Rangers’ Transfer Window
Three types of ‘normality’ conflated in Scotland last month to construct a lunatic world; Glasgow’s football media, Rangers FC’s public relations (PR) operation and the parallel universes occupied by Rangers and non-Rangers supporters.
It is public knowledge that Rangers need at least £7.2m additional funding to meet financial liabilities to July 2019 as they fall due, with the “first tranche” due last November. Chairman Dave King and independent auditors Campbell Dallas both said so, in Rangers International Football Club’s (RIFC) annual accounts, to June 2017. RIFC’s “forecast cash flows” assumed that “future transfer payables will be met by future transfer receivables” and relied upon other financial “events.”
After discussing RIFC’s “forecast cash shortfall,” the Board “reached an agreement with New Oasis Asset Limited” (NOAL, which RIFC’s 2016 accounts called “a company controlled by” King) to “provide additional loan facilities as necessary to meet the above requirements” with NOAL and “certain investors” extending “existing loan facilities to July 2019.” This “more than covers the projected shortfall” because RIFC hoped to “proceed with a share issue during 2018.” These hopes, however, have taken numerous hits.
King’s “finance report” referenced Rangers’ “welcome return to European football.” And he was “pleased” that the accounts allowed “us to comply” with Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations. This declaration didn’t convince everyone…and wasn’t tested. Rangers exited the Europa League at their first hurdle, to Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn, inspiring about half-a-million joyously-delivered “lack of Progres in Europe” puns while destroying all European income-based “forecast cash flows.”
This made November’s promised additional funding borderline-urgent. However, reports emerged that NOAL had not provided the money. Well, one report. From internet blogger Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. Mac Giolla Bhain, he’ll not stop telling you, outsmarted Scotland’s official football media in tracking the original Rangers’ financial collapse and has similarly tracked the new Rangers’ financial woes, beating “mainstream” media to many stories.
He is dismissed as a fantasist because of what he is (enormously self-confident, Celtic-supporting, far-left-wing, Irish republican) not what he writes. But his latest Ibrox sources could not be more detailed if he was the official minute-taker. And Rangers have accepted NONE of his regular offers to retract any falsehoods. So, when he wrote, on 11th January, that NOAL’s “£2.9m in liquidity,” promised for November, “never arrived,” there was reason to believe his assertion that Rangers had a “shortage of operating cash.”
Meanwhile, RIFC’s share issue faces huge legal obstacles. In March 2015, King acted “in concert” with other shareholders to effectively take over RIFC. And as this “concert party’s” shareholding exceeded 30%, they were legally obliged to offer to buy the remaining shares. King says he/NOAL can’t afford this, leaving his clichéd-but-merited reputation as a “glib and shameless liar” untarnished. And while that legal bunfight continues, share issues must wait.
So, January’s transfer window was vital. Rangers needed a “transfer payables/receivables” balance though with the wages of many recent signings inversely proportional to their positive on-field impact, payroll cuts were easily identifiable. Yet Director of Football, Mark Allen, reportedly had numerous January targets. In December, the Sunday Post newspaper’s Danny Stewart said Allen wanted to sign “young players, who have made their mark in Scotland’s top flight,” with “the potential for re-sale.”
Allen’s targets included Dundee’s Jack Hendry, Kilmarnock’s Jordan Jones, Aberdeen’s Kenny McLean and Hearts’ Jamie Walker. That list required considerable squad pruning, which made Rangers’ ‘rejection’ of Preston’s “£500,000 bid for Josh Windass” (Simon Stone, BBC Sport, 29 December) puzzling.
Likewise, the Scottish Daily Mail’s 1st January headline “Rangers closing in on £1m-plus deal for Brighton winger Jamie Murphy.” John Greechan wrote: “Sportsmail understands that Rangers and Brighton are close to reaching an agreement” for Murphy. Sky Sports had a different ‘understanding’ (“a long way from agreeing a fee”) suggesting the story was merely typical transfer speculation.
