Long-term player David Murray in no hurry to offload prized asset so close to his heart

WHEN Rangers set about defending their title next season, they could do worse than take a lesson from the club's owner on how to retain a prized possession.

There have been enough hints in the past seven months to suggest that Sir David Murray was, after all, far from hellbent on allowing Rangers to pass out of his hands into the clutches of those he deemed less than suitable.

The very fact the process was taking so long was one fairly obvious indicator. A more subtle pointer was his reported anger at suggestions last week that a deal with a group led by long-time suitor Andrew Ellis had been completed, which would see him gain just over half the 6 million sum he paid for Rangers in 1989. One newspaper report was detailed enough to talk of this happening by noon last Friday. Murray, who was in Sheffield on other business last week when he heard of this apparent deadline, had, according to one source, "only just stopped laughing by then".

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Murray is a survivor, for sure. But he is also careful with what he owns. He is treating Rangers like the bottles of fine wine that are maturing in one of his cellars in Burgundy. There is no need to rush anything. The readiness is all. With a love of the cut and thrust of the business world, he is more than prepared to get his hands dirty again. Indeed, it was only ever a possibility that he would sell Rangers. It was one that, in the present financial climate, had to be considered slender indeed. And given Murray's history with Rangers, given his emotional ties, the possibility was reduced to a sliver. All down the line there have been clues that Rangers would begin next season with not just Walter Smith in charge, but also Murray in as firm control as ever.

We only need to refer back to what was said in October last year, when the club was formally placed on the market. "It is not necessarily about price, but the new owner having the capability to take the club forward that remains essential," formed part of the statement on the club's official website. Even yesterday's statement, made to the Stock Exchange at 5.30pm, included a reminder of this salient fact: the club was for sale, but this didn't mean there would necessarily be a transaction to follow.

Indeed, MIH (Murray International Holdings] had advised that this "may or may not lead to it disposing of some or all of its majority share in the club to a third party". In addition, Murray's original statement to the board in October had emphasised that MIH would only consider options to sell, should they emerge.

It's clear Murray did mean to sell Rangers. But, as he emphasised again and again, both in private and in public, there was no-one out there rushing to take the form of a white knight, no Dubai property magnates willing to plough millions into the club. And even had there been, Murray had outlined from the start that he had to be assured such characters had Rangers' best interests at heart.

In reality, the only ones showing interest were limping like mangy dogs towards Ibrox. The sniffing around had to stop eventually. Murray put an end to it last night, although, again, the wording has to be acknowledged. MIH, the statement said, is no longer "actively marketing its controlling stake in the club for sale", but Murray will remain open to offers. In effect, little has changed, except for Ellis' removal from the equation.

While, for some, the announcement made to the Stock Exchange last week on behalf of Ellis' company RFC Holdings – saying only that the company was in "advanced negotiations" to buy a controlling interest in Rangers – offered an impression of something about to happen in terms of a buy-out, others were right to interpret it as little more than a death rattle on the part of the London-based property dealer.

There is a difference between being diligent and being dilatory. Ellis, as the announcement made clear last week, was not even at the stage of making a formal offer, after months of apparent courtship. Had he been trying to buy a house he would have been kicked into touch long ago by the frustrated selling party.

The surprise is that anybody could be surprised by the turn of events last night, given Murray's record. He has a talent for rejuvenation and has stormed back into the fray before. In August 2004, on the back of some worrying financial figures, Murray returned to Ibrox as chairman, having two years earlier stepped down. He increased his share-holding from 65 per cent to 86 per cent, and was re-installed as chairman.

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The Rangers Supporters Trust gave a cautious response to this news then. The Ibrox supporters might be equally underwhelmed this time around. But no-one can deny Murray is a battler, nor that he is unconcerned about the future of Rangers. The club push on with him very much on board – as champions, it must be recalled. Nor has Murray lost his taste for the invigorating scent of success.


26 Aug 2009: Sir David Murray announces he is to step down as Rangers chairman and board member.

25 Oct: Rangers confirm they have received "tentative enquiries" about the sale of the club but no formal offers.

26 Oct: Lloyds Bank deny they are running Rangers.

12 Nov: Rangers annual report shows their debts have risen 10m to 31m.

6 Mar 2010: Rangers confirm Murray is "considering options" regarding his shareholding following reports a consortium headed by London-based property developer Andrew Ellis is preparing a takeover offer.

8 Mar: Rangers confirm Murray is in takeover talks with "certain interested parties", including Ellis, that "may lead to an offer or offers for the entire issued share capital of the club".

3 May: Ellis claims that if his reported takeover bid of 33million goes through, he will give Smith a new contract and offer the role of life president to Murray.

25 May: Murray and Ellis meet – and later the same day the club announces it has agreed a new business plan with the bank.

15 June: Taken off market.