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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Matthew Lindsay

Can new Rangers chairman John Bennett make the Ibrox club a dominant force again?

If, and it is a very big if given how the meetings between the two Glasgow giants have gone this season, Rangers defy expectations and beat Celtic at Parkhead today, their followers will be more upbeat about the future than they have been for a long time.

There has, the Viaplay Cup final defeat at the hands of their city rivals at Hampden back in February aside, been a definite improvement on the park since Michael Beale succeeded Giovanni van Bronckhorst as manager back at the end of November.

A win in the East End will be seen by many as evidence that Beale has the measure of his opposite number Ange Postecoglou as well as the quality required to make the Govan outfit the dominant force in the country once again.

Reclaiming the Scottish title this season may, even if they reduce the defending champions’ lead to six points with seven league fixtures remaining with a victory this afternoon, be beyond them. They will still need to take all three points from their next encounter with their age-old adversaries and the pace setters to slip up twice elsewhere.

Nevertheless, a triumph in a game which no away fans were able to attend will be joyously celebrated by their supporters all the same and will suggest to some that next term might well be different.

That, though, depends on much more than the ability of the man who sits in the dugout on a Saturday. In the modern game, so much hinges on the business acumen of those who occupy the boardroom.

Douglas Park, who Rangers announced this week had stood down as chairman, certainly had considerable means which he used to bankroll the Ibrox club’s revival. Indeed, they were only able to continue as a going concern because he, along with several of his associates, agreed to cover large annual shortfalls.

Fans will forever be indebted to the motoring magnate – who savoured a fair few momentous successes, including a cinch Premiership win, a Scottish Cup victory, the run to the Europa League final and Champions League qualification, during his three year tenure – for all that he did.

However, doubts that the 72-year-old had the ambition, energy, vision and funds needed to take them forward have been increasingly expressed in the past eight months as Rangers have toiled both at home and abroad on the field and become embroiled in all kinds of pathetic squabbles off it.

A lengthy injury list hampered Van Bronckhorst’s attempts to do well in Europe – he was forced to field teenage centre half Leon King against the best strikers in the world in the Group A outings against Ajax, Liverpool and Napoli - and reclaim the Premiership and ultimately resulted in his departure.

But few onlookers were greatly surprised that his team struggled after an underwhelming summer recruitment drive. Questions were rightly asked about what had happened to the Joe Aribo, Calvin Bassey and Nathan Patterson transfer cash, the takings from their Europa League involvement and the windfall from reaching the Champions League. 

When he was quizzed by a shareholder about what his five year plan for Rangers was at a tense AGM back in December, Park said: "To win as many trophies as we can, to build a team that can win as many games as we can and to reinvest in the club as much as we possibly can.” His reply hardly filled onlookers with hope.

Can his successor John Bennett, the 59-year-old whose curriculum vitae describes him as an “industry leader in equity management”, do better in future?

Bennett does not, despite owning a 5.1 per cent stake in his boyhood heroes and providing them with a £13m loan and £10m overdraft facility in the past, possess the sort of vast wealth which can, a la Jack Walker and Blackburn Rovers back in the day, transform fortunes. 

Even if he did, taking such an approach would not fit in with the sustainable business model which the current regime have worked so hard to put in place since coming to power at an EGM back in 2015 and finally achieved last year when they posted a £5.9m profit.

But can his professional expertise – and he has worked at a high level in the financial sector for the past 34 years – help Rangers to progress?

Celtic have flourished in recent years thanks to the shrewd stewardship of their hierarchy. They have not aimed petty and personal potshots at SPFL officials in public, frozen out the mainstream media, opted out of a flagship sponsorship agreement, fallen out with their main supporters group or refused to vote in favour of a lucrative television deal which all of their top flight rivals endorsed. 

The stance the Ibrox club have taken on so many issues – and presumably Bennett was, as vice-chairman, involved in many of the decisions – perhaps met with the approval of the most vocal and militant among their fanbase.

Rangers, though, would benefit greatly from being run like a global brand, not a pub team, going forward. Their new chairman would be well advised to take them in a different direction.

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