Sunday, 11 January 2009

Deep pockets' policy delivers just debt and disappointment for spendthrift Ibrox club


Deep pockets' policy delivers just debt and disappointment for spendthrift Ibrox club

THE PARLOUS position in which Rangers now find themselves completely flies in the face of conventional football wisdom. And the warning issued to Celtic by owner David Murray, on his 10th anniversary in charge a decade ago, that his rivals had better have "deep pockets" to face down the challenge he was setting by allowing manager Dick Advocaat to splurge ridiculous sums on players, now rings hollowly.
Ultimately, Celtic's pockets have required only to be half as deep because they have tended to spend twice as wisely. Their capacity for deriving mighty more bang for their buck is what underpins the Ibrox club's current whimpering.

Since 1997 alone, David Murray has overseen £120m-worth of additional investment into the Ibrox club. Subsequent to Fergus McCann's 1994 Celtic takeover, the comparative figure across the city is £59.5m. Moreover, in 2000 Rangers pocketed £25m from a partnership with NTL that Celtic unwisely rejected in believing it did not represent good value... only for the company to later merge with rival Telewest. The Ibrox club have given the lie to the theory that the team writing the most eye-watering cheques in any environment will enjoy the most eye-popping success.

In reality, Rangers should have made themselves untouchable when ENIC bought a 25% stake in their club for £40m in 1997, as they homed in on a ninth straight championship success. That humungous advantage was essentially squandered when, in his treble-bagging first season of 1998-99, Advoccat was responsible for a £32m gross outlay on transfers – then a record for a British club across a single season.

By late 2000 – helped by the potty purchase of Tore Andre Flo for £12m – the Dutchman had been responsible for incoming transfers totalling almost £60m. Rangers' finances have never properly recovered. In order to address liabilities that rose to £51m from £9.5m across 1999-2000 alone, Murray launched a rights issue. Almost £10m of his cash and £20m from South African businessman Dave King only temporarily attacked the debt mountain. By 2004 this was K2-sized at £74m, necessitating a further share issue that raised £51.5m, of which £50m came from Murray's own businesses.

"It now means that we are in a position where we do not need to sell players. Rangers can now look forward to a bright future," Murray said at the time. It hasn't arrived, with Celtic making many more of their pennies count. McCann rebuilt the club's ground and the team's fortunes with an initial £12m investment, supplemented by a £10m share issue. Since then, a 2001 rights issue to the tune of £22.5m – when Celtic's debt had risen to £30m – and another worth £15m in 2005, both underwritten by major shareholder Dermot Desmond, have been sufficient to manoeuvre the club into a position of dominance. It is one wherein their debt is now only £3.5m and they are enjoying their longest run of title success in three decades; an impressive haul of six championship wins in eight years.

The contrast with Rangers' current predicament is remarkable. It damns Murray's fiscal acumen that Celtic, who admittedly have an advantage with a stadium capacity 10,000 greater than Ibrox, have developed a sustainable business model that allows them to post profits with a £40m wage bill. For this week Murray admitted that Rangers would have to cut their salary costs to around the £25m mark to drive down debt heading towards £30m. For the third time since 1999.

In recent years, the Ibrox club's owner attracted unfair criticism for expressing a conversion to prudence and imposing swingeing cutbacks. The downsizing was best illustrated by the fact Alex McLeish could boast an £11m surplus in transfer dealings across his four-and-a-half years in charge that ended in the summer 2006.

If only Murray had held true to this course in the absence of any suitable buyer for a concern he would be happy to see going. Following the failed Paul Le Guen experiment, however, he wasn't able to resist indulging Walter Smith during the past two close seasons. The dire consequences are that once more Rangers require to become financial bulimics. Having gorged themselves on £18m-worth of signings in the summer, they must now spew out a player to raise £3m in this window.

Most unforgivable of all is that this should have been entirely unnecessary. After a gaping hole in their funding was created when they lost out on the £10m pot of Champions League lolly through their Kaunas folly, it ought to have been filled with the £7.8m sale of Carlos Cuellar to Aston Villa. Instead, this cash was immediately lavished on, essentially, unaffordable moves for Pedro Mendes, Maurice Edu and Steven Davis.

Six years ago, Murray's arch-critic and former Ibrox club director Hugh Adam ventured that the club's "impresario" owner might in future be remembered "as actually having held Rangers back". The prediction nows seems prophetic. In the 1990s, the Ibrox club enjoyed the best trophy-snaring decade of their history. Should Celtic claim even just one of the three pieces of silverware to be decided in the next six months, this decade will represent the same to them. If that happens, Murray's role in both will be deemed pivotal.

Rangers' most expensive signings took place during the Dick Advocaat era, notably when the club smashed the Scottish record to sign Tore Andre Flo, above, for £12m. The club's biggest signings are:


Nov 2000: Tore Andre Flo (from Chelsea) £12m

Aug 2001: Michael Ball (from Everton) £6.5m

July 2002: Mikel Arteta (from Barcelona) £5.8m

July 1998: Andrei Kanchelskis (from Fiorentina) £5.5m

July 1998: Arthur Numan (from PSV Eindhoven) £5m

July 1998: Gio van Bronckhorst (from Feyenoord) £5m

August 2000: Ronald de Boer (from Barcelona) £4.5m

Jan 2005: Barry Ferguson (from Blackburn) £4.5m

July 1995: Paul Gascoigne (from Lazio) £4.3m

July 1998: Gabriel Amato (from Real Mallorca) £4.2m

(The Scotsman)


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