So the transfer window is closed and attention turns from potential targets. But life looks very different from Glasgow’s two main clubs right now. To clarify, I mean Celtic and Rangers, although we may soon be talking of Celtic and Patrick Thistle under that heading.
It was a decent window for Celtic. Despite the media’s best attempts to talk up most of the first team regulars leaving, no one was actually sold. The only players to leave were youngsters seeking playing time through loan deals.
And several new players joined the club. The collection of international full backs was augmented with the signing of Sweden’s Mikael Lustig from Rosenborg, while youngster Andre Blackman is also on board.
African midfielder Rabiu Ibrahim won a deal after impressing in a trial, while Polish international striker Pawel Brozak has come in on loan for the remainder of the season, with an eye on a permanent deal if all goes well. Efrain Juarez and Morten Rasmussen also returned to Paradise after loan spells in Spain and Turkey, respectively.
Another Pole, centre half Jaroslaw Fojut, signed a pre-contract deal and will join Neil Lennon’s squad in the summer.
Competition for places is fierce these days with a large number of internationals at the manager’s disposal. But those are the type of problems that managers like to have.
Meanwhile over on the south side of the city, young Swede Mervan Celik was the only addition to Ally McCoist’s squad. A bewildering array of triallists found themselves at Murray Park for short periods before being told that there was actually no money to sign them. Indeed, Rangers suffered the indignity of seeing Honduran international Jorge Claros depart as they were unable to meet even his relatively modest wage demands and then sign for eleventh placed Hibs
A string of players left the club, including club captain David Weir and supposed wunderkid John Fleck, who is on loan at Blackpool. But the biggest loss will be top scorer Nikica Jelavic, now an Everton player. The fee was a modest £5M, far less than the reported bid from an unnamed club turned down in the summer and the talked of £10M valuation that Rangers placed on the player.
Still, when you are known to be desperate for money, what buyer is going to pay over the odds?
With a weakened squad, manager McCoist approached chairman Craig Whyte/ White for some spending money but was unceremoniously dismissed empty handed. Clutching a scrap of paper outlining the remainder of his squad the former Question Of Sport captain drove away from Ibrox surely contemplating his future in the job. I’m certain he would rather be up against John Parrot right now.
So where does this leave Rangers?
Well, any team that has a strike force of Kyle Lafferty and David Healy as its first choice must be in trouble.
And off the park things are looking increasingly bleak for Chairman Whyte and co – and that’s before a likely £49,000,000 bill from the tax tribunal lands on the doorstep. Even the Daily Record is now picking up on information that has been around for months and writing articles about what a perilous state the club is in.
With the accounts yet to be signed off by an auditor a month after they should have been submitted to Companies House and no AGM yet called, it looks rather like Mr Whyte has something to hide. Could it be to do with how he managed to find the money to pay off the bank the £18M that the club owed when he bought it?
For the avoidance of doubt, there are two main reasons why the Rangers finances make those of Greece look healthy right now.
Firstly, years of overspending under Sir David Murray’s ownership.
Secondly, years of not paying their taxes under Sir David Murray’s ownership.
And it must be remembered that these factors gave the club an unwarranted, indeed illegal, sporting advantage. That’s why they could afford to buy the players that they brought in and pay wages that no other club could match.
It is clear that Murray was eventually forced to sell Rangers for the princely sum of £1 after being unable to find a buyer any other way. The bank, HBOS, had run out of patience and wanted their money back. And, probably correctly from their point of view, they didn’t give a damn who or where it came from. They knew Murray couldn’t come up with it so he was told to find someone, anyone, else who could.
Enter Craig Whyte. Alleged millionaire, or is it billionaire? Man of several names and many companies. Well known to the authorities and having recently finished a ban on being a company director as a result of previous misdemeanours. The saviour, who promised to wipe out the debt (which he didn’t as it is now owed to his company) and to invest in the club. Hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it?
Whyte’s method of running things is complex and although much has been brought to light, no one really knows the full story. I’m not altogether certain I follow all of the financial arrangements that make up this particular house of cards. But I know enough to see that the whole damn thing is going to blow away and pretty soon too.
The ongoing tax case regarding the non payment of tax and NI in relation to past players and other employees was always the elephant in the room. The unmentioned issue that shrouded the club’s future at the time of the takeover. But delays in the case mean that no decision has yet been announced, and that has caused Whyte difficulties as he tries to keep the club solvent in the short term.
Plan A was Champions League qualification. That would have given enough of a cash injection to get through to the end of the tax case. Plan B was Europa League qualification. Less income but it would probably still be OK. And if those both failed? Well, surely Ally couldn’t screw up that badly could he?
Plan C? There was no plan C.
No bank or other financial institution will now extend the club any credit. Whyte now been forced into the effective mortgaging of future season ticket sales as a means of raising money to pay the basic bills. And this gives a clear indication of the short term nature of Craig Whyte’s thinking. Money in now, no money in future seasons.
The funding of the Glazers’ purchase of Manchester United has been mentioned as a comparison. But that is the ultimate chalk and cheese situation. A little grain of chalk compared with the annual cheese production of France actually.
Manchester United makes massive profits every year and can therefore sustain making large payments annually. Rangers quite simply doesn’t and can’t. By Craig Whyte’s own admission there is a shortfall of £10 million between annual income and expenditure right now.
Whyte’s business model is the equivalent of borrowing half of the next three years’ salary from Wonga.com just to pay off some of your debts after the bank has cut up your credit card. You have money today of course. But what about future bills? And how do you pay back that loan – which has a dirty great chunk of interest added on?
Let’s be honest here. Craig Whyte has never been interested in running a football club.
He is doing exactly what he has done in the past. He has identified an ailing company. He has bought it at knock down price. He will wait until the moment when he can sell the assets and make a profit. And then he will walk away.
If by some fluke of the legal system the tax case is won, he will sell the club. And if, as is more likely, it is lost he will be paid back his £18 million plus several million more in fees for managing the club. It will be liquidated and he will walk away with a profit.
Rangers as a business is long past the point of no return. There is no way out from under the debts caused by largely by Murray but added to by Whyte. It’s as simple as that.
Rangers Football Club is a dead man walking, just waiting to be put out of its misery.
What happens after that finally happens is a complex discussion all of its own. I’ve always argued that some sort of new club would emerge from the ashes, and still think that is the most likely scenario. I’ll return to how and when that is likely to happen, and who might be running things, another day.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy with those low paid employees of the club who will in all likelihood lose their jobs. The office staff, those who maintain the pitch and so on.
But that’s as far as my sympathy extends. I’m with the journalist Ian Archer, who as far back as the 1970s described Rangers perfectly:
“This has to be said about Rangers, as a Scottish Football club they are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.