Friday, November 16, 2012
Recovering Rangers eyes move to English league
LONDON -- Scotland's most successful football club is trying to attract potential investors with an eye on someday playing in the English Premier League.
Rangers, a record 54-time Scottish champion, feels less loyalty to its homeland after being forced to start again this season in the fourth tier as punishment for a financial meltdown. And now the re-formed Glasgow club's new ownership believes an exit route from the Scottish leagues is becoming possible as UEFA explores changing cross-border rules.
"The SPL told us face-to-face, `We don't want you, you aren't welcome," Rangers chief executive Charles Green said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the club's planned flotation on a London Stock Exchange market.
And a planned revamp of the Scottish Premier League and three professional divisions below it could be Rangers' chance to escape. The overhaul was announced during the offseason just as Rangers was going into liquidation with tax debts exceeding $30 million.
"What we understand is that any restructuring will also revisit the taboo," Green said. "A bit like, `Don't talk about the war to the Germans.' `Don't mention Rangers and Celtic leaving Scotland.' It was always `Shhh, don't mention that.'
"I think the taboo of that is going to be lifted ... Scottish football without Rangers and Celtic might actually become more competitive within the remaining clubs rather than having these two monsters sat above them."
Rangers is due to float on London's AIM small-market stock exchange by the end of the year, and Green hopes to raise close to $48 million there. He has been trying to persuade financial institutions this week that the club has a realistic chance of playing in the English Premier League.
Green bought Rangers' assets for $8.7 million, and four months later he is already hopeful of raising about $48 million on the AIM exchange. Fans are expected to invest 21 million pounds about $33 million in shares.
"As a football club, if Rangers were in the Premier League only Manchester United would be bigger," Green said. "Because Arsenal haven't got more fans than Rangers ... the fan base is so big."
But the barriers to joining the world's richest football league are also vast, with the English Premier League already resisting previous overtures from both Rangers and Glasgow rival Celtic.
"I don't believe the Premier League are hostile towards it because I think it's a generalization," Green said. "Speak to Manchester United. They are not hostile to Rangers joining."
But United disputed Green's claims.
"We are not in favor of it at all. We are against it," United spokesman Phil Townsend said. "Our view is it's the English Premier League and should remain that way."
Green, though, pointed to the financial advantages of United being able to play at the 50,000-capacity Ibrox.
"Why would Man United want to play Southampton? Why, when they could play Rangers? Sixty percent of the Premier League don't want Rangers. Of course they don't want Rangers," Green said. "Why would Southampton, Swansea, Wigan, Aston Villa? Why would any of them want Rangers or Celtic in their league. Why would they? It threatens their existence ... but if you asked the big clubs, `Would you like Rangers?"
They would, according to Green. Even in Spain.
"Ask Barcelona and Real Madrid if they would like Rangers and Celtic in their league," Green said. "They definitely would. Why wouldn't Barcelona want to play Rangers home and away as opposed to playing Getafe? They would sell (those) games out."
In the presentation to potential investors, Green features a quote from Barcelona President Sandro Rosell highlighting the virtue of playing European rivals on weekends.
"What will change football over 5-to-10 years is this insatiable demand for the big clubs to play each other," Green said. "And this is not the insatiable demand from the west Midlands or from north London. This is the demand from the Middle East, Asia, the Far East."
But the English Premier League said Friday: "There is no appetite from the Premier League to even consider such a move."
Green is putting his faith in a UEFA experiment that could remove a key barrier to Rangers leaving the Scottish league. European football's governing body has allowed 16 women's teams in Belgium and the Netherlands to form a cross-border league in a three-year trial.
"The difficulty is that historically I don't think Celtic and Rangers would have been allowed to consider leaving Scotland," Green said. "What is now going to change things ... is now we've got this cross-border league for women."
Rangers' demotion removes from the calendar Scotland's only internationally attractive fixture -- the Old Firm derby against Celtic.
And at Celtic's annual general meeting on Friday, chief executive Peter Lawwell said he believed expanding leagues beyond borders could become a reality.
"We are committed to the SPL but nothing stays the same," Lawwell said. "There are initiatives in Europe. UEFA have opened their mind up to some form of regional leagues.
"I think they recognize the polarization between the top leagues and the smaller leagues in terms of media values. There are very early proposals that may look at regional leagues."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris