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Future must be one the Ibrox fans can buy into

As their team was losing to Manchester United last Saturday, the chant from the away end started up.

Borussia Dortmund is an example of a club that faced financial catastrophe but returned as a stronger entity. Picture: Getty Images
Borussia Dortmund is an example of a club that faced financial catastrophe but returned as a stronger entity. Picture: Getty Images

"We want our Arsenal back", they sang and not for the first time this season.

It was a jibe aimed at the directors of the Emirates club, since the annual meeting days before had been a fractious event. Arsenal fans have become disillusioned, with the team's best players departing every summer while the board maintains a strict financial policy. A tension has developed.

There are other factors, in particular the way the wage bill is structured, but in essence it is the discord that arises at most football clubs from time to time: fans demand money is spent on buying players; directors must balance the books.

But this is also a question of the club's ethos. What identity do Arsenal want to project? Will they commit to it beyond a period of angst from the support? Clubs are no longer simply football teams. How they are run, financially as much as in a sporting sense, plays to the values that supporters cherish, or rail against.

Some clubs, such as Barcelona and Ajax, have made a virtue out of their political or sporting philosophies. Others, like Borussia Dortmund, have overcome near-catastrophic financial problems to restore themselves to glory with an approach underpinned by financial prudence and shrewd work in the transfer market, signing young talents and selling them at a profit.

Celtic, too, follow this model, and Rangers will soon have to establish the principles that will underpin their return from financial crisis. The share issue will be launched in the coming weeks, with the aim of raising at least £20m from investors and supporters.

The money is to be used to maximise the revenue generated by the property assets and to strengthen the team. Exactly how the resources are spent, and the image the club seek to portray, will be critical in determining how strongly Rangers return from this period of upheaval.

The insolvency event that unseated Craig Whyte should remain an influence; Rangers must make progress through financial sustainability and transparency. The new owners have shown a timely and welcome willingness to engage with supporters and seek opinions from within the Rangers community. The offer to Walter Smith, and others with local knowledge and a long-term commitment to Ibrox, to join the board as non-executive directors is aimed at connecting with the club's history and traditions, but the intent is to upgrade all commercial aspects of the business, and the way the football department is run. Potential investors want to know that the business is debt free and has strong projections, but Rangers should not ignore their immediate past: every financial decision made should be underpinned by the resolve that there will be no reckless spending; that the wage bill will be kept within manageable limits.

The club's focus, beyond improving the revenue streams, should be on youth development and re-establishing an extensive scouting network. These are the fundamental areas that underpin the first-team, so the football budget – which will be managed by a football board separate from the plc board – should finance both the senior side and these support areas equally.

Dortmund and Feyenoord are examples of clubs that suffered severe financial setbacks but came back stronger. Their corporate and sporting image has been markedly influenced by the traumas they suffered.

Rangers fans are being asked to buy into the vision of the club's future. They do not want to hear talk of extravagant spending, but of responsible and innovative corporate management. They also need the club to be more proactive in defending its, and their, interests.

The image Rangers project now should be shaped by the club's recent experiences. The return of Smith would reassure fans who want to take this opportunity to buy a piece of their club. The Rangers Supporters Trust will also launch a scheme encouraging fans to take ownership. How Rangers then interact with the fans – the continuing willingness to communicate and listen – will be crucial in preventing the discord that exists at Arsenal, but also in restoring the sense of community that was lost under Sir David Murray then shredded during the Whyte reign.

This is a critical moment in Rangers' history. The initial public offering of shares will shape the progress: how many fans and investors will buy into the vision of the club? The answer will determine how quickly Rangers recover, since the emotional and financial commitments that underpin both are inextricably linked to the club's ability to move forward. Sustainability and prudence do not make headlines, but at a time when the Rangers support have never been more committed, they are the values that should underpin the club.

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