It seems that whenever I write an article for this site it’s about one of two things; Scottish football’s decline or uprising. No prizes for guessing which one this falls under, with the issues surrounding that of Rangers dominating the back pages north of the border for most of the past few weeks.
We’ve known for quite a while that there’s no money to spend. Rangers have failed to buy anyone for around eighteen months despite allowing several first-teamers and fringe players leave during that same period. Their only signing of the summer was the loan deal for Jerome Rothen from Paris St. Germain. It didn’t exactly get the blood pumping. Almost envious eyes were cast across the city at Celtic who were busy spending £3.8million on Marc-Antoine Fortuné and more on others in their attempt to reclaim the SPL title, theirs for three years running before relinquishing it to Rangers last season.
But adding to the doom and gloom was the announcement that chairman Sir David Murray was stepping down and putting the club up for sale. With debts close to £30million and the club now effectively controlled by Lloyds bank. It’s a far cry from the heydays of the 1990s, a decade in which Rangers matched Celtic’s record nine-in-a-row titles, and also saw now Ibrox legends Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and Jorg Albertz amongst others plying their trade at the club.
The £12million outlay on Tore Andre Flo, a Scottish transfer record unlikely to ever be beaten marked Rangers’ highest spending spree at the turn of the century, but almost ten years on, the club is suffering from chasing that elusive dream of European glory. The best the club managed was a UEFA Cup final appearance in 2008, where they were comprehensively beaten by Zenit St. Petersburg and were widely criticised by opposing managers during that run for their negative, overly defensive football.
Essentially Rangers have spent big only to go backwards. They are no bigger a club now than they were some ten or fifteen years ago. And the current squad, with some notable exceptions lacks quality to compete with Europe’s elite. Last week’s 4-0 defeat to Unirea Urziceni, the bottom seeds in their Champions’ League group, saw them sit bottom of the group with a sole point earned in their draw away to Stuttgart. Whilst qualification from the group is far from impossible, it’s most certainly a bad start.
Their domestic domination is coming under question too. Rangers have won just five of their first nine games of the season, and ahead of Sunday’s game against Dundee United, they sit third in the table, one point behind Hibernian and four behind Celtic, although both sides have played one more game.
This slump in form has seen increased pressure on manager Walter Smith, whose current deal expires in January, and with no money seemingly available, a new deal for him and assistant Ally McCoist does not appear to be on the table. Smith to his credit has offered to continue working after his contract has expired until something can be worked out between Murray and any potential buyers, but against the backdrop of constant uncertainty it’s clear that the pressure on the management team will continue to grow.
Ultimately the hardest hit are the fans though, who have to watch their team continue to perform badly, whilst not knowing who is running the club or who may end up owning the club should a buyer be found.
Clinching the SPL title last June – never mind the halcyon days of the nine-in-a-row era – must seem like a very long time ago.