But Sportsmail soon ‘understood,’ that without “unforeseen hitches, he will sign a three-and-a-half-year contract” and “RFC will pay in the region of £1m, with add-ons potentially increasing that amount.”
Mac Giolla Bhain ‘understood’ that “the headline figure of around £1m” was “misleading to say the least” and “the idea” that Rangers could “stump up that sum straight off” was “simply not true.” He reported on Ibrox board factions with differing transfer strategies. King had authorised the Murphy business, now with different ‘understandings’ for each day of the week. While Rangers actually signed QPR midfielder/defender Sean Goss, on loan until June, a lower-budget deal designed to match transfer payables and receivables.
Scotland’s football press, perhaps through instruction, ignored the boardroom ‘story.’ Wigan Athletic out-bid Rangers for Jamie Walker with just £300,000. However, on January 5th, the Scottish Sun declared that Murphy was still “hoping to finalise his £2m switch.”
SunSport’s Colin Duncan ‘revealed’ that Brighton “will get £1m upfront” plus £1 “in add-ons.” However, the Sun’s 6th January headline was: “Murphy has NOT flown to Florida…£2m move hangs in the balance,” SunSport ‘understanding’ that Murphy “was all set” to sign “until a spanner was thrown into the works at the eleventh hour.”
Mac Giolla Bhain pre-emptively explained this “spanner” by suggesting “it would be hilarious” if Rangers “initially offered NOTHING upfront…and offered to pay the first tranche in May when the season ticket monies arrive.” On January 6th, he advised against “surprise” if Murphy was “loaned.” A 7th January club statement claimed Rangers were “willing” to sign Murphy “on a long-term deal” for an unspecified “guaranteed fixed fee.” But Brighton “preferred to wait until the end of the season,” when “only Rangers” would “have the option to sign Jamie.”
On January 8th, the Daily Record newspaper shifted blame for the “spanner,” which “Rangers news sources” suggested was Brighton wanting money up-front (as the Sun reported, remember). The clubs had “agreed a standard schedule of payments” which “could” have netted Brighton “close to £2m. But Brighton moved the goalposts.” This goalpost-relocation wasn’t detailed. However, the article claimed Rangers were “set to recoup cash on expensive flop Carlos Pena.”
It is unclear which co-author, Rangers fans Scott McDermott or Gary Ralston, covered which story. But their pro-Rangers spin on both were obvious. “Cruz Azul have agreed to pay” Pena’s £20,000-per-week wage “in full until the end of the season.” And, the next day, Rangers ‘confirmed’ that “the Mexican club will pay his wages in full” during the “year-long loan deal.”
This was a real transfer payables/receivables balancer…and news to Cruz Azul’s sporting director Eduardo de la Torre, who reportedly told Mexican media “the official figures are far from the ones you [have heard].” Three days earlier, Scottish Sun journo Robert Collins “revealed” that “Rangers will pay half of Pena’s £26,000-per-week wages,” quoting de la Torres’ belief that this was “very favourable.” And on 2nd January, “Sportsmail” had ‘understood’ Rangers were “likely to expect Cruz Azul to pay a significant chunk” of Pena’s salary.
Mac Giolla Bhain said they would “not go above £10,000-per-week” and Rangers were still paying Pena’s “signing-on fee…in weekly instalments.” Still a handy wagebill reducer. But hardly letting Rangers ‘splash the cash’ as reported. His characterisation of Rangers doing “loan deals for players who out of favour with their clubs” was spot-on.
This made his details about potential Rangers insolvency worth at least investigating by ‘real’ journos. Instead, Gary Ralston’s shameful PR-guff barely examined the issues beyond “Rangers heading for administration? Aye Right,” despite Mac Giolla Bhain deliberately “framing” Rangers’ talks with four named insolvency practitioners “within the context of a feasibility study” and stressing directors’ division on “reaching for the administration button.”
