Glasgow Rangers: The Five Men Who Killed Them

Daniel O'Connell@@DanielOConnel18Contributor IIIApril 28, 2012

Glasgow Rangers: The Five Men Who Killed Them

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    Glasgow Rangers FC was infamously described as, "the second most important institution in Scotland after the Church of Scotland," by former owner and Chairman Sir David Murray.

    Yet this famous old club today stands on the brink of oblivion. How exactly did this happen? Who were the five people most responsible for their demise? 

Craig Whyte

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    When Craig Whyte took control of Rangers in May last year, it was universally heralded as a bright new dawn for the cash-strapped club. It very quickly became apparent to all but the most wilfully ignorant Rangers fan that it was in fact a false dawn.

    A little digging by "internet bampots" quickly revealed that Whyte was far from being the billionaire the Scottish mainstream media portrayed him as, as he in fact, had very little traceable wealth.

    With the club now owing him rather than Lloyds Bank £18m due to the way the takeover was structured, and facing a potential tax bill in the region of £50m, Whyte handed huge pay deals to Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker and Alan McGregor, while withholding PAYE and NIC to the UK tax authority, HMRC.

    As running costs went through the roof and unpaid tax bills mounted up, Whyte signalled his intention to take the club into administration on 13th February. HMRC forced the issue the following day and the club duly went into administration on February 14th.

    Whyte will no doubt be fairly relaxed about Rangers' current state. 

    He holds the security over Ibrox Stadium and Murray Park and will be paid in full before any of the other creditors receive a penny. There is even some doubt over whether Rangers plc even owns these assets any more, with rumours abounding that he may have transferred ownership to one of his own companies.

    Craig Whyte in reality has been no more than a scavenger picking over the corpse of Rangers. The club was on life-support before he took it over.

    Craig Whyte's role in Rangers' demise has been to administer the coupe de grace.

Dick Advocaat

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    With Rangers toiling in their efforts to surpass Celtic's achievement by winning the Scottish Championship nine times in a row until the 1997-98 season, it was announced in January 1998 that long-serving manager Walter Smith would be stepping down at the end of the campaign, and that he would be replaced for the following season by experienced Dutch coach Dick Advocaat.

    A hard-working and well-organised Celtic side won the title in 1998, stopping Rangers' quest to win a tenth consecutive championship, and Rangers' owner David Murray showed his determination to regain top spot by allowing Advocaat to spend an astonishing £36m in his first season in charge.

    Facing a Celtic side in disarray following the resignation of their own Dutch coach, Wim Jansen, Rangers were able to build a comfortable lead in the table by the time new coach Josef Venglos had managed to restore some stability.

    So big was Rangers' early lead, Advocaat emerged relatively unscathed from a humiliating 5-1 defeat at Celtic Park in November 1998.

    Advocaat was to win the league in each of his first two seasons in charge, benefitting in season 1999-2000 from a change in ownership at Celtic and a rather eccentric decision by new General Manager Kenny Dalglish to appoint the rookie John Barnes as Head Coach.

    Advocaat's spending for the 1999-00 season was a modest £6m, but when Celtic announced the appointment of Martin O'Neill as manager in the summer of 2000, Rangers responded with another huge outlay on players, amounting to £30m.

    Faced with his first real challenge from Celtic, Advocaat's side wilted and finished some distance behind Martin O'Neill's treble-winning side.

    Advocaat was allowed to spend a further £11m by David Murray in the summer of 2001, only to see his side again fall well behind Celtic in the league race. He resigned as manager in December 2001, to be replaced by Alex McLeish as The Little General became Director of Football. Soon after, he left Rangers to become manager of the Dutch national side.

    Dick Advocaat was allowed to spend a quite incredible £83m in three-and-a-half roller-coaster years at Rangers. Despite the huge amount spent, European success eluded the club. They never made it out of the UEFA Champions League group stages and the Dutchman left Rangers with a legacy of huge debts from an unsustainable policy of spend, spend, spend.

