rangers v dundee united Ally McCoist disagrees with club's account of events leading to sale of Jelavic but denies rift with Craig Whyte
Ally McCoist added fresh intrigue to the reason for Nikica Jelavic's departure yesterday when he confirmed that the player had never asked to leave Rangers. Ali Russell, the chief operations officer at Ibrox, had claimed that Jelavic had personally told McCoist he wanted to go on the eve of the transfer window's closure. Jelavic was sold to Everton on Tuesday for £6m, and Rangers signed no-one to replace him.
Russell had said it was "nonsense" of Jelavic to claim he had not asked to leave, yet when McCoist was asked about it yesterday his version of events was the same as the player's. "I had a good chat with Nikica Jelavic on Monday and he has never asked me to leave the club and has never said he wanted to leave the club. But what I would say is that he has always maintained that he has wanted to play in the English Premiership. That's where I'd leave it."
McCoist's version suggested that the Rangers hierarchy took Jelavic's long-term ambition to play in England as the incentive to cash in when Everton made their bid. Jelavic, of course, agreed to the move.
McCoist faced what was always liable to be an awkward weekly media briefing yesterday, his first since the sale of Jelavic, the failure to bring in any new goalscorer, and the revelations that owner Craig Whyte had mortgaged off future season-ticket sales to raise £24.4m. Images of McCoist leaving Ibrox on Tuesday night, looking glum because a meeting with Whyte did not result in any new signings, led to speculation of tension in the relationship between manager and chairman. If McCoist was at the end of his tether with the Whyte regime, he made a good job of disguising it.
"There was an awful lot made of that photograph, out of nothing. I have to tell you that my message is 100% positive," he said. "We have lost Nikica Jelavic, of course. But Mervan Celik has come in and we have a very, very good squad of players.
"Craig and I have a good, healthy working relationship. I have to put a winning football team on the park and he has to run a football club. I totally understand Craig's situation and he totally understands mine. I do not have any problem with anything he has said to me in terms of what I can do or who I can get.
"The one thing he has always been with me is very honest and up front. He keeps me involved in all the information. The football club's job is to maintain sustainability, producing players and having success. And he won't do anything that might be to the detriment of that."
Any disagreements between the pair of them were routine, he said. "The disagreements we have are obviously due to his aim to make the club better and my aim to make the club better coming from different perspectives. But the aim is still the exact same: to make the club the best it can be. I have to tell you there were never any problems. But one or two disagreements about teams and players? Absolutely."
Rangers have been mocked for repeated failures to sign various targets in the summer and January windows. On Monday they bid around £1m for Grant Holt, who was McCoist's first choice to replace Jelavic. They had already been told by Paul Lambert, the Norwich City manager, that his captain – with nine goals already this season – was not for sale.
"In any walk of life and any business if you are going to buy a sofa you try to get the best deal you can," said McCoist. "I totally appreciate a lot of people might think you are taking the mickey a bit. All I know is that we put bids in and sometimes they get accepted, sometimes they get knocked back. We did have 'plan B' strikers [after Holt] but they were just outwith the financial restraints that we could afford. Simple as that."
He knew nothing about a call being made to St Johnstone's Fran Sandaza on Tuesday to withdraw a verbal agreement to sign him several hours earlier. Sandaza himself had claimed the two calls were made from Rangers. "I do not know if anybody called him – it certainly wasn't Craig – and it was news to me. Who phoned him at 5pm? I have no idea." Rangers still have an interest in getting Sandaza as a free agent in the summer.
McCoist called a meeting with his squad on Wednesday, hoping to issue a rallying call for the final months of the season. "We had a really good, encouraging meeting with the boys after the window shut to say to everybody how positive we must be between now and the end of the season. Everybody knows what's demanded of each other."
Striker David Healy said of the meeting: "The manager wants to build the belief in us that we can still do this."
By "this" he meant win the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, but the immediate task is tomorrow's William Hill Scottish Cup tie against Dundee United at Ibrox. Kyle Lafferty, Steven Naismith, Steven Whittaker, Jamie Ness, Kirk Broadfoot and Kane Hemmings are all out. Out too, and spotted in a pub with Celtic coach Alan Thompson on Wednesday night, was Allan McGregor. That was deemed newsworthy by one paper but McCoist disagreed.
"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "In fact, I think it's quite good. Listen, there has always been relationships within the Old Firm. It's good to meet up and have a beer. Why wouldn't you?"