'The mood," said Kyle Bartley, "is pretty bleak." The defender was driving out of Murray Park early yesterday afternoon, and spoke only briefly through the opened window of his car.
The sense around Rangers' training ground was of sombre realisation; all that could be acknowledged was the significance of the discussions taking place inside the complex. Players departed and some, such as Bartley and Kyle Lafferty, returned later in the day. Nothing was resolved, and it became for the people involved an exercise in perseverance.
Late into the evening, the last of the players left Murray Park. The cars of Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker and Steven Naismith had to inch past members of a girls' team who were gathering outside after playing a fixture on the training ground's pitches. The Rangers players departed with only unresolved issues for company, although they were not the only three whose futures remain undecided.
The negotiations have been an endurance. In most other cases of football clubs falling into administration, redundancies have been made swiftly. Cutting the wage bill is the most effective way to reduce costs, and the only way to make significant savings. Some financial experts are puzzled at the way the situation at Rangers has dragged on, particularly after the administrators revealed they need to make savings of £1m a month. There seems a tension between their obligations to cut outgoings to return the business to an even keel and the need to retain the worth of the first-team squad. It is this contradiction that left the players with some bargaining power.
To cut £1m from the monthly outgoings, the administrators would have needed to make a large number of redundancies, including some of the higher earners such as Davis, Naismith, Whittaker, Allan McGregor, Lee McCulloch and Carlos Bocanegra. Yet many of these individuals are also assets who could be sold when the transfer window reopens in the summer. Although the wage bill needs to be trimmed, a squad that has lost its best players would also prompt any potential buyers of the club to reduce their offer.
The administrators were reluctant to take the drastic action. Knowing this, the players sought to find a solution that would prevent any redundancies being made. A wage deferral scheme was rejected by the administrators, even although they have been used in football administrations before. One financial source said yesterday that deferrals would have made some sense in Rangers' case if an interested buyer – such as Paul Murray, the former Rangers director – was prepared to take responsibility for funding them.
The only other option was staggered wage cuts, with the players prepared to agree to a split of 75% for those earning more than £15,000 a week, 50% for those earning upwards of £2000, and 25% for the rest. Yet to accept the cuts, they wanted something in return. It is thought the discussions centered on either players being able to leave on free transfers in the summer or, in the cases of those who are considered major assets, for a clause in the contract that would force the club to accept minimum transfer fees, or for percentages of future transfer fees.
During the course of yesterday afternoon, many of the players' agents began to arrive at Murray Park to negotiate these compromises. With only two having departed – Gregg Wylde and Mervan Celik – the mood among the squad might have been more optimistic. There seems a distance between the players and the administrators, though, as both sides seek to protect their own interests.
For the team, the psychological effect could be devastating. In most other cases of administration in football, once the redundancies are made, a siege mentality develops among those who are left behind. Performances tend to be more emphatic, even if the resources have been diminished. At Rangers, though, only an air of doubt and suspicion has settled among the squad.
A strong bond exists among the core of the squad, since most have them have been together for more than four years and have been drawn together by the series of financial dramas that have surrounded the club in recent years. This last crisis would have pulled them further together, but the ongoing disagreements with the administrators will have eroded some of that resolution.
The higher earners at the club, among them thought to be Ally McCoist and members of the coaching staff, were prepared to make a meaningful sacrifice, but those offers have not yet been finalised.
The bonds of the squad were once established by the triumphs of winning three league titles and, on a campaign of doggedness, the 2008 UEFA Cup final. Now there is an embattled feeling among them as they fight for their own futures, but also those of their colleagues and co-workers at Ibrox. Some are prepared to play for nothing in the closing weeks of the season, and the players are now trying to correspond their commitment to the club with their own needs.
Somewhere in this impasse, when frustrations and emotions will be strained, McCoist has to try to find the means to hold his squad together. His job, late last night, will never have seemed more punishing.