Rangers chief hopes to tie Walter Smith to new deal
New Rangers chairman Alastair Johnston has held talks with Walter Smith over their vision for the club as he seeks to extend the manager's contract.
The US-based businessman has been discussing his future working relationship with Smith after being appointed to replace majority shareholder Sir David Murray.
Johnston, who was introduced to the media at Ibrox today, revealed one of his main priorities was to remove any reliance on external finance. But he denied the club, who were unable to buy any players during the summer, were effectively being run by the bank.
Johnston is also charged with making Rangers an attractive proposition to potential buyers as Murray looks to sell his shares. And, despite the SPL's difficulty in attracting significant media income, Johnston claims Rangers are well-placed to take advantage of any shifts in the financial landscape of the European game.
With Smith's contract due to run out in January, Johnston's first task was to discuss the practicalities of decision-making if and when the deal is extended.
Flanked by Smith and chief executive Martin Bain, he said on Monday: "I wanted to make sure we had stability during this time of transition with the management team. I have had the chance to sit down and talk with the two gentlemen beside me. We have had progressive discussions.
"Issues remain but the board and Rangers Football Club are committed to maintaining the management team that is in place and we are working towards that end. I've had lengthy discussions with Walter on philosophy, background, attitudes - corporate and football.
"He has had discussions with me on how we can work together and how collaborative decision-making will be and how that process would work. I have been very encouraged by these discussions. These are important things to Walter and important things to me, candidly. It's not just the pounds and shillings attached to the contract - I think we can deal with that. We're talking about other very significant issues that relate to it.''
Johnston agreed to take over from Murray after being assured he would not be undermined by decisions from the bankers that allow the club's overdraft of around £25 million.
"We have a credit arrangement with the bank with various pre-determined covenants,'' the Scot said. "We have to follow that criteria unless there are exceptions we can justify. The bank have been very co-operative and collaborative with the transition. If they were running the club per se, they would be here and I wouldn't.''
But Johnston felt it was "premature'' to say whether Rangers would be able to buy players - or need to sell more - in January. "It is only 30 days since the last transfer window closed,'' said Johnston, who remains vice-chairman of the IMG sports and entertainment management company, whose clients include Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. "What happens in January may be under an entirely different set of circumstances.''
Despite those financial issues, Johnston believes Rangers are an attractive investment opportunity, especially given their ability to qualify for the Champions League.
Johnston, a friend of Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner, will look for buyers with the clout to underpin the club's football ambitions. "As of now, we have had no expression of interest and no buyers in line,'' he said. "Finding a new owner would certainly address one of the primary objectives in removing reliance on external financing. In terms of the likelihood of it... we are dealing with an economic criss around the world.
"Credit is difficult to get so you would certainly be looking for a potential buyer with the current wherewithal to buy the club. There is a realistic chance that one or two candidates will appear. I think it's an attractive proposition in many ways. The chances of playing in the world's biggest football stage is a very realistic scenario for a future proprietor.
"I had a friend that bought Aston Villa a couple of years ago. The chance of Rangers playing in the Champions League as opposed to Aston Villa are a lot higher. The economic situation in Scotland is particularly harsh just now so I would be surprised if there were any local buyers that would come to the fore, but I'm certainly not excluding the possibility.''
With Murray still holding the largest stake in the club, some supporters will wonder how much power Johnston will yield. But he spoke of having different ambitions and contacts as he talked at length over his expectations for a European league.
"What I would like to bring is some vision about what might happen in the club in five or six years,'' he said. "I want to ensure that Rangers' value and prestige is maintained so that, when invitations are sent out to the new party, Rangers are on that list.''