Maybe that will affect Neil’s team selection. If he does think the league is going to be easier in the absence of Rangers, then he might be tempted to make one or two changes to his side. It could give Aberdeen a chance to spoil the party.
“The challenge for Aberdeen and the other teams is to try to get to a standard where they are capable of beating Celtic regularly, not just on a one-off occasion. If we could do that, then Scottish football would be back to having a competitive league again.”
Miller was in Glasgow yesterday, promoting ticket sales for Scotland’s friendly international against Australia at Easter Road on 15 August.