Since regime change in 2015 the journey has been far from straightforward and progress has not always been linear however despite coming on the back of a league title and European final in the last couple of seasons this could perhaps be the most tense and pressured AGM since David Somers cowered in his on-pitch gazebo.
While the financials have been strengthened by record revenues & record player sales to provide credence to any claim of successful board performance, football is not played on a balance sheet. The juxtaposition of off-field progress being set against on-field regression has left supporters angry & frustrated that the club has not moved forward from a position of strength under their watch.
The appointment of Michael Beale as the 18th manager of Rangers Football Club will undoubtedly defuse the situation somewhat with some optimism returning following what has been a terribly poor campaign to date. So while the change was certainly necessary in my eyes the timing has allowed the board to point at the new shiny thing & say that things will improve. And I sincerely hope that they are right.
Shareholders will therefore need to look beyond the welcome change in the dugout however and continue to seek accountability for the decisions that ultimately led to the change being required in the first place. There are some key areas that the board should provide answers.
CONTRACTS / RENEWALS
The contract situation is twofold: did the club do the right thing in retaining the services of so many senior players whose progression can only go in one direction & have we managed existing contracts well with so many due to expire in summer 2023?
On the first point I understand the need for continuity and leaders in the dressing room. Have we however asked the same group of players to go to the well one too many times? Certainly there is an argument for both but when performances slide the latter perhaps carries greater weight.
On the latter question Ross Wilson should first be quizzed on Kent & Morelos, two key players who have been worth significant fees in the past but who can now sign a pre-contract with another club in a matter of weeks. The fact neither have performed this season only adds to the feeling that we’ve perhaps taken the wrong approach in at least one case, if not both.
Further to that next summer we are set, as things stand, to wave goodbye to 9 first-team players including the ending of Tillman and Sands loan periods. Whatever way you cut it that is a huge hole to fill in the team and we certainly can’t be expected to do so with free transfers, at least not with any realistic expectation of success.
TRANSFER FUNDS / PLAYER TRADING
As mentioned above the club have boasted, and I mean literally boasted, record revenues and record player sales. This however has perhaps not translated into transfer fees at the level that supporters were led or allowed to expect.
Patterson, Bassey & Aribo would at the very least have netted the club upwards of £30m and yet in the summer we spent only half of that. The reasons for that were analysed in my previous article on the Annual Report however I think fans have every right to be disappointed at that outlay.
This then flows into next season. If the above player sales, record revenues and Champions League income do not amount to significant transfer expenditure then what can we realistically expect for season 2023/24?
If we look at the squad I don’t think it’s unfair to say that you cannot identity a single player who could be sold for £10m+. Even in the more mid-tier price range I think it is a stretch to pull together a shortlist of names who could be moved on to allow for funds to be reinvested.
We’ve retained key players beyond their peak values – see Kent and Morelos above and add in the likes of Barisic and Kamara. We also have an ageing squad with many players’ contracts expiring at the end of the current season. If we compare that to the noises coming out of Parkhead with important players set to be sold if they don’t commit to new contracts then I guess Ross Wilson should be asked if he is “comfortable” with the shape of the squad going into the summer. And does John Bennett still think this is the strongest squad during his time at the club?
NEW EDMISTON HOUSE
As vice-chairman John Bennett discussed in his RTV interview, one of the reasons the club has not been spending as fans expected is due to significant capital expenditure – the largest of which is New Edmiston House.
As the flagship of the club’s enormously underwhelming 150th anniversary celebrations the provision especially of a dedicated club museum is hugely welcome. But the real question is: at what cost?
The questions we should be asking are therefore fairly short and simple:
- What is the most up-to-date projected cost for the construction of New Edmiston House &
- With a reported £1m profit per annum, at what point will the project break-even?
Reported figures would suggest the repayment period will be far more than a decade and so while revenues and profit will increase, the latter only marginally, what is the implication of these funds being sucked from the first-team in the short-term?
Underinvestment in the team could cost the club more in a single season that NEH will generate in a decade. That can be tolerated when you’re winning titles but as we sit barely challenging for the league in December then such concerns gain validity. And it’s maybe not the best time to be joking about how many assists Edmiston House will get this season.
SYDNEY CUP / LAWSUIT
Rarely have I seen such unity amongst the social media wing of the Rangers support as when our participation in Big Ange’s Homecoming – sorry, The Sydney Cup – was announced.
The misjudgment on this – with a board filled with fellow supporters no less – almost cannot be put into words. Relegating our club to the role of fluffers for the Celtic manager is a humiliation.. But as is too often the case, money was the ultimate priority just as when they charged fans upwards of £60.00 a ticket for a competition our own manager said we could not compete in.
The damage however is not only reputational. Expected news that a lawsuit is now following our withdrawal is yet another potential one-off cost that is becoming too common place under this board and executive team.
It was bad enough that they were willing to embarrass our institution in such a manner but the fact we could now be paying for the privilege really adds insult to injury.
So who was responsible for bringing forward the proposal and which board members signed off on it?
DISABLED FAN FACILITIES
At every AGM for what seems like as long as time the Rangers board has promised the fans that the upgrading of disabled facilities at Ibrox is a priority. And every year we return to the AGM with nothing being done and the same promises being renewed.
As the club has found a reported eight-figure sum to plough into New Edmiston House, what funds have we seen spent on disables facilities over the years and when will the board actually follow through on their pledges to supporters who have been neglected for too long?
The board are seeking shareholder approval to issue new shares on a non-preemptive basis, meaning supporter and other shareholders can face dilution. With the majority of funding now coming by way of loans / interest-bearing debt, does the board have any plans to introduce any new or external investors? Have the board had any specific discussions with Kyle Fox about investment in the club?
Despite the tone of the above – an AGM is a rare opportunity to seek accountability and answers under the current custodians after all – all is not doom and gloom.
The club’s financial performance has improved hugely with the last accounts showing record revenues and a growing income base as well as an operating profit both before and after player trading. And with a profitable year set to follow to 30 June 2023.
The board and executive team therefore merit praise in their ability to bring money into the club coffers. Indeed our revenue would have outstripped Celtic’s for the first time had our retail income being recognized in the same manner- ours being net, theirs being gross.
But the failure has not been in amassing such resources, it has been in spending them.
Contrary to the overall feeling, my own included, when Ross Wilson has spent money it has been spent reasonably well – Hagi, Roofe, Davies, Colak, Yilmaz. Okay they are not all absolute wonders but neither are they Eros Grezdas. Itten and Matondo prove it’s not a perfect record but overall he can at least put up a moderate defence of the above.
But we have failed to sell players at peak values, we’ve retained some for too long and perhaps, certainly in Gerrard’s last summer, failed to find enough value at the cheaper end of the scale with the January loans of Ramsey and Diallo being an added disaster. We’ve also neglected the biggest areas of weakness and brought in players for elsewhere in the team.
At present we have seen enormous levels of funds tied up in lawsuits, settlements and the Edmiston House project. All of that is at the expense of the team on the park & we are saying that now having all but surrendered yet another title.
As I stated in my article earlier this week, Michael Beale as the new manager must be backed in the market to go and revamp this team properly. The current board must prove they have the ability, and skill, to do that.
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