There are two questions to be asked: When did Rangers’ troubles begin and where this sorry, embarrassing and, at times, laughable saga will end? Last things first.
Over the past two weeks, a new board led by Scot-born South African businessman Dave King have taken over the Scottish club. This is a good thing. Probably. Every one of the directors who presided over the worst period in this club’s history are gone. The supporters believe at last that their club, who were once one of Europe’s top spenders in terms of wages and transfers, is on its way back.
Ah, but this is Rangers, or ‘Sevco’ as those who would have you believe the club is now known as, a nickname for ‘The Rangers Football Club’ which came into being when the old club went into administration back in 2012. So nothing is ever that simple.
Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, retains 8.9 per cent of the club’s shares, and has full control of all retail stores. Oh, and he is owed anything up to £10m (Dh54m) depending on who you believe. Now his allies on the board have been kicked out, he will want paying.
Rangers’ judicial panel hearing over Mike Ashley’s influence at club has been moved to April 16 at request of club. Was due to be March 16.
— Grant Russell (@STVGrant) March 13, 2015
Rangers aren’t a very good football team. They lie third in the second tier of Scottish football. The term “the worst team in the club’s history” has been used time and again. Few argue. There is every chance they won’t win promotion this season.
The club don’t have the money to keep the lights on. There isn’t enough staff to service what remains a big operation. Ally McCoist is serving out the rest of his managerial contract on the golf course. His stand-in, Kenny McDowall, didn’t want to be there either and on Thursday was replaced by Stuart McCall, an ex-Rangers player, and a fine one, but an average manager.
With 11 games to go, McCall described his decision as a gamble, and this is coming from a man who was out of work. He said: “I’m not putting the boot into the players because they know it themselves but anyone who has watched Rangers for the last three or four months would say they have been struggling.
“But they wouldn’t be at Rangers if they weren’t good players. I would have signed most of these players but you need a different mentality to play for Rangers.”
That is where Rangers are. Let’s return to where they once were. Back when Rangers ruled Scottish football, under former chairman David Murray, they spent fortunes on players thanks in part to large loans from the Bank of Scotland, that they really couldn’t afford to pay back. Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, plus every half-decent Scottish player ended up at Ibrox on serious money.
When Dutchman Dick Advocaat became manager in 1998, the spending went through the roof. However, Ibrox was full every week and the TV deal wasn’t bad, but this tactic was never viable unless they did well in the Champions League, which they never did apart from in 1993. The gamble never paid off.
It became clear in around 2004 that things were going badly. Murray admitted they would need to reassess how the club was run. By 2009, Rangers owed between £25m and £30m (Dh135-Dh160m) to the Lloyds Banking Group who, according to then manager Walter Smith “were effectively running the club.”
During 2010/11 Rangers spent £27.7m (Dh150m) on wages with the bulk of that, some £21.5m (Dh116.4m), going on players and football management, while £6.2m (Dh33.6m) went on non-football related wages. But that was okay. Because almost 38,000 season tickets were sold, they played in the Champions League.
They then managed two home ties in the Europa League. Rangers also won the League and League Cup. So even with the debt piling up, they got away with it. Just.
But there was trouble in the background. The tax man (HMRC) began to show an interest in the way Rangers had been paying their players, through an employee benefit trust (EBT). The figure spoken about was £49m (Dh265m) plus interest and penalties. Trouble was brewing.
In 2011, former chairman Alistair Johnston admitted “the club may go out of business.” In May of that year, Murray sold his 85.3 per cent to Craig Whyte for £1. Whyte told the media, who swallowed his pitch, that he was a bonafide billionaire, a Scot who had made good in the markets. Except it was nonsense. Rangers needed money and he didn’t have it.
Whyte, who had forgotten to disclose he had been previously banned as a company director for seven years, pledged to pay off the bank debt and invest money in the squad and stadium, which was badly needed. So he borrowed £26.7m (Dh144.6m) against future season ticket sales from a company called Ticketus – and didn’t tell anyone.
It was a secret that did not remain a secret for long. In early 2012, Rangers were into administration, an embarrassment for the club. The supporters truly believed this was the end. It transpired that Whyte refused to remit the pay-as-you-earn tax deducted from his employees to HMRC. This was bad. Really bad.
