SPL Champions, guaranteed access to the group stages of the Champions League and a minimum £15m windfall from the most lucrative competition in sport, Rangers fans should be swooning at the season ahead. However apathy seems to be the watch word at Ibrox closely followed by concern and fear. Rangers’ championship win much like Celtic’s the previous season may only have served to paper over the cracks of much deeper problems.
While Celtic have hardly been efficient in getting their plans in place for the new season they have a new manager and shown with the signing of Marc Antoine Fortune they are willing to dig a little deeper to reclaim the SPL Trophy. Rangers on the other hand have been unnervingly quiet and there is a growing concern that the biscuit tin may have relocated to the Govan area of Scotland’s biggest city.
Conspicuous by his absence once again is the chairman Sir David Murray. For a Rangers fan to say that Murray has not been good for the club would be reactionary at best, and ignorant at worse, however in the past couple of seasons something has become more and more apparent; Murray and Rangers have reached the end of the road. The chairman has made no secret of the fact that he is willing to sell to the right buyer, someone he believes that can take the club forward. The question is though has anybody actually came close to making an offer for the club good or bad, and if they did would Murray be on the first flight to Monaco?
Murray the supporter should not be held accountable for the state of the team on the pitch, he allowed his managers to spend his money like it was going out of fashion. But now past excesses from Walter Smith and Dick Advocaat have left a lasting imprint on the Ibrox balance sheet and if Murray could go back in time and take it back he probably would. He would never have had to underwrite a massive share scheme to help clear the clubs debts and he would never have to hear the name Tore Andre Flo without breaking out in a cold sweat. Money has never been the issue for Murray and fans of the current Rangers team should be reminded that he has ploughed hundreds of millions into the club almost of all of which he will never see again.
No, Murray’s problems at Rangers in recent years can be attributed to two things: blind loyalty and lack of commercial progression highlighted by Celtic’s continual quest to establish themselves as a global brand. In recent years Celtic has systematically trekked the globe. Japan, Poland and even China have all succumbed to the Hoops tried and tested formula. Buy a fan favourite, make sure you go on tour to their homeland endearing yourselves to their fellow countrymen and shift a few thousand shirts on your way, if you’re lucky the player may even turn out to be a potent member of your squad. At present they are touring Down Under before taking part in the Wembley Cup against teams from around the world. They spent their last pre-season in the States in an effort to ensure they have a foothold in as many lucrative markets as possible and Peter Lawwell and his team must be applauded for making these strides.
Celtic, in terms of global marketing, are light years ahead of their blue nosed rivals. A prime example is Koki Mizuno. Celtic were aware at the end of last season that Nakamura had a desire for one last big move before he returned to Yokohama, but instead of mourning the loss a key player to their team and in a commercial sense their biggest money spinner since Henrik Larsson they moved quickly. Mizuno was brought in early giving him a season to bed in and if he makes the grade then Celtic’s light in the land of the rising sun will burn as brightly as ever. I’m sure even Du Wei’s dreadful spell in Scotland seen them shift the green and white hoops in China.
These moves have been the kinds of calculated risk that Murray and his board have really failed to catch on to or, in the case of Northern Spirit, see through to any great degree. It would be interesting to see what kind of foothold Rangers could have established Down Under if they had stuck it out until the formation of the A-League. The problem Rangers now have is that they are now being left behind in Europe too, especially in the east were Celtic have sewn up the Polish and Czech markets and despite UEFA reservations seem bound to have formed a link in Hungary. Celtic have realised that they have to develop stars and sell them on for great profit, and while Rangers have Murray Park, Celtic now have Lennoxtown. If Rangers don’t start to develop more talent Murray Park will start to be perceived as a white elephant, a legacy with no remnants, because exceptional talents like John Fleck would of broke through into the first team anyway.
A lack of commerciality at Ibrox is a problem that should be addressed if anyone in the boardroom has any kind of business acumen. However at Ibrox there is an issue causing more concern to fans. It was described as blind loyalty earlier but perhaps is more akin to an old pals act. Murray seems to fear making the big calls at the right time something which his current manager Walter Smith can also be accused of. When Rangers lost the chance to win 10 in a row, it was clear that Smith was trying to give the old guard their final shot at glory. However many had past their prime the season before or had their eyes on new pastures. Instead of freshening up the squad for one last push he let the cracks turn into chasms in his ageing team and Celtic stopped the rot, is it about to happen again?
To many fans this year’s title win has the same feel to it. Smith is seemingly willing to give his old guard one last hurrah at the Champions League. Fans believe there are players at the club that are not ‘Rangers Class’, whatever that is, or simply should of retired many seasons ago. The squad is in desperate need of freshening up to combat a rejuvenated Celtic and the rigours of Champions League football. Murray and the board can argue that finances are tight but Rangers fans must be asking what if they had not qualified for the Champions League automatically. If that guaranteed £15m not been there would we be seeing a fire sale at Ibrox of an even greater degree than they are projecting just now?
It’s doubtful that the news Christian Dailly still fancies his chances of a new deal is sending shivers down the spine of attackers across Europe while Davie Weir has been offered a new deal and it looks like he is set for a first team role again next season. Weir has been an astute and solid signing but as last season went on his age and lack of pace were punished regularly, no more so when he gave away a last minute penalty which saw Inverness beat Rangers at Ibrox during the title run in. Then you have players such as Barry Ferguson, Alan McGregor and Lee McCulloch all have been told they can go if someone wants them. It seems that old boss Alex McLeish will take a punt on Fergie down south but McCulloch and McGregor seem set to start the season at Ibrox and if they are what role will they play? Can Rangers really afford to have another two Hemdani’s sitting in the stands picking up a free pay check for another season?
Walter Smith earned a reprieve thanks to his final day title win but many still believe he is not the right man for the job and are fearful of a Rangers embarrassment in Europe. Recently players have become like fashion accessories with them coming in like a new trend for a few games before being putting back in the Ibrox jewellery box. Charlie Adam, John Fleck, Aaron Niguez and Andrius Velicka have all been subject to Smiths penchant for pulling a player from the sidelines, some people would say that’s good management while others, perhaps rightfully, would say that it’s more of a hopeful stab in the dark.
At the end of the day if things aren’t going well this season will David Murray have the bottle to say goodbye to his old friend? He moved Advocaat upstairs, he waited till McLeish said he wanted to go and he let Le Guen get bullied out by a supposed Rangers legend. For all the money that Murray has ploughed into the club his bottle for the big decision or the bold statement has always been a matter for debate. He may feel he has reached the end of the line with The Teddy Bears but until that time it is his duty, and in his interest, to ensure that things do not continue to stagnate. He must seek out new investment and create new revenue streams. Rangers are on the bubble and if he can’t make them more attractive to prospective investors he could be stuck there for life and does anybody really want that?