Charles Green, Rangers' chief executive, talks exclusively to The National about his hopes of using the local knowledge he acquired from three years spent in Dubai to revive the club.
Glasgow club CEO looks to Middle East to take Rangers forward
Charles Green wears a gold Rolex. It hides for the most part below the left sleeve of a smart navy blue suit and is complemented only by a pair of discreet Rangers Football Club cufflinks.
The Glasgow club's chief executive officer was given the watch in May 2003 in Dubai's resplendent Burj Al Arab hotel. It was a gift for his 50th birthday from friends he had made in the Emirates during regular visits to the Middle East as part of his work with Source Bioscience, a Nottingham-based medical research firm.
Little did Green know at the time, he would almost a decade later be on the receiving end of a far greater offering from the Middle East.
This month marks one year since Craig Whyte, the former owner of the Scottish giants, announced the club was going into administration.
As Green watched the news unfold on television in his London apartment, he received a text message from Imran Ahmad of Zeus Capital offering him the opportunity to become the chief executive of one of football's biggest football clubs. He replied: "No thanks".
"I thought that was the end of it," Green told The Nationalin Dubai this week. "But a few days later he hounded me again and we met in London. That was when I realised not only that Rangers had to be bought by someone, but that Rangers could be bought by my group."
Last summer, while sourcing investors for a consortium that would eventually acquire the business and assets of the financially-stricken club, Green managed to raise close to £4 million (Dh23.1m) worth of investment from the region. And with substantial finances also arriving from Singapore and Indonesia, the Englishman's international consortium eventually completed its takeover for £5.5m.
"The big uncertainty throughout it all was whether Rangers would ever play again and what league it would it be in," he said. "First, it was going to be First Division, then it was the Third Division, then it was like we were almost being blackmailed by the authorities to the point where we got our licence only two or three days before the season started."
Rangers, a club that have won 54 league titles and never played a league game outside the top tier, found themselves playing in Scotland's lowest division with a transfer ban prohibiting them from replacing players who had walked out on their contracts.
When the squad started the season, it is said some of the youth players involved had never met their first-team colleagues. And yet the club has continued to attract in excess of 45,000 spectators to home games, in a league that last year had an average attendance of just 475.
"For me, it has been a very, very challenging journey, but ever so rewarding," Green said. "And when I say rewarding, I don't mean in financial terms, but rather the satisfaction that comes with now having one of the world's biggest football clubs in a very safe position; where its financial future is secure."
Green suggested that, without a rich benefactor, it is hard to come up with a sustainable model for running a football club.
"But our vision," he said, "is to instead use these great assets that we have got: the academy and our worldwide network."
Green will look east to continue Rangers' renaissance by tapping into Arabian Gulf, subcontinent and Far East markets.
"The growth of football is going to be in those regions," he said. Seeking further investment, however, is not why he visited the UAE and Qatar this week and it is not why he is now in Australia.
A few years after Green received his Rolex, his relationship with the Emirates strengthened further, culminating in the Yorkshireman eventually making the permanent move to Dubai in 2006.
He lived in a penthouse suite opposite Deira City Centre, before relocating to a newly finished villa in the grounds of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, where he lived until he left the region in 2009. Green, on his return this week to the city he once called home, met with around 70 members of the Dubai Loyal Rangers Supporters Club.
The following day he attended the European Clubs Association annual conference in Doha, before flying on to Perth, Australia.
"The Rangers diaspora is worldwide," he said. "We have got five million fans around the globe and it provides a wonderful opportunity. For me, this is a failure of previous regimes because that historical base has never been monetised.
"If we want to lay accusations down, the directors and officers of Rangers in the past have not actually done enough, in my mind, to grow the brand."
He added: "Where we see the growth is in Asia. Half the world's population lives in China and India, yet there aren't any football teams there. Forget the Mickey Mouse stuff going on at the moment, where they pay crazy wages for [Nicolas] Anelka and [Didier] Drogba for a six-month deal that sees them walk around the training ground …
"What people want to see is clubs with history, and there are not many in the world that can compare to the history of Rangers."
Rangers have a back story stretching 140 years, but with a growing number of European clubs opening elite football schools in Asia, Green knows Rangers will need to move quickly to ensure a foothold. He has already held meetings regarding training camps and academies and hopes to use the connections he has developed in the UAE over the past decade or so to help the club's cause.
"It's part of what I am doing here because there is a pool of talent in this region - both local and expat," he said.
"I know Emiratis like their football as much as they like their horses, so there would be a strong interest. I had a meeting earlier with a very close friend and he is extremely excited about the prospect of trying to help me drive this here."
In terms of finances and player recruitment, to stand still is to move backwards and Green appreciates this.
"The hardest part of our work is done, but now we have to sustain it and push on," he said.
The hands on his Rolex are ticking.
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