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Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Agenda spotting

Neil White

AGENDA SPOTTING

David Murray, the former owner of Rangers, broke cover this week to discuss what he described as the "kangaroo court" convened by the Scottish Premier League, which will soon rule on whether or not the club broke rules in their payment of players under Murray's rule. Murray accused the Scottish Football Association and the SPL of having "an agenda against the club [Rangers]" and the club chairmen of allowing "a sense of tribalism" to cloud their judgement. The former owner also denied any wrongdoing in the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs), the tax avoidance scheme that is the subject of an ongoing SPL investigation. These were stopped, he claims, when Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs rendered them "tax inefficient" in 2010. His statement that "there were no dual contracts" was perhaps most newsworthy. This is the root of the investigation: that Rangers players received payments that were not part of the contracts lodged with the governing bodies. Senior figures at the Ibrox club, both as they are now and former employees from the Murray era, have reacted strongly to suggestions the SPL may strip them of titles won during that time. Alex McLeish, the former manager, gave an interview in which he appeared to channel Charlton Heston, long-time champion of the National Rifle Association in the USA and the author of the "from my cold, dead hands" line. With the investigation ongoing, there is at least one more conflict to come in this turbulent summer between the Glasgow giant and those running the game in Scotland.

BAYONETS FIXED

Murray misfired with one line, when he said there was no use in "bayoneting the wounded". These words were issued in a statement that surfaced on the same day that the Rangers FC, as they are now known, signed three more players before they begin life in the Third Division and before a 12-month embargo on player registration kicks in on September 1. After acquiring Ian Black and Dean Shiels, two of the SPL's best players last season, they signed Fran Sandaza, Kevin Kyle and Emilson Cribari, two of whom were beyond the financial reach of every other club in Scotland with the exception of their great rivals across Glasgow. Kyle is a risk. He has not played since January 2011, when he sustained a hip injury that threatened his future in football. After training with several clubs, he joins on a one-year contract, the terms of which will surely be linked in part at least to his fitness. However, if he is fully operational, the colossal former Scotland striker proved in recent seasons with Hearts and Kilmarnock that he can be a unique attacking threat. Sandaza was the subject of a pre-contract offer from Rangers last January, after topping the SPL goalscoring list with St Johnstone. He signs a three-year contract worth a reported 5,000 per week and was beyond the consideration of all but Celtic in Scotland. Emilson is a 32-year-old defender signed from Brazil, where he played for Cruzeiro. He got game time in Serie A with Napoli and Lazio, among others. He will see out the best of his days in the lower leagues in Scotland. All three were free agents, and the Rangers FC will be free to sign others like them shortly after the start of what is certain to be their first season in the Second Division, a little over 12 months from now. Before the start of the embargo, they will sign more players of sufficient calibre to ease them through their tour of the lower leagues. After a liquidation of the old club that was down to gross mismanagement, this is a new club starting in the bottom division and inheriting the charges against its predecessor that come with the SFA membership that was transferred, thus leapfrogging other clubs awaiting a chance to join the Scottish Football League. Rangers in the summer of 2012 are a lot of things to a lot of people but, in the context of the football they will play this season and next, wounded is not one of them.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN?

Even on day one of their first SPL campaign without Rangers, Celtic looked like they might struggle to retain a great interest in the domestic title. They began the defence of the title won by Neil Lennon's team last season with a 1-0 win over Aberdeen that was gift-wrapped by Jamie Langfield, the goalkeeper whose error ushered Kris Commons' shot over the line. Langfield spent the entirety of last season recovering from a brain seizure he suffered in May 2011 and was loaned to Forfar during his rehabilitation. He received a lot of criticism for his mistake, some  via social media sites - deeply offensive with regards to his medical history and now the subject of a police investigation. The two new teams in the top league started with goalless draws  Dundee at Kilmarnock and Ross County at home to Motherwell. The most promising beginnings belonged to Hearts, for whom expectations were lowered this season after a major cull of first-team players, and Dundee United, favourites to lead the race behind Celtic in the long game. Hearts beat St Johnstone 2-0, while Dundee United were 3-0 winners over Hibernian. Things don't look too good for Hibs, who re-enact their Scottish Cup final against their Edinburgh rivals, Hearts, this weekend. Last season ended with a 5-1 derby defeat at Hampden, after Hibs had escaped a relegation fight on the penultimate weekend. They need to find some traction quickly if they are to get out of the funk that has engulfed Easter Road in recent seasons.


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