Administration became liquidation when HMRC would not do a deal. Rangers were in debt to the tune of £134m (Dh725m) with no chance of paying off. So they ceased to be. “140 years of Rangers liquidated… after just 8 minutes of a meeting” ran the headline in the Glasgow Evening Times.
I desperately want to be wrong, but unless SPFL give us a free pass to SPL, I am starting to fear Rangers will be stuck here for years.
— Danny (@RossoneriBear) March 15, 2015
Depending on your point of view, either a new club was born or the old one got a new owner. Charles Green, an Englishman with no links to the club at all, was.
He was not universally popular from the start. Statements such as “my dream is to have a two-tier European competition with Rangers at the heart of it” made jaws drop. Had he not heard of the Champions League and Europa League?
He also made this speech after his club’s first game, a cup tie at Brechin City that had gone to extra-time. It’s a fair guess his boasts were not heard at the Nou Camp.
Having not been allowed back into the SPL – 10 out of the other 11 clubs voted against the proposal – they started again in the fourth tier. They won that league, albeit with a few bumps on the way, then were promoted unbeaten last term.
Over this time, Green moved on, the first tax case actually went in Rangers favour, their best result by far, but by this season Ashley had rolled his tanks on the the Ibrox lawns, sniffing out the chance of buying a big club on the cheap. He hasn’t gone away.
Rangers are third in the league and onto their third manager of the season. The club need money. The stadium, once arguably the finest in Britain, is crumbling. The new board (and Ashley) have work to do.
Rangers captain Lee McCulloch said: “I think it would be a wasted season if we don’t go up. It would go down as a massive failure. There is a lot of personal pride at stake for me. It’s not as if I’ve been going home and made a cup of tea and thought everything’s all right. It’s killing me inside to see Hearts so far clear in the league and we’re nowhere near them.
“Everything else seems to have been sorted out, so it’s basically up to us now to try and get a play-off place and see what happens.”
But everything else hasn’t been sorted out. Some £30m has been frittered away over the past two years, an astonishing sum. Ashley is still there and one more season out of the top tier could be…well your guess is as good as mine. This isn’t over. Not by a long way.
Manchester City’s defeat at Burnley on Saturday has left manager Manuel Pellegrini facing the prospect of a trophyless season at a club demanding success.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea now have a major advantage in the Premier League title race and City, who face Barcelona in the Champions League this week, have shown few signs of being able to turn around their current malaise.
Our #360debate today is: Is Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini finished?
Steve McKenlay, Editor, thinks YES
Manuel Pellegrini is a nice guy and therein lies the problem.
He was brought in as part of a new holistic approach after Roberto Mancini was shown the door, probably because he was too much of a maverick, went his own way too often, and was confrontational with some of his players in an attempt to keep them hungry and force them to operate outside of their comfort zone.
This style of management, whilst it can be effective, is also high risk especially with highly paid, big ego players who believe they have a right to play every week without having to prove anything to a manager who is constantly on their backs.
Mancini obviously overstepped the mark in the eyes of those players and the club’s owners got rid of him, despite the success he brought to the club.
Pellegrini is the antithesis of Mancini. Unlike most of the best managers in football, outwardly he never shows any real emotion. He seems gentle, understanding and is never visibly rattled, even in the face of ridiculously poor results like the defeat to Burnley.
He has a hangdog expression when his highly paid stars fail to deliver but there is a complete lack of real emotion on the touchline no matter how bad things get.
Ok, that’s his style but can you really imagine Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, or Diego Simeone sitting there quietly with a look of puzzlement? Of course not! They would be jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof trying to motivate some kind of positive reaction.
There is no question that some of his players only perform when it suits them and that is a disgrace but it seems to me that he is being run by them, rather than the other way around.
Kind of feel sorry for Kompany, he has been overrated but he is clearly better than his current form. But atm his every error is punished.
— Dezil Dez (@DezilDez) March 14, 2015
Dressing room rows between captain Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho and rumours of other unrest behind the scenes point to a lack of firm control.
His stubborn determination to stick with 4-4-2 was incredibly naive against Barcelona in the first-leg of their Champions League clash, and suggests he doesn’t have a Plan B.
