Ten years ago Rangers fans suffered heartache on Valentine’s Day as the club were placed into administration.
However, a decade on, the Ibrox side are now Scottish Premiership champions and preparing for a huge Europa League clash against Borussia Dortmund.
It is a journey that features pain, joy, excitement and much more. To reflect on Rangers’ rise back to the top of Scottish football and what is next, here’s an exclusive Q&A with the club’s managing director Stewart Robertson…
It’s been quite a decade, what did you step into when you took over as managing director in 2015?
We came into a club which was broken. Morale was very low after the five years of upheaval the club had been through. There was a big job to get the club settled and get solid foundations in place and to really, bit by bit, take it forward.
That also gave us a great opportunity, because to some extent it was more or less a clean sheet of paper. It meant we could look at what a modern football club looked like, we could look at the structure we wanted to implement. We would get a structure without having to tear something apart and put it back together, could actually start with a clean sheet of paper.
This wasn’t a short-term project, we always knew it was a long-term project and we knew this was about setting the foundations in place for the long-term future of the club.
Yes it was frustrating and disappointing that we didn’t come out of the Championship in that first season, but it was just a small blip in terms of where we wanted to be.
How would you compare Rangers now to then?
It’s a completely different entity in terms of how we’re structured, in terms of the standards we set and we try and work to. We’re constantly striving to be the best the club we can be and to push on. We won the league last year but that isn’t us stopped, was want to win the league this year and in the future, we want to be in the Champions League. We’ve got all these ambitions. We want the academy as strong as it can be and producing a regular flow of talent for the first team as well.
Does the seamless transition from Steven Gerrard to Giovanni van Bronckhorst show how far the club has come?
That came down to a lot of hard work in the background. Ross Wilson, our sporting director, had put a lot of the building blocks in place for such an eventuality. Steven Gerrard coming in was a game-changer for the club, that was a big move for the club. It took the profile of the club forward – we had successful runs in Europe and we were able to attract a better quality of player.
We always knew Steven would go someday, that’s football and that’s what happens. We were able to have Gio in within the week and that was down to a lot of work done in the background by Ross.
How concerned were you when Steven Gerrard left?
There’s always a risk when there’s a change that it may have an unsettling effect. One of the things we’re tried to do is have a structure in place so we can cope with people leaving and that no one person is bigger than the club.
That’s not to take away from Steven’s achievements because Steven’s achievements at the club were fantastic. It was also about the team left behind too and that team is one of the reasons we’re been able to have such a seamless transition.
How sure a financial footing is the club in now?
It’s the best position it’s been in since 2015. That’s taken a lot of hard work and investment from the board and investors. We had to invest in the infrastructure, we had to get the club into a place where we had created an elite environment for the players. If you don’t have that environment, you don’t attract the players. So it becomes self-fulfilling. To bring the players in required money and investment as well.
We’ve moved the commercial department forward, the supporters have been phenomenal all the way through. Also getting back into Europe was a key part of that, as is the player trading as well. Nathan Patterson’s transfer to Everton that’s given us the fourth pillar to our business model. We’re now likely to be in a profitable situation this season and going forward we will be sustainable. That’s very much the business model now.
From this season forward we want to be sustainable. That’s the business model that’s in place. It’s been discussed and signed off by the board. That’s my responsibility to make sure we do all the things to be there. That’s what Rangers has to be, we can’t go back to the situation we had 10 years ago. That just can’t happen at all. We’re only here for a short period of time and our stewardship is really important. I want to make sure when I leave here, which I will do someday, that the club’s in much better shape than the day I came in.
Would Rangers have to sell players if they don’t win the Scottish Premiership this season?
The ambition and the target is to win the league. If we don’t win it then we just have to get on with it, but we’re very focused on winning the league this season.
We were obviously behind (Celtic) financially for several years, we’ve had to be creative and innovative around scouting, recruitment, and analysis and make sure we’re doing things that gives us an edge over other clubs.
We have always said we’ll sell the right player, at the right price, at the right time for Rangers. We’re building something that’s long-term. We’re not going to win the league every year, you just have to make sure the foundations are in place. The long-term viability of the club is first and foremost. It’s player trading we look at, it’s not just selling players. There’s no need for us to go and sell a player if it doesn’t happen, we don’t budget to be in the Champions League. If it happens then that’s a bonus.
If you win the league this season, how much would that help?
It would allow us to do more around the stadium and there are various plans for the training ground, for example, a second hybrid pitch and a second pitch with undersoil heating to provide greater flexibility during the winter.
There are other areas like the academy and women’s team we’d like to expand, so it would help us accelerate those. It would also allow us to have a bit of a reserve for the future if something doesn’t go the right way. It’s about continually making sure we can cover the downside as well as making the most of the upside.
I’ve got a very supportive board full of wise heads. They’re a good source of counsel for us and they’re all Rangers supporters. They’re all very conscious of where the club has come from and there’s no way we want it to go back there.
How important was the sale of Nathan Patterson?
We haven’t sold a player for multiple millions for many, many years. A key part of our strategy was the trading of players and I think it lends credibility to the value of your squad. When other clubs realise what your players are worth then it begins to change the way they look at your players.
That’s why runs in Europe are very important because if you can show the way your players are competing at the top level and show their worth – all of that helps to enhance the value of your players.
Are you resigned to losing Connor Goldson?
The focus has all been on the last dozen football games, European games, and Scottish Cup. We’re not resigned to losing him. I know Ross (Wilson) is having regular conversations with all the players whose contracts are expiring in the summer and that’s something that will be addressed in the coming months.
I’m quite philosophical about how these things work. Players come in and sign a contract and they’ve committed for that time. If they serve their time and that’s what the club has signed up to as well then that’s fine. If someone leaves prior to their contract expiring and we get some revenue then again that’s something everybody is happy with. I get the noise that can sometimes follow these things but we just have to deal with what’s in front of us.