Rangers struggling to lure the calibre of old

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The Independent Online

Rangers have been in the red for such a long time that it is perhaps symbolic that the colour is used for an away kit. There is room for only one set of red shirts today at Pittodrie, and those belong to Aberdeen, but it is the colour of Rangers' money that seems to be causing most concern.

Rangers have been in the red for such a long time that it is perhaps symbolic that the colour is used for an away kit. There is room for only one set of red shirts today at Pittodrie, and those belong to Aberdeen, but it is the colour of Rangers' money that seems to be causing most concern.

There is little doubt that Ibrox is now a shadow of the place that attracted Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup from Serie A a decade ago. The decline in playing fortunes over the past four years has been in inverse proportion to the rising debt.

It took a share issue under-written by David Murray, the chairman, to make inroads on the £72m millstone around the Glasgow club's neck. He put in £50m, but his fervour was not matched by the supporters, who only added another £1.4m. Despite a frenetic transfer window of activity to strengthen Alex McLeish's side for the Scottish Premier League title duel with Celtic, there are signs of frayed edges to the recruitment policy that betray a more blue-collar approach for a club who were once strictly blue-chip.

Take the case of Barry Ferguson. The Scotland captain is no certainty to return to his former club, despite handing in a transfer request last week. Blackburn Rovers rejected a £3m bid from Rangers and Mark Hughes took umbrage at the fact that Murray was "marking down" the player he sold to Ewood Park 18 months ago for £6.5m because Ferguson has been injured. "Despite what Rangers say, there is no similarity between this situation and Robbie Savage's," stated Hughes. "In fact, we increased our offer to Birmingham City to get him."

Nor is Rangers' parsimony appreciated within their own walls. Gregory Vignal, currently on a season's loan from Liverpool, has rejected a contract offer to come to Ibrox permanently. "There is not such a big difference but I think I have given my best for the team, so I want something back," said the French full-back, who is seeking a three-year-deal and may return to his native country and join Marseille. "I think that it's a respect between me and the club. That's very important if we want to carry on and if we want to do something."

Once upon a time, Rangers paid Premiership wages at the drop of a hat. No longer. That is why Stéphane Henchoz was reluctant to leave Liverpool for Glasgow when he also had offers from Southampton and Bolton, and it is why Fernando Ricksen is weighing up an offer to leave Ibrox for Everton. Instead, McLeish is forced to trawl about Europe's lesser leagues trying to unearth a gem someone has missed - Sotirios Kyrgiakos was signed from Panathinaikos for £1.5m on Friday to replace Jean-Alain Boumsong, while £2.2m was spent on Thomas Buffel, a Belgian striker out of favour with Ruud Gullit at Feyenoord.

All of this has to be set against a financial backdrop that demands frugality. The annual SPL audit has revealed that Rangers accounted for 37 per cent of the League's £186m debt, and made another huge loss of £29m last year.

It took two days of extensive talks with Kyrgiakos to finalise his deal, time that might have been better spent for McLeish with his team.

If Mark Hughes proves equally impassive, then McLeish knows he may have to wait until the summer transfer window before he can think about trying to bring Ferguson back. "Well, we'd need to because we can't do anything once the window shuts," he said. "It's difficult to speak about another club's player, but I'd certainly like Barry back at Rangers. However, we might have to wait until we cross that bridge."

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