Financially crippled Rangers turns to English club for help
The days of competing in the Champions League and winning Scottish league titles year after year are just a memory for Glasgow Rangers.
Crippled by a financial crisis in 2012, the club is currently toiling away in the second tier of Scottish football. Weekly stories of boardroom chaos have turned the club into something of a laughingstock.
This week, Rangers took another blow that sums up just how far one of Britain's biggest teams has fallen.
On Monday, five reserve-team players from English Premier League club Newcastle arrived at Ibrox, sent on loan until the end of the season. Most Rangers fans would never have heard of any of the players but they will be playing a huge role in the team in the next few months.
In a bizarre news conference, Rangers caretaker manager Kenny McDowall explained Thursday that he has orders from the club's hierarchy to play the five loan signings, provided they are fit.
''I will carry out the instructions that they give me,'' McDowall said.
Slovenian midfielder Haris Vuckic, English defender Remie Streete, Burundi-born Gael Bigirimana, Swiss defender Kevin Mbabu and Northern Ireland winger Shane Ferguson will soon be part of Rangers' starting lineup and attempting to help the team gain promotion into the Scottish top flight.
Even though they weren't good enough to make Newcastle's first team, the five can only improve the quality of Rangers' side, which has stripped of its big names since demotion to the fourth tier three years ago as a punishment for its financial problems.
Rangers is 16 points behind second-tier leader Hearts with more than half the season gone. Only one team earns automatic promotion.
To get back in the top flight, Rangers will likely have to win a playoff between the teams finishing second and third, and then beat the side that places next to last in the top division in a two-legged match.
It seems that a team with a record 54 league titles and a 50,000-capacity stadium is slowly turning into a glorified sister club for Newcastle.
Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner since 2007, has been playing an increasingly significant role at Rangers in recent months as the Glasgow club struggles to get back on a sound financial footing.
Ashley has managed to secure a stake of nearly 9 percent in the club, and lent Rangers 10 million pounds ($15 million) last month to stop it from going out of business.
Bailing out the club has allowed Ashley to hire his own men on the Scottish board. Derek Llambias, who worked under Ashley at Newcastle as managing director, was recently appointed as Rangers' chief executive. Another Ashley ally, Barry Leach, is on the Rangers board.
In December, the Scottish Football Association rejected an attempt by Ashley to increase his share in Rangers to 29.9 percent. Ashley faces a hearing next month which will determine whether his dual interests in Rangers and Newcastle breaches Scottish football rules.
Still, Ashley's influence at Rangers is building on and off the pitch. And Rangers, desperate for Ashley's cash, is in no position to deny him increasing control.
''I have been told what to do,'' said McDowall, who said the orders have come from Llambias, ''and I have told them I am more than happy to carry out what they have told me.''