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.”