RANGERS' management, players and staff remained locked in a painful damage-limitation exercise last night as tense negotiations continued about the extent of job losses facing the crisis-hit club.
A projected cash shortfall of around £4.5m has to be covered between now and the end of the season, and a brutal cost-cutting regime will be confirmed by the club's administrators today.
There was a stay of execution for players and other club staff who had feared administrators Duff & Phelps would announce redundancies at Ibrox yesterday.
Intense negotiating work by manager Ally McCoist and the players' union, PFA Scotland, kept various potential deals on the table, but one Ibrox source admitted that job losses, wages cuts and "pain" were inevitable. A decision is expected after further talks this morning.
Duff & Phelps were also continuing efforts to release crucial money from the Ticketus season-ticket deal – the so-called missing millions after £24.4m was raised and £18m given to Lloyds Banking Group for Craig Whyte's takeover – the balance of which remains locked in the account of lawyers Collyer Bristow. But last night there was no chance of that money being freed in the short-term, and certainly not in time to save any vulnerable jobs.
Despite McCoist and the PFA Scotland's best efforts, it still seems likely that a number of players will be released with Lee McCulloch, Sasa Papac, Kirk Broadfoot, Neil Alexander, David Healy and Sone Aluko among those vulnerable because of their age, length of contract or usefulness.
A number of non-playing staff will also be released. Rangers do not recognise trades unions other than PFA Scotland so the non- footballing staff have no representation.
In a fraught day at Ibrox and the training ground, Murray Park, McCoist met Duff & Phelps representatives in the morning and then briefed all the senior players who had returned from international duty. Carlos Bocanegra, Dorin Goian and Maurice Edu were not back in time.
Fraser Wishart, the PFA Scotland chief executive and Tony Higgins of the international players' union FIFPro, then met McCoist and the players as the various options were explained and the players asked questions during a session lasting nearly two hours. There were no individual names of "at risk" or players discussed, only the financial figure which has to be saved.
Duff & Phelps' intention is to reduce costs to a certain level each month. How the club does that – ie by redundancies, wage cuts/deferrals or a combination of all three – is not especially significant to the administrators. Inevitably, of course, the consequences could be devastating for the players and other staff.
One option on the table is to make 11 players redundant with the rest having to take a 50% pay cut deferred until the end of the season.
The second option is eight player redundancies with an immediate 50% pay cut. The third, thought less likely to succeed, is a 75% cut across the board to remove the need for any player redundancies. Duff & Phelps have the authority to impose whatever cuts they want, but there is a will to get as much "buy-in" as possible from the Rangers management, players and staff.
One complicating factor is that wage cuts and deferrals have to be agreed in writing, which would require the involvement of solicitors and even agents. Those documents then have to be lodged with both the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Premier League.
McCoist and his backroom team including assistant Kenny McDowall and first-team coach Ian Durrant are also committed to cuts/deferrals if it will save jobs among the players and non-playing staff. On a day of feverish rumours it was thought at one point that Durrant's position was vulnerable under the cuts, but that is not the case.
The discussions are especially difficult because of the need to find a balance between bringing the costs down until Duff & Phelps are satisfied, trying to minimise the number of job losses, and ensuring that no negative message comes across from highly-paid players being spared while non-football staff lose their jobs.
Wishart and Higgins arrived at Murray Park at 2.30pm yesterday and, after their briefing, the players drove away around 4.30pm.
"I can confirm that PFA Scotland had formal discussions with administrators today," said Wishart. "Along with our lawyer, Margaret Gribbon, I met players and the manager as well to discuss all possibilities. Those discussions will continue into tomorrow and PFA Scotland aims to come up with proposals that will satisfy all parties. Further than that I cannot comment as these discussions must remain confidential."
A brief statement from Duff & Phelps said: "Discussions are on-going and announcements will be made at the earliest opportunity, most likely tomorrow."
There was such confusion about what may happen today that the club's public relations department was unable to confirm when and where McCoist would be able to conduct today's weekly media briefing.