THERE has been a heap of criticism laid at the feet of Rangers players over the past couple of years but no-one could accuse them of being mugs.
When £7000-a-week deals - aye, plus bonuses - were being signed at Ibrox, all the shrewdness and cunning was on the players' side of the negotiating table; none was with the owners, directors and executives displaying more money then sense. The one certainty from last week's proposed 15% cut to player wages was that they would immediately give it the equivalent of a dropkick over the Club Deck roof.
If the new chief executive Graham Wallace is as clever as everyone seems to think he is, he will have known the inevitable response would be instant rejection. Wallace is now 30 days into his 120-day review of Rangers' cost structure and the leaking of the proposed wage cut was the first evidence of how he would like to implement massive savings. The wailing and gnashing of teeth was predictable because sweeping salary reductions are brutal. But did anyone think this could be done without pain?
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The players were correct to reject what was suggested to them last week but that was only the opening salvo in what will be an inescapably ugly, difficult process. The issue and the pain have been deflected, not addressed. If money cannot be saved by the players volunteering to earn less then Wallace must look elsewhere. That could mean encouraging the sale of Lee Wallace, releasing players (can the club afford to pay them off?), deciding non-playing staff must lose their jobs, or imposing an across-the-board wage cut on not only the players but the entire staff.
This being Rangers, news of the proposed players' cut - and their rejection of it - soon reached the media. This being Rangers, you immediately questioned why it quickly got out and whether it suited some to see the squad look inflexible and unwilling to help. Rangers are in a dire financial state and it does not look good when overpaid footballers, earning SPFL Premiership wages for third-tier football, look intransigent about doing their bit to help.
The position is more layered than that, of course. It was Charles Green and his cohorts who saddled the club with grotesquely excessive running costs. Brian Stockbridge, one of them, is still there. Within a few seconds of the proposal being put to them a single unifying thought must have sprung to mind for even the dimmest bulbs in the room: "If we're being asked to take a cut, what about others at the club? What about you lot, the directors?"
The thing is, Wallace's opening gambit may end up being accepted in some sort of watered down form, especially if a similar cut is proposed for everyone. Rangers are where they were in March 2012, with players again under pressure to take cuts to spare job losses. "We should be absolutely clear that this club is in a perilous financial situation and there are no easy options," said the long-forgotten Paul Clark of Duff and Phelps two years ago, and an almost identical phrase will tumble out of Wallace whenever he's next interviewed.
Back then the football department made a sacrifice. The players and management agreed temporary wage reductions from March until the end of the season. That protected the squad and seemingly removed the need for redundancies among the non-playing staff.
The current lot could find themselves on the receiving end of similar emotional blackmail but some of the circumstances are different this time. First, the club is not in administration so there is an expensive boardroom executive which could take a financial hit as well. You can barely move at Ibrox for accountants. One minute Philip Nash is appointed as a consultant (and if he is any good he will not come cheap), the next the begging bowl is out to take money off the players. But second, even allowing for the grossly excessive amounts of money hosed at the likes of Lee McCulloch, Ian Black, David Templeton and Dean Shiels, the footballers account for under 35% of the wages/turnover ratio, a percentage every other Premiership club would envy.
If they are properly advised, the players should have plenty of questions of their own the next time their representative, McCulloch, sits with Wallace. If the chief executive insists the club is not heading for administration why should their wages be slashed? What would pay cut achieve? If this board wants to take a chunk out of their take-home then what is their business plan? Do none of the directors have anything to contribute?
Wallace still makes a regular commute to Glasgow from his home near London. He must feel like the weight of the world goes back on his shoulders every time he touches down at Abbotsinch. He has had an easy ride so far because he was positively received as the man who would bring some order to Rangers and "sort them out". That sounds nice up until the point he has to sharpening an axe. It is inevitable that his popularity will slide as he becomes synonymous with the brutal cuts which are his raison d'etre for being there.
Wallace's job didn't get any easier last week. More importantly, the costs which are crushing Rangers didn't come down by a single penny.