KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— If Michel Platini ever wanted direct evidence to support his arguments in favour of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play strictures then he need now look no further than Scotland.
Four years ago Platini, as president of UEFA, was watching Rangers from Glasgow losing narrowly to Zenit St Petersburg in the final of the Europa League at Eastlands, Manchester.
From that glorious place on one of the central stages of European club football the Light Blues have crashed into the bleak financial gloom and gone this afternoon into administration – one step short of bankruptcy.
No other club of the national and international stature of the record 54-times champions of Scotland have come to such a state, confirmed today by the club before the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The football punishment is that Rangers, immediately, have lost 10 league points. They remain second in the table but now 14 points behind old rivals Celtic instead of four. But that is the least of the problems assailing the club.
The last financial straw for the current Scottish Premier League champions is the prospect of losing a dispute with the British tax authorities which would hand them, instantly, a further debt of around £50m – on top of current losses.
The club’s financial agony was revealed by admissions after the decision to sell their star Croatia striker Nikica Jelavic to Everton for £6.5m last month.
Last week owner Craig Whyte said that the club he bought nine months ago for £1 were entering the “toughest few weeks” in their 140-year history.
Whyte claimed that when he took on the club and its debts from previous owner Sir David Murray last year he believed there would be no liability. Fans’ best hope is that, if Rangers lose the tax case, the club will go into administration, and strike a deal to write off a proportion of the debt.
However such a prospect is complicated by the fact that Whyte had already, in effect, mortgaged much of the club’s season ticket revenue for the next four years to raise about £25m to stave off other creditors.
The crisis has its origin in 2001 when Rangers spent massively on players, at the behest of Murray and his then manager Dick Advocaat. From having £25m in the bank they suddenly slumped to debts of a similar amount. That spending spree cost the Ibrox Park club a net £60m without ever delivering the European success which would have matched dominance in Scottish competition.
Murray was clearly off an the same sort of “living the dream” cloud which spelled financial and sporting catastrophe for Leeds United in the 1990s.
One of his schemes was to limit the tax due from the many expensive foreign stars – including the likes of Ronald De Boer, Giovanni Van Brockhurst and Andrei Kanchelskis – by channelling money for their image rights to them via off-shore trust accounts.
The Revenue and Customs authority says this was illegal evasion of tax liabilities not permitted avoidance and has reclaimed all the tax owed plus financial penalties: hence the looming £50m shadow.
The consequences for Scottish football are grave though they have been played down thus far by officials at the SFA, the League and Old Firm rivals Celtic who must feel particularly aggrieved at having come largely second best in the last decade to a club whose player finances were built on sand.
All of this justifies Platini’s repeated warnings about the threat to European professional football from clubs spending beyond their means. But he will take no satisfaction is being proved right.