The future direction of Rangers: some questions and models to study.
Sao Paolo in their current incarnation were formed in 1935. During the years since their formation they've grown to become Brazil's 3rd most popular club side with almost 17 million fans. They play their home games in the 80,000 capacity Morumbi and since league reconstruction in 1970 they are Brazil's most successful club side. In the nation where rivals such as Santos produce the sublime Pele and modern gems like Elano and Robinho, that success is obviously difficult to achieve. So how do they manage not only to compete with their prestigious rivals but go on to win the past 3 consecutive titles and a club world cup?
They spend time and money investing in their structure.
The Morumbi stadium was opened in 1960 and marked a moment of hope in a severe success drought. With no titles between 1951 and 1957 and perpetual bridesmaids roles until 1969, it would have been understandable if the club's loyal supporters had demanded a halt to stadium construction and serious investment in the playing squad. The club's board however insisted that a stadium befitting the size and loyalty of the Sao Paolo fans was a must and, in 1970, 140,000 fans witnessed a glorious return to Paulista championship success. The board had the long term vision to invest in a stadium that was fit for so many fans and, once in place, the Morumbi became as much a lucrative money-spinner from capacity crowds and huge foreign concerts as it did a weapon to intimidate visiting players.
That on-field success was built on a continuing line of world-class prospects being given the chance to develop their skills before earning their move to the old world of La Liga or Serie A. Cafu, Denilson (once the world's most expensive player), Fabio Aurelio, Julio Baptista, Juninho Paulista, Kaka and Muller all started their careers with Sao Paolo before going on to feature in the biggest footballing tournaments in the world - The Uefa Champions League or The FIFA World Cup.
The Sao Paolo model for success accepts that the brightest prospects will always want to play at the highest level. Their training and medical facilities are world-renowned and given their domestic success its obvious that they've managed to combine world-class youth development with sustained success on and off the park.
Seville? An obviously passionate city, Sevilla FC have had a turbulent history enjoying early success until a sharp decline set in in the early to mid 60s. Their solution? At the turn of the 21st century president Jose Maria del Nido embarked on a policy of fiscal responsibility and investment in youth development and world-wide scouting. That success has seen Sevilla win back to back Uefa cups, compete with giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia for domestic honours and play some genuinely beautiful football. Their former player list reads like a who's who of current or recent European club football - Dani Alves, Julio Baptista, Sergio Ramos, Juan Antonio Reyes and current young stars Diego Capel and Jesus Navas. West-ham and Spurs' reject Freddie Kanoute was revitalised under coach Juande Ramos.
Thats the history and if we must do anything from history its learn from it.
Rangers face the prospect of selling a star player, not to further that players' ambitions of european glory or to facilitate a money-spinning move to a club of real prestige but rather to meet financial obligations that during a time of global recession must surely be described as at least worrying. One could ask what the repercussions of failing to find a buyer for Kris Boyd or any of the others who are up for sale - whilst the consequences are unknown, even to our own first team manager, they plausibly range from sanctions against future transfers to punitive action being taken by our biggest financial backers: the banks who themselves are in a perilous financial state. We see John Fleck make an exciting debut and hear stories of young Danny Wilson, two who will surely have the brightest of futures, but cant help looking back at the failures of so many who came to blue heaven only to see their dreams turn into nightmares. The biggest clubs are signing 21 year old prospects to mould into their future superstars - we're reduced to fleeting substitute appearances from converted strikers.
The Rangers Supporters Trust issued a statement. Some would call them agitators whilst others simply write them off as deluded. As a non-trust member its not my job to defend them. As a Rangers fan however it is my duty to listen to anybody who dares make a suggestion regarding the long term viability of my club and the RST's "We Deserve Better" campaign makes some pretty interesting statements. For the past 5 years, Sir David Murray hasn't even bothered to try to hide his desire to sell his controlling interest in the club. We're told that he'll only sell to somebody with the best interests at heart - that we should have no need to fear a Romanov figure with new money but no genuine love for the club - but with a single meeting with a potential buyer having been arranged to discuss terms during those 5 years, its difficult to see an immediate escape route for SDM.
Some fans advocate 100% supporter ownership but given the political machinations and underhand dealings of Ramon Calderon, the much-vaunted Real Madrid model may have little appeal at this time. Others simply decry that nobody has the money to buy Murray's 90+ % interest in Rangers and that its better the devil you know than the devilski you don't - even Chelsea are finding out to their cost that its a fine line between sugar-daddy and the sour after tase of bitter, burnt caramel.
For what its worth I believe that Murray has 2 options:
1)He reduces his asking price to a level where potential investors believe that the deal offers value for money. Others such as Carino, Hillhead Bear and Bluedell are better placed to discuss the intricacies of finance so I'll leave that to them.
2)He adds value to the club to justify his asking price.
