25 April 2013

Going in the Wrong Direction

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

The Rangers Football Club and its supporters certainly don’t have their troubles to seek as our institution has become embroiled in boardroom battles and general off-field chaos, so much so that humiliating defeats to the likes of Peterhead are all too quickly forgotten. Each passing day seems to bring with it some form of new revelation and it has become increasingly wearying for the loyal fans who simply want to see some stability and normality return to the Club.

Charles Green has resigned and is now looking to sell his shares. Craig Whyte is back on the scene and will apparently be instigating legal action against Green, Ahmad and is looking to lay claim to the Club’s assets. There is also an ongoing internal investigation into the links between the aforementioned people, a story which simply refuses to go away. Furthermore we’ve then had persistent rumours of rifts in the boardroom and the search for a new CEO to contend with now that Mather has eventually been appointed on an interim basis. And last night of course there were reports on TRS and here on CRO that they believe our Commercial Director has been guilty of leaking sensitive information onto fans’ forums. All this before you even consider the woeful underperformance of our first-team this season.

Welcome to Rangers. We’re a Club at war with itself, enveloped by in-fighting and conflicts of interest. There is no leadership, no clear direction and no sense of a common goal. There has been talk of “cleansing” being required and quite frankly we could do worse than clearing the whole place out from top to bottom and starting from scratch.

Now, I cannot confess to having any inside information on the unsettling reports about our business behind the scenes. There is too much uncertainty, conjecture and hearsay to fully be able to comment on matters, other than to say it appears to be one great shambolic mess. I’ll therefore attempt to stay clear of those murky waters for now and concentrate on matters which are a little bit more transparent and obvious to us fans on the outside: our business model and the performance of our team.

Rangers, as has been well publicised, currently operate with the second-highest wage budget in the country despite playing in the fourth-tier against part-time opponents. We have excellent training facilities in the shape of Murray Park and play in front of huge crowds every second week at Ibrox. There is no reason for some of the turgid, dire nonsense that we’ve been served up for large spells of this season and anyone who thinks otherwise is quite frankly kidding themselves.

Ally McCoist and his squad have of course managed to win the Third Division by a considerable distance, although certainly not in considerable style. The football has in fact regressed from what we witnessed at the outset of the campaign and the stubborn deployment of only one striker has left supporters scratching their heads and growing in frustration. There is certainly still time to build and move forward however defeats to Inverness and Dundee United highlight just how far off we are from competing at the top level again, even just in Scotland. More worryingly, we appear to be making no progress and, if anything, are moving ever so slowly in the wrong direction.

The management staff have come under considerable criticism this season, and rightly so in my opinion. For starters our team don’t even look fit, which is quite an achievement when playing against opponents who have day-jobs and can only train a couple of times per week. In addition there is a distinct lack of organisation, epitomised by our set-pieces, both defending and attacking. There is also no hunger, no desire and a terrible lack in motivation on display, something which should never be the case when representing Rangers. When the basics are so badly wrong, it is no wonder that our team hasn’t performed and that fans have become fed up with the dross being served up each week.

Many people believe that Rangers simply cannot move forward when such fundamental problems appear to lie with our management and coaching staff. The evidence to the contrary is certainly not very prominent and it would appear that a growing number are now realising, or at least believing, that Ally simply isn’t the right man for the job. It saddens me to say it, but that’s my conclusion too.

Our problems however aren’t just consigned to the pitch. Despite Craig Mather claiming yesterday that the Club is in “fantastic shape financially”, there are growing concerns about our business model and its sustainability. Our fourth-tier status of course brings with it several problems and severely restricts our revenue streams, of that there is no doubt. That should therefore place the focus of our attention on our cost-structure and the need to be prudent when spending money, something I’m not sure we’ve managed successfully.

Let’s take a look at the Interim Results to 31 December 2012. One of the ‘highlights’ listed is that a “sustainable long-term structure is now in place”. That all sounds very positive but when you look at the Profit & Loss Account you’d be forgiven for wondering quite how a £7M operating loss fits in with that statement. Our expenditure is 174% of our current income, something which simply cannot continue for any length of time. We do of course have the benefit of carrying no debt and having money in the bank - £21.2M at that point – but the other issues require to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The Initial Public Offering of course was a huge success, raising £22.5M (before expenses) despite playing in the Third Division. That has provided a solid foundation on which to expand upon however we seem to be chipping away at that base rather than building upon it. Some of the money was spent on the acquisitions of Edmiston House and the Albion Car Park, a total of £2.4M to be precise. More will be invested into renovating the stadium and the purchase of the new screens which are currently being installed at Ibrox. The bigger worry however has to be that our cash reserves are being depleted to cover the running costs of the business, something which, in contrast to the ‘highlight’ in the accounts, is simply not sustainable.

My previous article here on Queen of the South should rather have put things into perspective. The Doonhamers recently clinched the Second Division title in some considerable style despite having income that is less than the salary of just one of our players. In fact, our boardroom alone runs on a budget which is 300% larger than their club’s entire turnover. We do unfortunately have a large cost-base caused by Murray Park and such likes however our wage budget in particular is absolutely obscene at this level and is putting the entire business model at risk.

We currently have players on as much as £18,000 and £16,000 per week. Even our goalkeeper has been paid in the region of £11,000 per week, something which is frankly ridiculous under the circumstances. Then of course you have the likes of Black & Co who are commanding a healthy wage, and incidentally offering very little in return. It all adds up and our wage bill is probably more than double, if not more, than what it should be this season. And let’s not forget that Goian and Bocanegra are due to return in the summer and, unless we can shift them on, that will do very little to aid our cause. In fact, I’d  go as far as to suggest there has to be an almost total clearout in the summer if we are to balance the books anytime soon.

What concerns me is that we’ve already heard our manager talking about bringing more players in, as many as ten, for next season. Put simply, that is completely unnecessary and won’t solve the problems of substandard coaching and inept management. If Ally really believes he needs that many additions to win the Second Division then perhaps it would be best for him to step down and allow somebody else to come in and take charge. Perhaps you should concentrate on getting the very basics right first, Ally. Just a thought.

It appears to me that considerable changes are required at the Club if we are to rescue our business model and football performance from the downward spiral which they are currently taking. Investment has to be made in key areas such as scouting and talent identification and cuts have to be made in our playing budget and the salaries of our directors and key employees. It is all about finding the correct balance and I certainly believe that can and should be achievable with the right people at the helm.

With all the uncertainty that currently surrounds Rangers, including the potential for new owners at some point, it may well be that such key areas get ignored while the boardroom battles continue and while negativity dominates the headlines. There is certainly a considerable turnaround still required at our Club but someone has to step forward, be open and honest about it and begin to address the obvious issues. Until that happens, we’ll continue to head in the direction of trouble.

Mr Mather is the man currently running the show on a daily basis. If he wants the job permanently, perhaps he should make the brave and bold decisions that are seemingly required and tell the fans exactly what is going on. Over to you, Craig.