Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Rangers: Miller's tale leaves SPL adrift

"It's Miller time."

If I had a pound for every time I've heard that since Tennessean truck tycoon Bill Miller was confirmed as the preferred bidder for Rangers I'd...

Well, I'd have a sizeable amount of money and I wouldn't even consider piling it all into a wager that Rangers will now avoid liquidation.

It turns out that Miller time is no time at all. Just days separated the announcement that his bid had found favour and the announcement that he was, after all, not going to bother.

Reasons? That he cited the treatment he received from Rangers fans might have brought a wry smile to the faces of those who have felt that, in recent weeks, certain supporters have taken an unjustly scatter-gun approach to spreading the blame for this financial farce.

My exposure to the tow truck industry in the United States is limited. I imagine, however, it breeds a deal of earthy characters. The sort of chaps that might not take too kindly to Miller's profits through austerity business model.

I'm unconvinced that even advancing years will have turned him into the shrinking violet that his statement hinted at. In which case one must conclude either a degree of insincerity at play or such a level of abuse from fans that some supporters are themselves are an obstacle to finding a saviour. Prudence should dictate that the more bombastic supporters are now encouraged to shut up.

Perhaps more telling was the suggestion that he'd swallowed the false optimism of administrators Duff & Phelps only to discover that reality was somewhat harsher.

The legacy of years of mismanagement combined with a ban on European participation, as yet unknown domestic sanctions and the possibility that his hybrid newco and liquidation by any other name scheme wouldn't stop the demands from creditors.

It all added up to more than - an admittedly naive - Miller either had or was willing to risk.

So he was gone. Turns out his unconditional bid had a secret condition attached after all: if the mess was bigger than he thought he could bugger off with indecent haste.

And Rangers, it appears, are no closer to a resolution than they were when the administrators were appointed back in February.

Not that Paul Clark and David Whitehouse of Duff & Phelps are likely to admit that.

Like a happily drunken Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee the pair of them have somehow conjured up three new bidders over the bank holiday weekend, a weekend when they were apparently working on Miller's bid.

Who these mysterious people are we don't yet know. It's expected that Paul Murray and Brian Kennedy's Blue Knights will climb once more onto their trusty steeds.

Will they have found the money now that they didn't have last week?

Certainly they don't seem to have the ability to pull off a CVA in the traditional way, a route that the administrators announced as closed last week.

Are we to accept that the three bidders have heard Miller's reasons for turning his back on the deal and not questioned just what it is they will find when they begin their own due diligence?

And what comfort should fans take from the suggestion that one of these bids comes close to matching Miller's bid just hours after Miller has let it be known that his own offer wasn't enough to carry out the necessary salvage work.

Duff & Phelps-land seems like a jolly pleasant place to be but there is an increasing wariness about its apparent disconnect from reality.

There's a risk, given the exposure we've all had to this sorry saga over the past few months, that laymen start pontificating like experts.

I'm a layman. My non-expert opinion is that Rangers are now doomed.

Liquidation seems a racing certainty. The whens, ifs and buts of that will be dictated by the timing of contract deadlines and by how jumpy the creditors are getting at the unerring ability of Duff and Phelps to bring further disharmony where there is already plentiful discord.

There might yet be further grenades ready to explode. The big tax case, the second contract stramash, the next move of Craig Whyte, a police investigation.

I'm not sure how a route to survival can be navigated through that lot. I'm not sure that pleading mitigation because football is a strange industry and Rangers are a special case can really work much longer.

I'm not sure where any good fortune is going to come from.

Certainly the clock seems to be ticking. If Miller's claims of earning limitations and legacy expenses are true then each day makes things worse.

And since Valentine's Day - maybe even over the course of the last decade - nobody has arrived on the scene with clout, the determination or the wit to save the situation.

The window for last gasp heroics is getting ever smaller.

Throughout it all the fans remain helpless, agog like the rest of us as the club awaits its fate.

The other SPL clubs and the SFA are also left to watch from the sidelines.

It seems that representatives of the SPL did get drawn into hypothetical discussions with Bill Miller over the future.

Hypothetical discussions with a hypothetical owner.

That was a misjudgement that shouldn't be repeated with any other potential buyers.

SPL football needs to kick off next season with or without Rangers. Contingency plans for every eventuality need to be put in place.

Neither the administrators nor any future owner are in a position to dictate the terms of those plans, the crisis has now stretched on too long for that, the club is too stricken and too many unanswered questions remain.

Shutting their eyes and hoping it all blows over is no longer an option for the league.

Someone has to take responsibility for planning the future. Rangers will just need to fit into those plans when and if they're ready to do so.

How can the SPL grab the initiative?

Given the cack-handedness of the last few weeks it won't be easy.

Here's an idea though: if we've been taught anything by this imbroglio it is that the SPL experiment has been completely flawed.

It's delivered our clubs not into riches but into a state of beholden servitude, prostrate at the feet of their TV or Glasgow masters.

So kill the league.

Vote it out of existence. Tighten belts, swallow pride and return to the SFL fold.

Give every Scottish senior club a chance to shape the future. And, a convenient benefit this, let every club shoulder the collective responsibility of deciding just what to do with a problem like Rangers.

A single structure would also increase the options for negotiating the entry of what is increasingly looking like a Rangers newco into the league structure.

It would be an odd irony if the SPL's Neil Doncaster was the first redundancy of Rangers' collapse. It might console him that he would likely not be the last.

For an organisation so adept at snatching humiliation from the jaws of defeat this would be a dramatic move but an audacious suicide pact might just allow them to salvage enough respect to give the game some sort of positive future.

It's unlikely to happen.

But five years ago many people would have thought it unlikely that Rangers would today stand on the brink, the possibility of the gates being locked at Ibrox looming ever larger.

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