For me the RST are guilty of nothing more than asking him to do the latter. We can discuss our fall from grace, the Espanyolification (to coin a phrase), of our club and whilst that certainly hurts it does nothing to address the underlying problems at its cause. The sad fact is that we face the prospect of challenging for a 3rd title in 8 years (thanks in no small part to our neighbour's complacency) and very little else to show for 8 years of blood, sweat and tears. We don't have a Morumbi as a shining beacon of light and a proof of long term ambition and we don't have the prospect of exciting youngsters and unknown gems being the mainstay of a genuinely competitive side on both the domestic and european front because we look no further than the next demand to appease our bankers.
We must also ask whether we're getting the most from our CEO. Martin Bain commands a respectable salary. Does he deliver value for money? I've long argued that whilst I'm not against the outsourcing of contracts I must be sure that we're getting the best deal possible. Azure had obvious attractions given their main financial backer but did they represent the best option in the long term? Would the likes of Sodexho Prestige or Delaware North have delivered a better return on our catering concessions? Without proper transparency we'll never know but the fact that a mere layman can ask such questions should give those in positions of authority something to ponder.
Similarly our deadwood seem locked in to contracts so comfortable that moving them on is something of a problem. Darcheville admitted that he could afford to accept vastly reduced terms at Valenciennes thanks to his time fattening on the Ibrox pastures. Julien Rodriguez left the club on a free transfer only to sign for Marseille shortly after and impress enough to return to the French national side and Sotiris Kyrgiagos' move to Germany yielded no return for the Rangers coffers. A CEO earning an estimated £600,000 per year must surely be questioned when staff are locked into golden contracts and the club fail to generate a profit in their single biggest season since 1972 - 200,000 people in the biggest mass migration Britain has seen descended on Manchester with barely a JJB in the land stocking more than the odd XXXL shirt.
The JJB deal may have provided a much-needed injection of cash and we've certainly saved in interest payments. We're also somewhat insulated from the current highstreet meltdown because having taken the money up front its now JJB's problems to earn themselves the return that the Rangers brand (as much as we all hate thinking of the club in those terms) can generate. The problem I have with that is that when you tie future earnings into growth in retail then you really should be demanding clauses regarding floor space and merchandise prominence within the store. Does anybody really believe that the companies who sell their products via Debenhams or John Lewis dont demand complete control over stock levels, distribution channels and in-store merchandising? Bain is not a natural leader who will inspire confidence and motivate others. He's not a shrewd businessman who can squeeze every drop of profit from whatever deal he's involved in and he's not a negotiator who'll hammer out the best deal for the club. Does Bain's position come into question in the long term? It has to.
Change is painful. Change doesn't guarantee instant results and the swiftness of Paul Le Guen's departure should leave nobody in any doubt that neither the support nor the highest levels of management at Rangers have the stomach for change that will yield no immediate effect. Unfortunately its my assertion that change is vitally necessary and that we need to be dragged into the 21st century, kicking and screaming if need be. The naïve idea that we're immune from normal business practices and that a sympathetic, benevolent, curmudgeonly figure is out there waiting in the wings simply cant be perpetuated when foreign investors borrow to the hilt and then load that debt onto the club, exposing it to the whimsy of financial institutions. Businesses fail and whilst football may be a business like no other, in the modern era it is exposed to the same issues of unemployment amongst its core customers, reduced spending power, limited investment potential and less readily available credit. Every fan, whether they back the RST's campaign or not, should be asking "what then?"
We sell Kris Boyd before the end of January. What then?
John Fleck puts in some impressive performances from now until the end of the season. What then?
We lose expensive squad players such as Hemdani, McCulloch, Adam, Beasley and Dailly with no money to reinvest in their replacements. What then?
Because its become obvious that nobody at the club are asking that question of our chairman and CEO. The RST have the audacity to ask for long term planning and sustained investment directed at scouting and improving the output from our £14million training complex and they're met with bemusement, patronism and sometimes outright venom.
Whether you back a union of supporters gaining momentum by the day or see critical flaws in the ideals of a few supporters with delusions of grandeur, ask yourself what if?
What if Rangers continue to spend £7million on players who do little more than warm the bench?
What if we take the easy option of replacing Walter Smith with Ally McCoist?
What if we fail to take advantage of the expansion of Europe into countries like Czech Republic and Romania by refusing to scout Eastern Europe's hottest prospects?
What if Martin Bain continues to offer golden deals to players on unsustainable wages and we're left trying to pick up the pieces of our merchandising operation should a struggling JJB call it a day?
What if Murray fails to find a buyer for another 5 years and we're subjected to another round of book-balancing and debt acquisition?
I don't claim to have all the answers but when the chairman, CEO and manager of your football club fail to come up with any answers themselves then its time to start questioning the very future of your club.
Before you're faced with an answer thats truly unpalatable.
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