THE man who transformed Rangers FC's retail operation into the second-largest in British football has left the club.

Nick Peel has "resigned as a director with immediate effect to pursue other business interests . . . following recent restructuring of the club's business operations, " Rangers said in a statement.

A spokesman declined to give any more details.

Under Peel's stewardship Rangers bought out Nike to go its own way with kit and leisurewear, which raked in millions of pounds and made the club second only to Manchester United in retail.

Peel's departure follows the elevation of 36-year-old former PR and marketing man Martin Bain, a longstanding colleague of Peel, to the post of chief executive last month.

Speaking three years ago, Rangers executive chairman David Murray described Bain and Peel as "two competent boys"who would combine their marketing and retail expertise to ensure Rangers would have the second-biggest retail market of any football club in the UK by 2004. This goal was achieved.

Peel was instrumental in most of Rangers' most significant recent commercial developments, including a landmark kit sponsorship deal announced earlier this month.

He declared himself "delighted"with that four-year deal with Umbro, one of the world's top three football brands, which he said would bring - pounds6.5m a year into the Ibrox coffers.

The contract, for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, will continue to see Rangers manufacture and distribute its own replica kit.

Peel also piloted negotiations on the proposed creation of a casino development on the doorstep of Ibrox Park.

His last public act as a Rangers director appears to have come last Saturday, when he handed out complimentary tickets for an Old Firm game at a charity event in Edinburgh, held to mark St Patrick's Day.