The bad news is that Craig Whyte can not play centre-half.
The financial rumblings from chairman Alastair Johnston’s briefing at Ibrox rolled out over the hills to Murray Park yesterday where Walter Smith neatly sidestepped questions on the prospective owner while detailing the difficulties of picking a side to face Dundee United this afternoon.
“I can’t talk about the financial aspects,” he said of his meeting with Whyte. “I can only talk about the player situation. It’s not my position to put a price tag on anything. All I did was point out to them what has happened over the last three years and what will happen this year if we don’t get a buyer.
“Obviously we’ve reached the stage now where it can’t go down any further. That’s an opinion. That’s not a fact because I suppose it can go down a wee bit further if that’s the way people want to let it go.”
The Rangers manager also avoided any endorsement or overt criticism of the potential buyer. Asked what impression he had formed of Whyte, Smith said: “He wasn’t there to give me any kind of feeling. That’s got nothing to do with me. I was only there to explain the footballing side of things and I did so. Whatever he takes from that is up to him.”
Smith’s statement on the on-field situation was blunt. “The implications of lack of investment in the team are really beginning to show now,” he said.
Rangers will face Dundee United today with a 40-year-old centre-half – David Weir – partnered by Steven Whittaker, who is not a natural in that position. The Rangers manager emphasised that injuries were a normal part of any team and would not blame the crisis in defence on a lack of signings, but he pointed to another area where the financial pinch has left its mark.
Kirk Broadfoot and Jamie Ness will come back in to the squad after long-term injuries and Smith is concerned they will be on the bench without any match practice. “We don’t have enough players to field a reserve team,” he said.
Vladimir Weiss, who played such an important cameo role in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final, will miss the match because of bruising to his foot. However, the international break has restored fitness to both Steven Davis and Steven Naismith. Lee McCulloch could be back within a fortnight.
Davis, who has surged back to form, admitted he was keen for the takeover saga to be finalised but he was aware, too, that his situation may be affected by the failure of the club to find a buyer. “Everybody would like something to happen,” said the Northern Irishman, who yesterday was promoting the PFA Scotland player of the year awards 2011, sponsored by Cheque Centre.
“Everyone knows and can see the team needs investment. We have lost so many valuable players over the last couple of seasons that it has got to the stage now that we cannot afford to lose any more.”
Asked bluntly if the senior players were looking at their futures, he said: “If you asked any of the boys, first and foremost everybody enjoys being at the club and we have had a good amount of success over the last couple of seasons and hopefully we can finish the season on a high again. But there is no doubt that the team needs investment.”
He pointed out that five members of the squad were on loan, adding: “It is about getting other people in, fresh faces, the team always needs that. Hopefully, the takeover will happen and we can get investment.”
On his future, Davis was diplomatic. “I do not know what it means in terms of my contract. I have a year to run on my contract. Every player is in the same situation where they have been up for sale over the last few transfer windows. As players, we have not thought about it too much. We are paid to do a job and that is what we concentrate on doing.”
But would a successful takeover be the only way his future at Ibrox was assured? “You are asking the wrong person. I don’t really know,” he said, pointing out that Kenny Miller, who left for Bursaspor during the January transfer window, could have been expected to have been “rewarded accordingly” at the club for a “rich vein of form”.
The midfielder was illustrating that the old, stable realities at Ibrox no longer apply. The size and quality of the squad for next season cannot be guaged accurately while the takeover talks go on.
There is, though, still one simple imperative. There is only one trophy to be won, but the retention of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title will require an initial workload of six games in 18 days. “It’s going to be a big ask of everybody to handle that situation,” said Smith.
interview Lack of investment off the field has left Rangers depleted, writes Hugh MacDonald