8 March ~ Rangers have 48 hours to find a buyer. Three weeks in, the major redundancies that characterise most administration processes have yet to happen at Ibrox. The question is whether this is saving or killing the club. It will be known by Saturday if the epic ongoing negotiations between administrators and players have precipitated a failure to complete this season's fixtures, accelerated a descent into liquidation or helped retain the best on-field assets just long enough to attract new ownership. As one current director runs around the tabloids screaming "liquidation", Rangers fans can only pray their players are playing hard-ball for the jersey as much as themselves.
Tuesday's announcement of personnel departures looked like being the first bone-deep bite of reality for the Rangers support. It turned out to be just a nick as two fringe players walked away from their contracts. On Wednesday, the club's second largest shareholder, Dave King, announced he'd be suing former owner Sir David Murray for hiding the true depth of the club's financial plight. In the same rambling statement King also slated current owner Craig Whyte. As he's worked closely with both men, this seemed like a pathetic attempt by King to improve his profile with all factions of the Rangers support. His declaration that liquidation was now inevitable at Ibrox gained his PR exercise the publicity it needed but not the credibility. Attention quickly returned to the lockdown at the Murray Park training facility.
The team have played three games since administration became official. In probably their best ever display at Inverness, three unanswered goals in the first half-hour led to a powerful 4-1 victory. Significantly, though, both games at a packed Ibrox have seen performances high on effort and passion but low on composure and stamina. Kilmarnock secured their first home and away league double over Rangers in half a century. Hearts became the first side since the 1990s to overturn a half-time Rangers lead in a league match. These games had the strange air of title-winning parties gone flat. Financial meltdown has pushed the Rangers support to new levels of defiant positivity; the players, however, were clearly men who had lost their focus and were operating on raw emotion alone.
The defiance in the stands looks like it will outlast the end of the season. But administrators Duff and Phelps made it clear last week that the full rota of playing staff could not. It was rumoured as many as 11 might have to go. To continue operating, Rangers need to cut costs by £1 million per month. Manager Ally McCoist refused to comment on reports he had waived his wages for the rest of 2011-12. Former Scotland international Lee McCulloch is said to have done likewise. This was a theme which actually began in January when 41-year-old club captain Davie Weir left purely in order to get himself off the wage bill and "free up some funds for the manager" when he had more than earned the right to see out his contract. The esprit de corps that characterised the three title wins and UEFA Cup final appearance of the last four years seemed to continue on Tuesday when Gregg Wylde left the club voluntarily.
Anyone who has seen the Scotland Under-21 winger visibly wilt as the Ibrox crowd bays at a misplaced cross would completely believe his claim he'd been unable to sleep for days, worrying about "people like the kitchen staff" who may lose their job if the club goes under. Swedish Under-21 international Mervan Celik only arrived in January and no one blames him for joining Wylde in departing Ibrox of his own free will. Through PFA Scotland, the other players have been negotiating a way to stay at the club on the cheap in order to keep it running, keep it employing the non-playing staff and maintain its base worth to potential buyers.
Structured wage deferrals – 75 per cent for the top earners, 50 per cent for middle-ranking players and 25 per cent for the youths – were rejected by the administrators because this backdates debt rather than getting it off the books altogether. Both parties then agreed on wage cuts along the same lines. But the romantic notion of club loyalty trumping financial hardship was dealt the real blow, unsurprisingly, when the agents got involved. By Wednesday, personal representatives were seeking their clients' right to exit their reduced contracts whenever it suited them and for free. Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis, reportedly on £28,000 per week, and Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor would be of serious interest to any English Premier League club. Defender Dorin Goian played in Serie A last season. These players also want assurances their huge wage cuts will indeed save the club.
Officially, bids for the club must be registered by March 16 but if a serious offer is not received by this Friday, Duff and Phelps have promised major redundancies among the top earners lest the club becomes too skint to fulfil its remaining fixtures this season. A potential tax bill of anything up to £75m infamously hangs over the club. It has also emerged Rangers will fail to exit administration by the end of the month, automatically disqualifying them from Europe next season. Furthermore the SPL will apply points sanctions to the club if it is still in administration at the start of next season and, should liquidation become a reality, any re-formed Rangers allowed back into the SPL would also start with a heavy points handicap. This is providing a new SPL investigation into alleged "off the books" payments made to Rangers players after 1998 does not result in the club being expelled altogether.
If a decimated, inexperienced playing squad is added to this list of fundamental demerits, it's difficult to see how any prospective buyer – be it Sale Sharks Rugby Club owner Brian Kennedy or a consortium under former Ibrox director Paul Murray – could justify the outlay. So if they want to own Rangers FC, rather than Govan Athletic 2012, new investors had better move fast. Alex Anderson