    In assessing Advocaat's culpability in Rangers' current predicament, it should of course be remembered that although he may have spent the money, but he was not responsible for the finances. Someone else sanctioned the spending.

Walter Smith

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    Walter Smith became interim manager of Rangers in April 1991 following the departure of Graeme Souness. With the league title all but secured, Smith guided Rangers over the finishing line and was appointed manager on a permanent basis in May 1991.

    Under Smith, Rangers won the next six Scottish League titles, equalling Celtic's record of nine titles in a row set under the legendary Jock Stein.

    Over the course of that six years, Smith was allowed to spend £50m on players, including world class talents such as Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. No other club in Britain spent as much in the period. For most of this time, Celtic were also-rans, as the club was run steadily into the ground in the twilight years of the old Kelly-White dynasty which had run Celtic as their personal fiefdom since the late 19th Century.

    Only in the final two seasons of Smith's original tenure did Celtic present a credible challenge for the title. 

    Smith left at the end of the 1997-98 season, although his departure was announced in October 1997. He later revealed that while the press were told he and David Murray had decided between them that his time was up, Murray had actually told him he would be leaving at the end of the season, feeling that Smith had taken Rangers as far as he was able.

    Smith returned to Rangers in January 2007, having walked out on the Scottish national side to do so, to replace the departed Paul le Guen, who had been forced to work on a very tight budget and a fractious group of players who treated him with open disdain as he tried to instill some professionalism into the playing squad.

    Almost immediately, Rangers spent £2m on Hibernian FC's highly-rated midfielder Kevin Thomson, and indication that the club was about to embark on a spending spree to overhaul Celtic who clinched their second successive title that year.

    A spend of about £10.5m in season 2007-08 saw Rangers reach the UEFA Cup Final, sending most of the continent to sleep in the process with the infamous, "Wattienacchio" defensive system that was later termed, "anti-football" by Leo Messi.

    They again failed to win the SPL though, with Celtic clinching the title on the final day of play, defeating Dundee Utd FC as Rangers lost to Aberdeen FC.

    Rangers met with disaster in August of 2008, as they exited European competition at the hands of Lithuanian minnows Kaunas, meaning that there would be no UEFA Champions League revenue for season 2008-09.

    Despite this, to general astonishment, Rangers splurged even more cash. Steven Davis, Pedro Mendes, Madjid Bougherra, Kenny Miller, Maurice Edu and Kyle Lafferty were signed following their European exit, a transfer spend that eventually totalled £18m.

    By January 2009, owner Sir David Murray informed the fans that £3m needed to be raised in the transfer window, or, "bad things would happen." Top scorer Kris Boyd refused to leave for Birmingham City FC, no one was sold, and Rangers clinched the title on the final day of the season to cement Walter's reputation as a coach of some distinction.

    Bad things were indeed happening behind the scenes at Rangers by the summer of 2009, and their only signing in the 2009-10 season was a loan deal for Frenchman Jerome Rothen, who left in the January transfer window having made no discernible mark on the team.

    It was though, the Season of the Honest Mistake, as Tony Mowbray's Celtic were on the receiving end of an astonishing series of refereeing decisions, all of which they took on the chin as Rangers won the title by six points, their biggest winning margin since the 1999-00 season.

    Despite the bank keeping a tight control on Rangers' finances, and a tax bill in excess of £40m being presented by HMRC, in 2010-11, "Walter" was allowed to again outspend the competition, laying out £6m in transfer fees, including the never-paid-for Nikica Jelavic, whose goals in the second half of the campaign were vital in securing the title for Rangers by a single point.

    In each of his two spells as Rangers manager, Walter Smith enjoyed a significant financial advantage over all of his rivals, spending £26m in his second spell in charge to add to the £50m he spent in the 1990s.

