Newco Rangers chairman Charles Green tonight appeared intent on making Norwich’s life as hard as possible with regard to the signature of Steven Whittaker.
According to various reports, the recent transfer moves by Whittaker and four of his former Ibrox colleagues – Steven Naismith, Steve Davis, Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ness – have not been ratified by the Scottish Football Association, as is the normal custom.
Though the sport’s governing body – FIFA – will grant temporary clearance for the players to play for their new employers, the legal wrangling that is on-going between newco Rangers, the Scottish FA and the Scottish Premier League ensures that the process is far from straight-forward.
Green is stridently claiming that Whittaker (Norwich), Davis (Southampton), Lafferty (Sion), Naismith (Everton) and Ness (Stoke City) are all in breach of contract and he will be seeking transfer fees for each.
The players’ union – the Scottish Professional Footballers Association – has advised their clients that they are all free agents after their former employers went into liquidation – that they have no contractual obligations to Green and his new Ibrox entity.
Speaking at last week’s unveiling, Canary chief executive David McNally made it clear that the Canaries were confident of their legal position.
“We believe Steven [Whittaker] is a free agent and we need to apply for international clearance – and we’ll do that through the proper channels,” McNally said simply, fresh from handing the 28-year-old a four-year-deal at Carrow Road.
The player himself confirmed that the last months had been difficult in the extreme as the Glasgow giants plunged into crisis; this was, of course, the same Glasgow club that was making an audacious bid to whip Grant Holt north on the final day of last season’s January transfer window.
How times have changed since then.
“It’s been hard – obviously,” said Whittaker. “With not knowing what was going to happen with the club.”
The players, he insisted, had done their best to help the club go into administration and remain as Rangers FC; but with the failure to agree a CVA, so a ‘new co’ was born – at which point, contract-wise, all bets were off.
“The players there took 75% wage cuts for the last three months and I think that shows you the loyalty that the players had to the club up there. But they’ve had to start a new company and it brought around this opportunity for me.”
An opportunity he was quite entitled to take, said his union.
Union chairman Tony Higgins told the BBC: “I haven’t spoken to a single employment or sports solicitor who agrees with Mr Green’s interpretation of the law.”
A position that would confirm McNally’s view that the Canaries had snapped up a bargain in the shape of the Scottish international.
The Union’s lawyer, Margaret Gribbon, suggested that games were afoot; that the reaction of Green and Co was wholly to be expected as Rangers’ brightest and best fled both the financial uncertainty of recent months and the prospect of playing their trade in the lower tiers of Scottish football as the SPL – with ex-Canary chief executive Neil Doncaster at its helm – refusing newco a place in its ranks.
“It is no surprise,” said Gribbon, of the lack of international clearance for the players concerned.
“There are objections from Rangers plc and the newco. We knew it was going to happen.”
Rick, there are aspects of this that are not right. As a Scottish based canary and having, in business, transferred employees under TUPE, I have a little familiarity with this.
First, to say the “SFA blocked” the transfer is not accurate. More accurately the SFA are ‘unable’ to make the transfer. They can’t do it without Rangers’ signature. And there is doubt who holds the right to that signature, because of the pre-liquidation deal between the Rangers Administrators & Green (which may well be subject to legal challenge anyway).
Obviously whoever holds the right to sign for Rangers (Green or the liquidator) is very unlikely to sign because they are tacitly accepting money walking out the door. However not signing is like a finger in a leaking damn, they really can’t stop it, because the players have statutory rights under a liquidation & transfer to Newco under TUPE are not automatic.
So it isn’t a surprise that the current situation has arisen and it will be quickly sorted out. Despite all these ‘games’, I’m sure of one thing – that David McNally, with his Scottish connection, has this well under control and that Whittaker will be able to play for Norwich when required.
Incidently Mr Green is far from adroit. His outburst saying the departing players were driven by money, was more nonsense. Its still not certain that Rangers will be playing any football next season!
PS. Ironic that Doncaster is in charge of the ship struggling in heavy seas, that is the SPL. I wonder if he is also in charge of the gunns!