THE prospective appointment of Christian Nerlinger as Rangers' new chief football operations officer seems like a great idea at the wrong time for the wrong club.
Nerlinger is mostly remembered by Scottish football fans for three injury-blighted seasons at Ibrox a decade or so ago but, on this matter, it is what he has achieved since moving back to his native Germany that is most pertinent.
After finally calling time on his playing career in 2005, he chose to return to his studies to undertake an International Business degree from Munich Business School. That, in turn, led to a job behind the scenes at Bayern Munich, the club he had previously represented for six years as a midfielder of some repute. His initial role was in a newly-created position of team manager that, unlike its British equivalent, was a job where the onus was on dealing with administrative duties rather than sporting issues. Like a general manager in this country, Nerlinger was the conduit between the dressing room and the boardroom, the man to deal with the endless bureaucracy that engulfs professional sports clubs. Things like arranging friendlies, sorting out transport to matches and generally running around after pampered football players all fell under his remit.
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He did such a good job that a year later they promoted him to sporting director, succeeding Uli Hoeness in the post. At just 36 years old Nerlinger was effectively in control of all non-sporting matters at one of the biggest clubs in the world. He would remain there for three seasons, the de facto chief executive/ director of football responsible for transfers, contracts, hiring and firing, and most other major decisions. The end came in the summer of 2012, with Bayern citing "differing views regarding the future of the team" following a trophyless campaign. Now he wants back in the game. "In Munich, I experienced things at the highest level," said Nerlinger. "Now I am ready to lead another club."
Given his impressive cv and extensive experience, it is little surprise that Rangers want to be that club. The exact duties of the new chief football operations officer role, as proposed in chief executive Graham Wallace's review, have yet to be defined, although they will revolve around "developing player talent identification, scouting and recruitment capability", all of which Nerlinger would be more than capable of doing. If Rangers, who are said to have begun discussions with their former player, are able to recruit him ahead of bigger European clubs then it would represent a real feather in Wallace's cap.
The question, though, is whether Nerlinger is what Rangers need right now and whether he would be given the latitude to do the job properly. Football clubs are rarely granted the chance to start afresh with a blank canvas but that is what was Rangers were effectively afforded following the events of 2012 when they were liquidated and re-emerged in the third division. The club was effectively debt-free and had the financial backing of tens of thousands of supporters.
That was the time to overhaul the system, to deploy a sporting director working with a head coach, to set up an extensive scouting structure, to foster youth development and try to build things organically from scratch, similar to what Hearts seem to be trying to do now. Instead the focus remained on the short-term, with a board of directors seemingly more intent on trying to line their own pockets, and a transfer policy which centred on signing Premier League players on good wages to win the third division.
Now, they will look to try again to put the proper building blocks in place. Whether Nerlinger is the right man at this time, however, is up for debate. He has been out of work for two years and has a previous connection to the club, but presumably he will not come cheap. Rangers continue to put out mixed messages over their financial health but, with season-ticket sales around half of last year's total, adding another expensive salary to the wage bill does not seem prudent.
Hiring Nerlinger, or someone similar, would only be the start of it. There would need to be substantial investment in coaches, scouts, infrastructure, administrators etc to make it all work. It would take a serious financial commitment from Rangers, a vast expansion of off-field matters not long after the club has admitted to frittering away the best part of £70m. It would also need the manager to buy in to the concept and Ally McCoist has so far not given the impression he would be happy handing over the responsibility of recruiting players.
Nerlinger would have been an excellent addition to the staff had Rangers been run properly and prudently over the past few years. In the current climate, however, it looks like it would be just another unnecessary expense.