    While all and sundry in the Scottish press lauded "Walter's" achievement in winning three titles in a row on a shoestring, it was conveniently forgotten that throughout that time, Rangers had by a distance the most expensively-assembled squad in the SPL.

    Don't forget either that Smith spent that £26m while HMRC were demanding almost £50m in unpaid taxes. Rangers made no attempt at all to put any money aside to pay the tax bill in the event of the First Tier Tax tribunal finding against them.

    Like Advocaat, Smith may have spent the money, but it should not be forgotten that someone else sanctioned the spending.

Sir David Murray

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    Sir David Murray bought Rangers for £6m in October 1988 and presided over the most successful period in the club's history from 1989-2010.

    Quite simply, Murray bought success for the club, but here's the thing–he bought that success with other people's money.

    A bombastic, ego-maniacal showman, Murray revelled in the acclaim that came his way from a fawning Scottish press, as fortunes were blown on gathering hugely expensive teams that dominated Scottish football for almost two decades.

    The spending was never sustainable, but was covered by huge investments by ENIC and Scots-born South African businessman Dave King, who pumped £40m and £20m into Rangers respectively.

    Despite this, by 2005 Rangers' debt was an eye-watering £75m.

    Murray announced a share issue, underwritten by The Murray Group, which raised £51m to slash the debt to a more manageable £24m. This did not amount to real cash coming into the club though, as new investors only accounted for about £1m, with Murray shifting £50m of the debt to his other companies in a debt-for-equity-swap.

    Rangers' financial strategy is neatly summed up by one quote from the now legendary succulent lamb interview with the Daily Record's James Traynor in 1998. Murray told the man who was little more than his PR chief that, "For every fiver Celtic spend, we'll spend a tenner."

    Murray showed how deadly serious this bombast was in 2001, when in response to Celtic's £6m signing of Chris Sutton, Rangers signed Chelsea's Tore Andre Flo for £12m.

    Reckless, unsustainable spending is only part of the Murray story though.

    There is also the use of the Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) scheme to pay players, which has landed Rangers with a huge, unpayable tax bill from HMRC. A decision from the First Tier Tax tribunal is expected any day now, and should it, as expected, go against Rangers, it will sound the death-knell for the club.

    By using EBT's to pay players, Rangers rendered every player paid this way ineligible to play. An SPL investigation into Rangers' player registrations going back to 1998 is set to conclude soon. Should Rangers be found guilty of fielding ineligible players, the governing body will come under immense pressure to strip Rangers of all honors won since the EBT payments were implemented.

    Sir David Murray's overriding ambition was to win the UEFA Champions League. In pursuit of that dream, he has steered Rangers to the brink of oblivion.

    Without a doubt, Sir David Murray is more responsible for the demise of Rangers than any of Craig Whyte, Dick Advocaat and Walter Smith. Before we close the case though, there is one final figure who may be said to have killed Rangers.

Jock Stein

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    On 25th May, 1967, 11 young men from the west of Scotland defeated Inter Milan on a sultry late afternoon in Lisbon, to become the first British team to win the European Cup.

    To this day, Celtic, led by the legendary Jock Stein, remain the only Scottish side to win European football's premier club competition.

    If anyone wants to know how a huge club like Rangers got themselves into their current situation, that's all you need to know.

    Rangers are Scotland's establishment club. With Scottish football dominated by the Irish upstarts from Glasgow's east end in the early years of the 20th Century, Protestant Scotland needed a Champion and in the years following the First World War Rangers implemented a "no Catholics" signing policy as they made themselves the natural home of the anti-Celt.

    Putting Celtic in their place became, and remained, Rangers' raison d'aitre.

    They know that no matter how many Scottish league titles they win, they are all trumped by that one afternoon in Lisbon in 1967.

    Rangers are where they are now because equalling Celtic's feat became an all-consuming obsession.

    Rangers' demise has been a long time coming. They consumed themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail of matching Celtic's achievement of becoming Champions of Europe.

    For Rangers, it's cold in Jock Stein's shadow.