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Silver Fox still the master politician as he rules out working role at Ibrox

IT was as if he had never been away.

Walter Smith, an interested spectator at Ibrox these days . . .
Walter Smith, an interested spectator at Ibrox these days . . .

Walter Smith walked up the marble staircase, took a seat and then delivered a briefing at Ibrox that showed that the politician may leave high office but he always retains the ability to ensure the message is transmitted. It has only been 10 months since the Silver Fox left Ibrox. His nickname does not owe anything to his resemblance to a make of Rolls-Royce. Smith was a clever manager when he walked out. His rest has not diminished him.

The main item on the agenda yesterday was Smith's role as manager of the Rangers Legends team that faces AC Milan Glorie tonight. This was quickly brushed aside for insistent questioning on the story behind the match, namely the deep financial crisis affecting the club.

This involved a Smith discourse on the sudden descent into administration, a deft handling of the Craig Whyte question, a defence of the previous regime, a declaration of a willingness to serve in an unspecified role, and, of course, an address on the "tainted title" issue.

The questions were handled with the ease of one who has spent a career answering inquisitors and knows the key is to say what one wants to be publicised.

This was most noticeable in the response to inquiries concerning Whyte. Smith was careful in his summation of the businessman cast as villain in the Rangers drama.

He referenced Whyte's reported refusal to hand shares over to the Blue Knights by saying: "It is quite amazing to see it in front of you, that you can put a club into administration and then you have a say as where it is going to go in the future. I never imagined that as a part of any business, never mind Rangers."

Asked if Whyte should walk away, he replied briskly: "He's not going to do that, is he?' There was also implied criticism of the owner when Smith assessed the damage done to the club in the Whyte era.

"You would never have thought Rangers could go from, strangely enough, one of their best financial positions for a long, long time to administration within that eight-month period. I do not think anyone could say that they believed that was going to be the circumstance," he said.

Praising specifically Martin Bain, the former chief executive, Smith said: "The previous people ran the club in a manner they thought was best. We were successful enough on the field and were meeting the bank's criteria – albeit under protest on my part.

"There is a lot of misinformation put out to suit whatever party. I tend to put things into compartments. At the end of last season, Rangers Football Club was in its best financial position for maybe 70 or 80 years. They had no debt. Craig Whyte told us he paid off the remaining £18m to the bank so that meant Rangers were debt-free. The EBT case that everyone keeps talking about has had no influence on Rangers until the judgment comes.

"When you take it from that previous financial position to being in administration eight months later, it's fairly alarming that it could happen."

This was vintage Smith. The evidence was presented but the judgment was left to others. It was a crushing indictment of Whyte, but with only one mention of his name on the charge sheet.

Smith was also coy on a future role at Ibrox. He endorsed Paul Murray, leader of the Blue Knights, as a viable owner, saying: "I know Paul Murray through his time on the board and Paul would have the interests of the football club at heart. Maybe that is what's needed more than anything else at the present moment."

He added: "On a personal basis, I would be pleased if he gets it because he has made no secret of wanting to be involved in owning the club. He was at the forefront of ideas in previous years. So if he does get it, then I think that would be good for the football club. But in terms of making a comparison, it is very difficult because I don't know the other people."

Could he play a part in any Murray regime. He would serve, but not be an executive.

"If there is anything I can do to help the club I will do it but I'm not going to come back," he said. "If I had wanted to stay at Rangers in a working basis I would have done so. But if my experience can help anyone I would be only too happy to do so."

As a director of football?

"No. I couldn't sit in judgment on another manager, especially the one who is here just now."

He accepted, though, that Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, faced long-term problems in building a team, fearing an era of continued struggle.

"They will have a difficult period," he said. "If there is investment in the team you still have to get them to gel together. But the level of investment that is necessary might have to be spread over a few seasons to get the playing staff back up to a level."

He then addressed the vexed question of "tainted titles", a subject that has consumed the masses since Mark Hateley, his former player, suggested an asterisk should be put next to Celtic's imminent triumph this year as administration took its toll on Rangers. There have also been calls to strip Rangers of titles if they are found guilty of illegal payments.

Smith played the politics brilliantly. "It's affected it," he said of administration and the title race,"but it's like everything else. When I first took over at Rangers in the early 90s, Celtic were in a poor position financially and organisationally. Rangers managed to win a couple of championships then. You count them. When you win a league championship, it is not just a test of the team that goes on the field. It is a test of your whole club, the organisation and the way it is being run. Rangers haven't been good enough in that aspect.

"There is no doubt the circumstances they have been in have affected the team on the pitch but you have to look at the club overall. The team that wins the league championship deserves to win it because it is a test of your club, not just 11 players that go on the pitch."

The message had been delivered. Question Time was over.

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