Date: 17th February 2012 at 4:51pm
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But it seems that they were scary enough for Alex McLeish to fly off to America.

Give me… the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

I know that unhappy Villa fans tend to look like a cross between extras from the movie The Wicker Man and the cast of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, but despite their vacant looks and demonic chanting, I never thought they were that scary. I certainly never thought they were scary enough to prompt a Villa manager to flee the country. Seventy-odd disaffected Villans do not quite amount to a Villa Spring.

But it seems that they were scary enough for Alex McLeish to fly off to America.

Even his team’s performance against the Premiership’s top team (excluding Sunderland) wasn’t really bad enough to suggest he might need to seek political asylum, in a land where he would be free to worship at the puritanical altar of defensive football.

After all his plan nearly worked and Villa could have nicked a point at least, if he’d had a bit more luck. It was not exactly inspiring stuff but the fact that the mercurial Silva was denied the space to put Villa to the sword, and City were reduced to scoring a goal more akin to Stoke City than Man City, tended to vindicate Big ‘Eck.

I am sure that had Mick McCarthy chosen a similar game plan against the Albion, he would still be in gainful employment. A big loss for Villa against City would have vindicated the disaffected denizens of Villa’s Summerisle.

Instead, Villa lost by the minimum margin and the advantage of their superior goal-difference remains intact – something which may be crucial, now that Richard Dunne is going to be missing for a while. And, judging by how good Man City were against a very impressive Porto side on Thursday night, Villa can take a lot from this narrowest of defeats.

Meanwhile McLeish will no doubt be seeing the sights in Cleveland and I suspect he will be monitoring the Browns’ cheer-leaders as closely as possible, in between a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a bit of moose wrestling. He might even get to swap notes over coffee and doughnuts with Pat Shurman the Browns’ head coach. Shurman is a specialist in offensive play, which means the two of them have a lot in common.

Some Villa fans think there is no one more offensive than Alex McLeish.

Having been highly amused by Top Gear’s item on NASCAR, the other week, and considering the accusations of dullness down Villa Park these days, I was wondering whether a Villa day out, might benefit from some of that Yankee razzmatazz, of big trucks, big women in sparkly underwear and the whole American blue-collar hedonism thing.

By the time you’d eaten three-thousand calories in fast-food protein, squinted at the well-stacked broads, and seen those lifted-trucks drive over the Morris Marinas, would we care so much about the football?

Meanwhile north of the border, down Ibrox way, there was another reminder that there are some things worse than having an uninspiring manager and an ordinary team. Glasgow Rangers going into administration was a shock to all of football, let alone for the Gers fans. I’d heard the jokes about Harry Redknapp’s dog having more money than Rangers these days but I never really thought it would come to this.

We are kind of used to Portsmouth going broke at the end of every month, but it seemed impossible for one of the Glasgow duopoly to do the same.

The whole thing very much characterises modern times and involves the same issues which created the crisis in Greece and the banking scandal in the UK – being ‘ too big to fail’, tax avoidance/evasion and the special privileges afforded the super-rich and the highly paid.

While the likes of Murdoch (Bermuda) and Philip Green (Monaco) save themselves millions in taxes by putting their money off-shore and beyond the reach of UK tax collectors: many footballers prefer to do the same.

Yes! Even that patriot in his England shirt.

The financial vehicle of choice at Glasgow Rangers, to help players avoid tax and national insurance was something called an Employee Benefit Trust, where an employer invests money for the benefit of its employees. This is perfectly legal but, and its a big but, as these payments to employees have to be discretionary and cannot be an element in contracted pay.

The Inland Revenue’s case is that these payments were written into players’ contracts and was merely a means to avoid income-tax and NI. Those astronomical sums (£45-£75m) represents the amount of tax Rangers’ players evaded.

Now I know this will be boring to most football folk but if Rangers were able to pay higher wages to attract players due to this tax evasion, then they amount to illegal payments which is against football regulations.

Any club not stretching the law this way, would be seriously disadvantaged in their ability to compete for honours, or even survival.

The implications are huge.

Rangers could emerge as a new company, which means their creditors would go unpaid, and if they take a Company Voluntary Arrangement the creditors will suffer too.

The trouble is that there is no painless solution, and if Rangers were demoted to the Scottish Third-division, the financial loss for the SPL clubs would be massive, as Rangers generate 30% of their income.

So Rangers are too big to fail or to be properly punished.

English football fans might think that this does not affect them, but it seems impossible to conclude that no English club has not used the same means to save their players tax. This means that sooner or later the tax man is going to come a-knocking and demand millions in back-taxes. And remember, Rangers do not pay the same high wages as English clubs, so whatever Rangers might owe, there will be an English club which owes even more.

Now that is scary.

Most fans have no idea what their clubs are getting up to, and certainly the most surprising thing which emerged from the Redknapp trial, was not his secret account, but the fact that he was paid a percentage for selling on players. This is common practise and managers like Dario Gradi openly admitted it. This totally shifts the relationship between a club’s manager and its fans, as there is definitely a conflict of interest. It would be impossible to believe the public statement of a manager lamenting the loss of a player, if the fans knew he had just pocketed a share of the fee.

What is clear is that Rangers’ problems were created over two decades, as they chased a similar dream, as Villa did a few years ago. Debts of £80m and the banking crisis did the rest. Once the club was controlled by the bank, the club became just another asset to be bought and sold, with no regard to who was buying it, and who was running it.

All this should stand as a reminder, as to why we need to stick with the Lerner project, as he seeks to set up the club to be able to deal with the new financial realities.

When we look at the Lion on the badge and admire Rangers’ elegant Archibald Leitch designed stadium, we must hope that they are the only thing we have in common with the club.

Keep the faith!


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