Allan McGregor and his team-mates have shown admirable professionalism in the face of adversity. Picture: SNS
What, if anything, holds the players to Rangers? The answer is, briefly, a thread. It is one that will be broken by any legal challenge. The players are bound to the club by contract, registration and emotion. The contract situation would appear to be blindingly clear. Regulation 4 (9) of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 "entitles a transferring employee to treat their contract of employment as terminated where the transfer involves (or will involve) a substantial change in working conditions to their material detriment".
As PFA Scotland, the players' union, pointed out in a robust statement last night, it is inarguable that working conditions will change for the players. This stance was supported by Paul McQuade, an employment lawyer with Levy & McCrae, and by sources from within FIFA.
The PFA statement read: "The players are being asked to decide upon their future with so many uncertainties involved. Unanswered questions such as which division the new club will actually play in, whether there be any sporting sanctions against the club, whether the club will be eligible to play in the Scottish Cup and whether there will be a registration embargo. One or more of these factors may have an influence on a footballer's career – particularly since it a career that is relatively short-lived."
Rangers also face a four-year exile from Europe. This alone is strong grounds for a change in conditions, never mind the prospect of Allan McGregor keeping goal at Annan Athletic. The registration matter is more complicated. The union said: "With regard to the question of registration, we're unclear on what legal basis the football authorities would be entitled to withhold the transfer of registration of any player in this situation. The European Court of Justice ruling in the case of Bosman is authority for the view that professional footballers are workers like anyone else and are entitled to exercise their right to freedom of movement when out of contract."
The registration of the players would revert to the SFA as a newco would have itself to apply for registration. Precedent strongly suggests that a nudge from FIFA would allow the players to seek employment elsewhere. It is also difficult to see what purpose it would serve the SFA to be obstructive in this matter and it wrote to the FIFA last night seeking urgent clarification. FIFA sources, on condition of anonymity, last night expressed no desire to become heavily involved in the situation but conceded that the Webster case in 2006, where the player won a move to Wigan Athletic after a dispute with Hearts, was a strong precedent. It appears they are minded to side with the union's stance.
The most intriguing development is the dissatisfaction of the players. By any standards, they have acted with a decency that does credit to their professionalism. The highest earners have lost up to £250,000 each, knowing that a CVA was highly unlikely and, properly, having doubts about how the administration was progressing.
Their reward for this stance is to have their futures discussed in public as if they were livestock at a ruined farm. As PFA Scotland noted last night: "The players are becoming increasingly unhappy at having to operate in an information vacuum whilst their futures are portrayed by others as being a fait accompli with no proper communication and consultation taking place."
With a strong sense of unity and no little dignity, personalities who are routinely derided as self-serving and selfish have given up a collective sum in the millions and kept their counsel under extreme provocation. However, this morning they must be indulging in some reflection. The information given to them from the administrators and Green has been scarce and most of that has been wrong.
They are now being asked to pledge their allegiance to a newco that may or not play in the SPL, may or may not play in the SFL and certainly will not play in the Champions League.
There is also the small matter of it being a newco that might not play at all. The appellate tribunal has still to rule on the punishment on the club for bringing the game into disrepute. There is the complicated situation where the oldco could next week have its registration to the SFA suspended or terminated as the newco tries to gain traction.
There has been no rush to the exit, no clamouring for a move from the players. However, the ties to Rangers are being eroded by the actions of those seeking to take over the club. The dissatisfaction with Green and the administrators was bluntly articulated by the players' union last night.
It may only be a matter of time before its members take decisive action. When one of the players pushes and wins the right to move, then there should be little surprise if others follow.