Maybe the players have let him down and lack any real hunger but at the end of the day that’s down to him. No more Mr Nice guy. Bring on Simeone!
Alam Khan, Reporter, thinks NO
It would be far too predictable to blame Manuel Pellegrini for Manchester City’s current malaise.
A stubbornness to change from a 4-4-2 formation to a system that better suits his players, particularly Sergio Aguero and David Silva, has become a major bone of contention as they struggle to find form and winning results. But come on, who would have expected a virtual full-strength side to surrender so timidly against Burnley?
That expensively-assembled team at Turf Moor, the one that Pellegrini put his faith in, let him down. He will not say this publicly of course, but there is no doubt City are under-performing and underachieving.
It is not just about a fragile confidence or bad fortune. It is a scenario all too familiar at the Etihad. After Roberto Mancini led City to the title in 2012, he was left frustrated and forlorn when his players failed to follow that up in the following season.
There were similar questions then about their commitment and desire, but it was their manager who paid the price for an abrasive approach and, ultimately, failing to win a major trophy in that disappointing campaign.
With City now six points behind Chelsea and facing a massive challenge to overturn a 2-1 deficit in Barcelona to continue in the Champions League, they could well be trophyless too after last season’s title and League Cup win.
But it would be wrong to blame Pellegrini. His players keep saying they have the hunger for more success, that they have the quality and fear no one, but they have to prove that. Right now their performances are passionless and somewhat pitiful, and well below the standards they have set, and are expected by Pellegrini, the fans and even themselves.
Too many went missing at Burnley. Curiously, Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany – recalled after their dressing room row – were among the better performers. Under scrutiny, they did not hide. Others need to follow suit.
There needs to be change this summer, but it may well be among the playing personnel rather than the manager. They are fighting for their future and need to realise that before it is too late.
Chelsea missed the opportunity to go eight points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League by drawing 1-1 against Southampton in an entertaining game at Stamford Bridge where the officials’ decisions will once again be scrutinised.
Jose Mourinho’s men were looking to respond from their European exit by tightening their grip on the title after Manchester City’s loss at Burnley and went in front through Diego Costa’s first Premier League goal in almost two months. Dusan Tadic equalised after a contentious penalty, awarded for a foul by Nemanja Matic on the impressive Sadio Mane.
Replays showed Matic slid in from behind and made contact with the ball, but referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot and booked the Chelsea midfielder.
Chelsea, under pressure for much of the contest, finished on the attack, but Fraser Forster made fine saves from Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Cuadrado to earn Saints a point.
The Blues, who are six points clear at the top, still have a game in hand on City and remain firmly in control of their bid for a first Premier League title in five years.
Wayne Rooney was firmly in the spotlight as fourth placed Manchester United produced a rare heavyweight display in dispatching Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 to move within one point of third placed Arsenal.
Louis van Gaal’s side made the perfect start as they took the lead in the ninth minute when Marouane Fellaini, played in by Michael Carrick’s fine pass, kept his composure to beat Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with a low left-footed shot.
Carrick went from provider to scorer 10 minutes later when United’s former Tottenham midfielder looped a header past Lloris after Fellaini’s initial effort had only been half cleared.
Rooney seized an opportunity to poke fun at himself after he rampaged through the Tottenham defence to fire home following Nabil Bentaleb’s mistake.
With all eyes on him, Rooney celebrated by miming a series of punches and then falling onto his back as if knocked out.
Wayne Rooney makes it 3-0… What a celebration https://t.co/3V8jh8qTGa
— James (@James_Whu_) March 15, 2015
Elsewhere, Everton eased their relegation fears with a 3-0 stroll against Newcastle at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez’s team started the day only three points above the bottom three, but they went in front after 20 minutes when Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy scored his first goal of the season with a 20-yard drive that deceived Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Everton were on course to end a run of five league games without a win by the 56th minute when Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku drove home a penalty after Newcastle’s Yoan Gouffran brought down Aaron Lennon.
Newcastle’s forgettable afternoon got even worse moments later when defender Fabricio Coloccini was shown a straight red card for hacking down Lennon and Ross Barkley netted the third goal in stoppage-time.