There wasn’t much of note at the Ibrox AGM today except near the end, when their board acknowledged the gaping hole at the centre of the accounts; the £10 million plus which they recorded in player trading profits and which is the only reason those figures were not an un-spinnable train wreck which even the press would not have defended.
They know they cannot continue like this.
They know that the madness, the utter folly, of spending more than they earn cannot go on.
They know it because they are the ones who have to write the cheques to cover the overage if it does, and there is no longer any appetite at Ibrox for doing so. Their directors might be sitting at the top of the government of Crazy Town, but they are no longer prepared to indulge its madder fantasies.
Not that they can. UEFA regulations mean that they can’t. Eventually those rules would have severely limited their breathing space. They know it. They aren’t prepared to flirt with disaster on that level. Their club is in enough trouble as it is.
That £10 million differential is going to become obvious when this year’s accounts are filed. I think they could lose an eight-figure sum, and if they do, I don’t know what the Hell they’ll be able to spend in the years afterwards … nowhere near what they are spending now. The biggest wage bill in the country isn’t a reality they’ll be living with much longer.
No wonder The Village Idiot was squealing the other day on Sky. They hear Celtic talk about spending in January and hear Rodgers sounding very confident of bringing in quality and they know full well that they cannot compete with that. If we decided to, we could pull away from them. We could leave them in the dust. They are no longer living in denial about that.
The question that haunts a lot of our fans, of course, is about whether or not our club has the stomach for pulling clear and really putting down a marker. That question will remain unanswered for now, but I expect to see clear signs in January that we’re more than ready to. The question Ibrox has to ask itself, constantly, is what happens if we do?
What if they spend more than they can afford and we decide just to outspend them anyway? We can do that without breaking sweat. In any given transfer window, we have the ability to push further than they can and that makes their position very difficult.
They can’t know whether or not we’re willing to go for it, and that restricts what they can do even if they were willing to go a little further into debt. The only reason a board would do that is if they thought there were on a sure thing; if doing it definitely won them a title, they might be prepared to try. But as long as Celtic retains the ability to simply spend more, and with our record of spotting good players, that’s dicing with death and they know it. It doesn’t matter if they think we might lack the will. They can never be sure of that.
Their fans always want them to try. That’s the dilemma they face.
They said a lot of things at the AGM today which their fans applauded … but none of it contained absolute assurances or guarantees and there was certainly no mention of how much they could spend. They understand their supporters so well … they offer vague encouragement and they let the Peepul fill in the blanks, ascribing to their comments whatever meaning they want, believing they’ve heard things they plainly didn’t hear.
The media does not contradict this view. Indeed, they put their own positive spin on it all which leads to further confusion for them when the “promises” aren’t kept.
But those of us on the outside, who went over their remarks carefully, know what was said … and most importantly, in some cases, what wasn’t said. In this case, the things they did say were clear enough. They won’t continue to spend what they don’t have. The £10 million differential without a major player sale won’t be allowed to become an actual debt … they will not push the boat out if it means they all have to eat an eight-figure loss.
That’s the message from that gathering of Ibrox shareholders today; the men at the top table have recognised the danger their club is in, even as they offer assurances that everything is better than its been in years. Their claims that there will never be another 2012 are at least a recognition that what happened to the previous Ibrox club, Rangers, was a consequence of their own behaviour and their own reckless spending.
We used to say of Rangers that “they died chasing Lions”; it was Murray’s insane belief that they could win a European Cup which led to some of their overspending, but in fact it was the Martin O’Neill era which truly tipped them over the edge. They weren’t even chasing the Lisbon Lions by that point; they were just chasing Celtic.
And Ibrox has been doing it ever since. At every step, we’ve had the power to move so far in front of them that only suicidal levels of spending could keep pace with us. This board of theirs might not be the smartest kids in the class, but there’s no longer an egotist like King or Murray there who is willing to risk everything just to test the theory out.
So, the brakes are being hit, finally. The restrictions on spending are being introduced. They’ve brought in a manager willing to work within his limits. Their fans seem largely oblivious to that, but they only have to listen to understand what’s in play.
But it’s in play just the same. Their directors are no longer willing to risk everything. They know that their club has to be run sanely, in no small part because it’s their own money on the line. They aren’t spending that in the vague hope of catching us, especially not when we can outspend them should we decide to try.