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Football: Rangers count cost of the Dortmund doldrums

Phil Gordon says Uefa exit may cause Ibrox purse strings to tighten
FOOTBALL IS full of delicious ironies, but Dick Advocaat will find the one involving Parma simply not to his taste right now. Four months ago, Advocaat's team knocked the Italians out of the Champions' League qualifying round, yet they have still lasted longer in Europe than Rangers.

While Rangers' ambitions and financial plans were ripped to shreds by one kick of the ball deep into injury time in Dortmund on Tuesday night, Parma were surviving in the very same Uefa Cup with some last-ditch heroics of their own. With Sturm Graz leading 4-3 on aggregate, it took a controversial goal by Mario Stanic, which the Austrians claim never crossed the line, and another in the 119th minute from Hernan Crespo, to give Parma a 5- 4 aggregate win. When spring comes, the Uefa Cup holders will probably be a more consistent force, and may possibly win the tournament again. Their coach Alberto Malesani was days from the dole queue after being vanquished by Advocaat in August, now he has the last laugh.

In Europe, it does not matter how ugly the scenery is, it is going the distance that counts. Rangers failed to do that in the Westfalenstadion against a Borussia Dortmund side who are one of the poorest in years but who squeezed every second out of a tie that looked lost after their 2- 0 defeat in Glasgow.

Fredi Bobic's dramatic injury-time equaliser, from an assist by his goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, who then went back to his day job and saved three Rangers penalties as the Germans prevailed in a shoot-out once more, was cruel affirmation that Rangers remain short of their ambition to be a heavyweight in Europe.

Counting the cost of failure is something to which Rangers have become accustomed over the last decade. This one, though, carries a heavier price tag and could strain the resolve of chairman, David Murray, to give Advocaat the continued level of funding the coach insists upon. Like the battered Euro, Murray saw his club's stock plunge for the second time in a month thanks to German strength. While Rangers missed out on another pounds 6m which Bayern Munich had denied them from continued Champions' League participation, the Uefa Cup seemed to offer an equally rich seam: Rangers made more than pounds 3m on television and ticket revenue for the first leg with Dortmund at Ibrox.

Now, they have a squad on which pounds 45m has been lavished with only the narrow domestic horizon to sustain it. Publicly, chairman and coach are as one. Murray has pledged even more money for the better players Advocaat wants. "We are not talking about players who cost only pounds 1m," said Murray. "We are in the process of making financial commitments for major players for next season - we have identified the players we want."

However, last week the club reported that it had lost pounds 23m to June 1999, more than half of which was accounted for by transfer dealings. Murray is expected to dilute his 68 per cent shareholding soon to issue new shares and raise pounds 25m, while retaining control, but pounds 10m of that finance is earmarked for a long-overdue training complex. The sums will not add up unless players are sold, and while Rangers denied on Thursday that Roma had made a bid for Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a chance to double their money on the Dutch midfielder who cost pounds 5m just 18 months ago would be tempting.

"We have enjoyed some good results in Europe over the last 18 months," said Advocaat, referring to the successes against Parma, PSV Eindhoven and Bayer Leverkusen, "but nothing stands still. We need to improve the quality of our players. We bought only one player last summer (Michael Mols) but Dortmund spent pounds 25m. It is disappointing to be out of Europe. Keeping our title is now the target, and building for the future so that we can make a real impact in Europe."

That hope depends largely on Murray. "It is my job to make sure the resources are there," said the Rangers chairman. "We have come a long way recently, and maybe some of us allowed ourselves to be carried away by good performances in Europe, but the fact is, we are three or four players away from being a great team."