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Walter's game of chance

ANDREW SMITH

SIMILARITIES between Rangers now and in the 1990s are difficult to come by. Hard-up during this grim spell in their history, they were free-spending, major players during that trophy-hoovering era. Well, not according to Walter Smith. The past has been too buffed up and the present overly stripped down, says the man whose stewardship of the Ibrox side is the only strong link between the periods.

As he welcomed the £700,000 DeMarcus Beasley and Bosman signing Jean-Claude Darcheville as the club's biggest summer signings so far, the Rangers manager did not deny that his team have endured a tortuous time in the transfer market. Yet Smith maintains that the perception of Rangers in the 1990s did not match the reality. Even if, in his first spell, Rangers would not have lost out to Celtic for a major target, as in the case of Scott Brown. Nor been seemingly unable to find the means to prevent the pursuit of such as Lee McCulloch, Steven Naismith, and even £8m-rated French international Julien Faubert, turning into sagas.

Smith maintains that there was never a time when money was no object for Rangers; when every target was snapped up instantly. A compliant media may have created that impression, but after Smith took over from Graeme Souness in April 1991, he believes that he worked within tight parameters.

"It's not any different from the last time," he said of the current situation. "People say that it is, but that's a bit of a fallacy. We couldn't outbid most clubs: we weren't always in that position. My first three years at Rangers, we operated at a profit in the transfer market. That was because we were fortunate enough to get £6m for Trevor Steven, and the market was such that you were able to bring in other players for what would be viewed now as reasonable prices. Paul Gascoigne cost £3.4m, but at that time that was the market value. A lot of really good players were going for that kind of money. It's just how the market goes."

What matters most to any club is their competitiveness within the market compared to their main rivals. Smith did not spend outlandishly in comparison to Celtic during his early days and instead made more astute investments. A sizeable player turnover across his first 18 months allowed him to spend little more than £3m to recruit Andy Goram, David Robertson and Stuart McCall. In that same period, Celtic squandered a greater sum on Stuart Slater, Tony Cascarino and Gary Gillespie.

The Old Firm clubs' spending power started to diverge thereafter. At the end of 1993-94, Rangers attracted Brian Laudrup for £2.5m. Four months previously, Celtic had been almost pushed towards insolvency by a tribunal deciding that they had to pay £75,000 more for Lee Martin than their budget allowed.

In recently offering £4m for Faubert and £3.6m for Brown, Rangers are hardly paupers, but their need to bolster first-team squad numbers extensively has left them vulnerable to being priced out of moves on a regular basis. That is new to Smith at the Ibrox helm.

"If you go for a number of players and make offers, it will not happen that you will have them all accepted. You always get to the stage where you have a figure you'd pay for a player, and sometimes it takes a while before the to-ing and fro-ing reaches that level. But, like the Scott Brown one, sometimes it gets to a level where it is too much, and you go elsewhere, regardless of who it is."

That point may be reached with Faubert and Naismith. It should be avoided in the case of McCulloch, for whom Rangers are likely to meet Wigan's £2m-and-a-bit valuation. He will join Alan Gow and Kirk Broadfoot among the Scottish arrivals at the club this summer.

Smith hardly sounded confident that his squad would be taking the shape that he seeks before they jet off to Germany a week on Thursday for some warm-up games. Indeed, whatever the failings of those in his present slim squad, they are not expendable. Not when awaiting at the end of this month is a juicy Champions League second-round qualifier that should pair them against Kaunas, the other club of Hearts' madcap majority shareholder, Vladimir Romanov.

"We are hoping to have other signings in place by the time we leave for our pre-season tour, but these might not be the ones we are trying to get at the present moment," Smith said. "We have bids in, and are waiting for replies. Once we get those, there'll no doubt be more to-ing and fro-ing.

"We have to achieve a balance in terms of incomings and outgoings. We've not got a huge squad, and so if we got some out but didn't bring any in, we'd be in a worse position than before.

"We won't determine how long it will take. I can appreciate other clubs' points of view in terms of timing. The transfer deadline is not till the end of August, but we are trying to do it early.

"No club gets all the players on their list. It doesn't happen. You hear about clubs with more financial clout than us getting beaten by clubs with more financial clout. Quite a lot of clubs don't start till September. They are the awkward bits, and it's a wee bit frustrating. You know the sensible view is that it might not all come together."

Smith revealed that his desire to "inject a bit of speed" into the Rangers team was behind the moves for Beasley and Darcheville. But in the transfer market the Ibrox club are finding it hard to force the pace.

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Money was no object?Come on!Nobody in Scotland could compete with Rangers in those days.The only club who might have,the Bro Walfrid collective,were hamstrung by the outstanding talents of the Kellys etc.Rangers were big players in the transfer market at that time but now the market has exploded and NO Scottish club can operate within it easily.The prices being quoted for average players down south are beyond belief.Well,Walter knows the score.He knows the squad needs fresh blood and is trying to do this with limited means......changed days indeed.

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