North of the Border reacts to the liquidation of Rangers and considers the contenders for the Hearts job.
RANGERS NO MORE
The news broke on Tuesday that Rangers are to be liquidated, the result of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) rejecting the offer of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) by the consortium led by Charles Green, worth nine pence in the pound.
The club went in to administration in February and since then its supporters have seen several false dawns and been subjected to a form of torture as Rangers and its 139-year history have been toyed with and picked at like a wounded animal. They have had to work out which of the predators and scavengers circling the club are to be trusted. Which version of the future comes with the least pain.
Finally, this story approaches clarity. Green and his group of investors will now purchase the football assets of the club and form a new company. Despite his bullish claim that "this club will continue as Rangers Football Club" the connection between the company he forms and the history of the behemoth of Scottish football is, at best, open to interpretation. That interpretation will be influenced by what happens next.
On Monday, the SPL board meet at Hampden. This meeting was scheduled to discuss the league's ongoing investigation in to allegations that Rangers, during the chairmanship of David Murray, broke rules by paying players via dual contracts. That now becomes a secondary matter to the expected application by Green to have the SPL share of the former club transferred to the new company (newco). To succeed, they would need eight of the 11 remaining clubs to vote for the newco to start life in the top division.
Before Tuesday's news broke, Green had been discussing plans to bring new players to Rangers, including several involved at Euro 2012. The agent of Rino Gattuso, the World Cup-winning Italy midfielder who played for Rangers early in his career, claimed to be talking to the club about his return, at 34. As the rest of Scottish football struggled to make up its mind about the correct course of action to take against Rangers, these briefings seemed to push them over the edge.
"There has been a lack of remorse shown. Views have hardened." That was the chairman of Dundee United, Stephen Thompson, this week, in an interview in which he doubted Rangers would get the majority in what he called a "straight yes-or-no vote." Instead, he predicted the new club would have to "negotiate its way in", which would likely mean a reform of the 11-1 voting structure on major issues that amounts to an Old Firm veto within the organisational structure of the SPL, as well as some footballing sanctions.
These comments set up a scenario that has, from the outset of this tawdry affair, always appeared the most likely endgame: liquidation and a newco Rangers retaining their place in the SPL at the cost of a reduction in their political power.
However, there remain some loud voices in favour of protection of the sporting integrity of the league and the refusal of a newco Rangers in the SPL. Suspension is the sanction imposed upon newcos by UEFA, who will not allow Rangers to enter their competitions for the next three seasons.
As Thompson said, the vast majority of supporters who raise the issue with him are vehemently opposed to allowing a newco Rangers in to the SPL. As these clubs begin to ask their customers for the season ticket income upon which they depend, what influence can they have on an increasingly political struggle?
If the SPL refuses Rangers entry, they could apply for a place in the Scottish Football League, should one arise. This could happen if Dundee, second-place in the First Division, were promoted to the SPL and a vacancy arose in the bottom-tier Third Division. There is also a precedent for the newco Rangers buying out an existing member club, assigning them to the history books.
There are also numerous unknown factors, such as the outstanding tax case and the SFA's decision on a new punishment after their 12-month embargo on player registration was overturned by the law courts in Scotland. Any one of them will change the weather regarding the will of the other clubs to get tough with Rangers.
As for the players at Rangers, it would appear that they are free to leave for nothing, although this remains to be confirmed. If it is the case, then internationals including Steven Naismith, Allan McGregor and Steven Davis, all of whom took huge pay cuts to help avoid staff redundancies during administration will be among the sought-after free agents in Britain.
Four months after Rangers went in to administration, the true scale of this story is starting to come to light. The big decisions to be made over the coming weeks will shape the medium term future of Scottish football.
VLAD STRIKES AGAIN
Hearts are looking for a new manager. This is a situation we should all be familiar with by now, as Vladimir Romanov has the itchiest trigger finger in all of British football. However, this time, there is a twist.
The Scottish Cup winners didn't sack the latest guy, Paulo Sergio. After all, he did a grand job during a season in which players' wages were frequently paid late and some of his best players were sold mid-season. Instead, Sergio was offered a new contract that rewarded his success with a substantial pay cut. This is not as surprising as it seems, as Hearts had prepared the ground for a massive budget decrease this summer for pretty much the whole of the season just ended.
Sergio valued himself higher than whatever offer was made and will hope his work in Scotland is good for another, better contract elsewhere. Romanov and Hearts began the search for a new manager.
In public statements, Romanov's right-hand man, the director Sergejus Fedotovas, maintained that the new man would be expected to raise expectations at Tynecastle. However, the reality is that whoever gets the job will have a far smaller stick to swing than his predecessors, who frequently outbid SPL rivals for the pick of the Scottish free agents and acquired overseas talent that only the Old Firm could keep up with. It often worked and in the seven years of Romanov's reign they have been the most consistent challengers to the duopoly in Scottish football. However, it left Hearts with monumental debts - mostly owed to Romanov's Lithuanian bank - and the worst wages-turnover ratio in the SPL.
The Scottish Cup-winning team is already breaking up. Several knew that the final was their last game, others have since learned that was the case. Their replacements will likely come from within the academy and any signings made will have to represent the kind of value that has mostly eluded Hearts under Romanov.
As usual, the Russian owner of Hearts is a tough guy to second guess. He has a habit of making a mockery of the speculation around possible contenders (see: Graham Rix, Anatoly Korobochka et al). Already two overseas managers raised as possible candidates, Jose Couceiro, a friend of Sergio's, and Peter Nowak, a Polish coach working at Philadelphia Union in MLS, have knocked down stories linking them with the job. Couceiro said he was "disgusted" by the speculation, which suggests he talks frequently with Sergio.
Closer to home, two of the Scottish Cup-winning team of 2006 have been touted: Paul Hartley, who won the Third Division with Alloa in his first season as manager, and Steven Pressley, whose young, expansive Falkirk team make a strong CV for any budget-conscious SPL chairman. They were two of the 'Riccarton Three', along with Craig Gordon, the Scotland goalkeeper, who decried Romanov's interference in team affairs in the early days, when he spent loads and sacked managers who had his team top of the SPL and unbeaten. Romanov's response then was ruthless. If either man returns to Hearts, there is every chance that is the way it will end up again.