Whittaker latest Hibs player to head west after £2m move to Rangers
STEVEN Whittaker yesterday became the seventh player to leave Hibs for the Old Firm in the past two years when he joined Rangers for 2million. The 23-year-old has signed a five-year contract at Ibrox where he rejoins his former Easter Road team-mates Kevin Thomson and Ian Murray.
The recruitment of Whittaker takes Rangers manager Walter Smith's summer spending to almost 7.5million, with transfer fees also having been paid out for DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Cuellar and Lee McCulloch.
Whittaker passed a medical at Murray Park yesterday but will have to wait to make his first-team debut for his new club. The right-back, who can also play in midfield, has a one-match SPL suspension to serve from last season and is therefore ineligible for Rangers' trip to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday.
He also missed the UEFA signing deadline for the second qualifying round of the Champions League, so cannot feature in next Tuesday's second leg fixture against Zeta Golubovci in Montenegro.
Whittaker, however, is more than content to exercise a little more patience after securing a move he says he has craved for some time.
"I am delighted to be here at last," he told rangers.co.uk. "I have taken a step up by coming to Rangers and I want to progress as much as possible here. I was more than happy to commit myself to the club for such a long term contract and I think I can achieve everything I want to here. It didn't take too much for me to make my choice. Everyone wants to play on this side of the city, it's a great club and I am so happy to be here."
The departure of Whittaker repeats a familiar scenario for Hibs supporters who have seen a steady stream of their club's most highly regarded players make the move to Glasgow over the past two years. In addition to the trio now at Ibrox, Celtic have signed Derek Riordan, Gary Caldwell, Scott Brown and Chris Killen in the same period.
Since John Collins became Hibs manager at Hibs in October, the turnover in personnel at the club has been especially dramatic, with Whittaker becoming the 12th player to leave. Around 9million has now been made from the sales of Whittaker, Thomson, Brown, Ivan Sproule and Shelton Martis, while Simon Brown, Stephen Glass, Killen, Jamie McCluskey, Sam Morrow, Michael Stewart and Jay Shields have either been released or left under freedom of contract.
So far, Hibs have yet to pay a transfer fee for any of the players recruited by Collins to reinforce his squad. The manager had repeatedly denied that Whittaker would be the latest first team regular to be sold, most recently when Cameroon full-back Thierry Gatheussi was signed on a free transfer. Hibs fans may now fear that popular left-back David Murphy, the subject of similar denials by Collins, will be the next to be sold before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
In a statement on the Hibs website yesterday, Collins insisted the club were left with no choice but to sell Whittaker and expressed his contentment that the money raised in the transfer market in recent times has funded the planned 4 million training complex at East Mains and helped reduce their debt.
"We were not looking to sell Steven but have now been offered what I believe is a good fee for a player who has been a great servant to this club," said Collins. "He has been a model professional who has given everything.
"As often happens in football, he has been made an offer that will likely set him and his family up for the rest of his life. He was at the top of our wage scale and there was no way we could match the type of offer he has been made. We wish him all the best.
"We have, I believe, an excellent replacement for Steven in Kevin McCann, as well as Thierry Gatheussi who can also play that position.
"We have seen a number of players leave the club over the last nine months or so, but I'm pleased to note the substantial reduction in Hibernian's debt with our new training centre paid for and I'm sure everyone will agree that this is a fantastic position for the club to be in."
Whittaker is Rangers' ninth summer signing and they are hopeful French striker Daniel Cousin will be secured from Lens as their tenth within the next few days.
It is also understood that a change in the Ibrox club's backroom staff is imminent with Jim Stewart poised to leave Hearts and become the new goalkeeping coach at Rangers. Stewart, who played for Rangers, has been mentor to Hearts captain Craig Gordon and previously worked with Walter Smith as part of the Scotland international backroom team.