Rangers have added to the sense of flux in Scottish football by raising the intriguing prospect of joining England’s Premier League.
Although their plea led to immediate denials south of the border, there is no doubt that the 54-times Scottish champions are increasingly looking to England for a way out to their current troubles, which see them playing in the Scottish Third Division.
“The SPL told us face-to-face, ‘We don’t want you, you aren’t welcome,”’ Rangers chief executive Charles Green said 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 could be Rangers’ chance to escape.
“What we understand is that any restructuring will also revisit the taboo,” Green told the Associated Press in an interview. “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 are due to float on London’s AIM market by the end of the year, and Green has been trying to persuade financial institutions this week that the club has a realistic chance of playing in the English Premier League.
”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 favour 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.“
Other Premier League clubs have also consistently denied wanting Rangers to join English football and the Premier League chief-executive Richard Scudamore has consistently denied that it could happen.
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.“
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 means that Scotland’s only internationally attractive fixture is off the calendar – the Old Firm derby against Celtic.
And at Celtic’s annual general meeting today, 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.”
Green bought Rangers’ assets for 5.5 million pounds ($8.7 million), and four months later he is already hopeful of raising about 30 million pounds ($48 million) from a flotation on London’s AIM exchange. Fans are expected to invest 21 million pounds (about $33 million) in shares.