Rival clubs saw through Rangers’ strategy. Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke called Rangers’ bid for Jones “nowhere near acceptable,” adding that he “would be a little bit sad if I was the player that the bid was so low.” After Rangers bid £300,000 for Greg Docherty, Hamilton vice-chairman Les Gray said there was “nothing on the table worth considering.”
And in his SunSport column, Kilmarnock, and ex-Rangers, striker Kris Boyd highlighted “a common theme” with “one club unsettling everybody.” If Rangers “want players, pay the money and come and take them.” Kilmarnock, he declared, wouldn’t “be bullied anymore.”
Low initial offers are transfer negotiation staples. And Rangers fan-site ‘Get the Battle Fever on’ railed sardonically at “Boydy’s outrage as Rangers become first club in history to bid less than asking price” and Rangers being “the first club in global football not to simply hand over a blank cheque to every single selling club.”
Docherty signed, although Rangers again reportedly offered nothing upfront. And, in their straitened circumstances, Rangers’ window approached crediblity…until…
Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos signed last summer for £1m. And, 12 goals in 25 Scottish club appearances later, Rangers ‘valued’ him at £10m…a preposterous PR stunt, designed to suggest that Rangers didn’t need to sell their better players.
Hilarity ensued at 30th January reports of an “un-named” Chinese Super League (CSL) club offering €6.5m for Morelos, with €1m in add-ons. Ralston ‘understood’ that “King rejected the offer” because only Jason Cummings would be left “to lead the line for the remainder of the season.” Which was probably news to Rangers…er…striker Kenny Miller.
The Scottish Daily Mail’s Mark Wilson said unspecified “reports…linked Guangzhou with an approach.” The Scottish Daily Express’s Scott Burns referenced a “verbal offer” from a CSL club “believed to be Guangzhou.” But ScotSun’s Andy Devlin had to specify “cash-rich” Guangzhou (GZ) Evergrande, rather than Guangzhou R&F. The Record’s back-page splash was “£7m” in bold-red type. But the accompanying photo of Morelos’ open-mouthed astonishment far better summarised the view outside Rangers’ PR-parallel universe and the compliant journalists living there.
Rangers hadn’t offloaded high-earners such as Bruno Alves and Niko Kranjcar. And “transfer payables” and “receivables” had nowhere near met. So, rejecting these multi-millions was financial idiocy to match what killed the original Rangers in 2012. Also, GZ Evergrande had their full quota of four non-Chinese players (social media doing the basic research which seemed, as ever, beyond ‘proper’ journalists.
So, suddenly, newly-promoted Bejing Renhe were the bidders. ScotSun’s Robert Grieve said “mega-rich Renhe” were offering “a staggering £8m” and “a whopping £27,000-a-week” wage, leaving Rangers “swithering over whether to cash in” before rejecting this offer “amid fears that they don’t have time to find a replacement hitman.” A curiously uncertain Rangers boss Graeme Murty noted: “Our position won’t change, as far as I can tell.”
The spanner in these PR-works was BBC Scotland football commentator Kheredine Idessane, who tweeted “the word from China” on 1st February. A “source close to” Renhe “denies that the club made a multi-million-pound bid. Says their foreign player quota is full and that there’s a levy on foreign singings over $7m.” But within hours, Idessane apologised to Rangers, because “despite what I was told from China, there was a multi-million euro bid, indeed bids” from Renhe. “This retracts, and corrects, my previous tweet.”
Two days later, he tweeted that he “was shown evidence (I have SEEN the bids from Beijing Renhe) proving my info was incorrect.” He’d apologised to Rangers “as they should have had a right of reply in the first place” and admitted “my error.” And, at the time of writing (17th February), the daily tweeter hasn’t tweeted since. Predictably, Rangers fans largely believed the ‘retraction’ while fans elsewhere called bullsh*te over Idessane apologising to Rangers when he’d merely quoted sources and for admitting non-existent “errors.”
China’s transfer window remains open. And while interest in Morelos “cooled,” to the surprise of roughly no-one, Devlin ‘exclusively’ reported this week that Renhe offered £9m, then £11m, presumably based on Morelos’s two goals at third-tier Ayr in the Scottish Cup (his only February goals until Devlin’s latest reports) and not his comical miss-from-a-yard-and-a-half in that game.
Meanwhile, Rangers “secured an overdraft facility for the first time since David Murray was owner” (Daily Business, 8th February). Herald Group Senior Sports Writer, Chris Jack, said merchant bankers Close Brothers’ subsidiary, Close Leasing, gave Rangers “access to a seven-figure facility” which meant that “the dark clouds that once hung over the club have dissipated.”
He didn’t specify the seven figures (the subsequently-reported £3m rather resembled what King/NOAL reportedly didn’t provide in November), nor that the “facility” was secured against major Rangers assets, Edmiston House and the Albion Car Park. Such securitisation proved less popular when then-major RIFC shareholder Mike Ashley was the “seven-figure facility” provider, in 2015, and Laxey Partners and the Easdale Brothers were ‘emergency’ lenders in 2014.
Rangers Managing Director Stewart Robertson called Close’s facility a “real vote of confidence in where we are taking the club.” The “additional source of funds” was for “growing parts of the business” and “projects around Ibrox.” And, maybe digging at Mac Giolla Bhain’s depiction of RIFC as a “loss-making business without a credit line from a bank,” Robertson added: “Some folk take pleasure in winding us up because we don’t have a banking facility.” It was, he concluded, “part of normalising the club, to be honest.” But the deal’s detail revealed him as not being very honest at all.
The title of the “Certificate of the Registration of a Charge” against RIFC subsidiary, The Rangers Football Club Limited (TRFC), was an up-front giveaway that this was no “overdraft facility” but a loan to “borrower” TRFC from “lender” Close Leasing. Likewise, the stern demand to “pay and discharge” the loan “on demand,” the interest charged “on a daily basis” (even legalese can’t just say ‘daily’) if TRFC default.
And the inability to “reduce” or “discharge” TRFC’s obligations by “any insolvency, bankruptcy, liquidation, administration, winding-up, dissolution” or any other throwback to 2012. Indeed, there is a stark, constant contrast between Close’s “demands” and TRFC’s “obligations.” Little wonder media reports ‘overlooked’ (interest) rates and (repayment) dates. Oh…and recent history.
On 26 October 2011, ex-club owner Craig Whyte gave Close Leasing security over the “whole assets” of the Rangers Football Club PLC. This staved off financial collapse…until 14 June 2012, when that Rangers died (Robertson suggested that the 2018 deal might fund a “memorial garden project.” Maybe that’s what he meant). Yet Scotland’s football AND business media, again perhaps through instruction, ‘overlooked’ the obvious parallel they’d have drawn if their subject was any other subject.
Thus, the Morelos saga makes infinitely more sense as fantasy. For Rangers to reject £11m is insanity. Yet last January provided similar fantasy when Bundesliga nouveau-riche RB Leipzig reportedly offered £6m for Barrie McKay. Nottingham Forest bought him in July for…£500,000. If Rangers need money as desperately as their accounts and Close deal CONFIRM, refusing £11m now (and £7m when they could have replaced Morelos), in preference to a costly £3m loan, IS demonstrable insanity.
Yes, this is an ancient personal bugbear. But consider this. Rangers are vying for second in Scotland’s Premiership. Liverpool are among current English equivalents. Would Liverpool use blatant PR to misrepresent their financial situation? Would England’s football media actively co-operate? Or would they establish the truth, castigating Liverpool for falsehoods and/or financial idiocy?
If these weren’t rhetorical questions, the answers would be no, no and yes. Only in Scotland’s lunatic football media world are such questions not rhetorical but required.