Current caretaker manager (who is working a period of notice after tendering his resignation) Kenny McDowall took his seat at the weekly press conference to look ahead to Rangers' forthcoming fixture at the weekend. What usually happens at these events is the manager being asked about any injuries, the opposition and how they're approaching the game. After the closing of a transfer window, they are also asked to comment on players who have left and those who have arrived.
It was if we had been flung back to Edinburgh 2006 when then-Hearts coach, Graham Rix, spilled the beans on what many of us had long suspected. His gaffer, one Vladimir Romanov, had had a row with the agent of centre-half Andy Webster over the negotiation of a new contract. Romanov accused Webster of being greedy and telephoned Rix to drop the Scotland international. Rix let it slip to the media that he didn't pick the team despite insisting that he did when he was unveiled as coach months earlier. There had been suspicions that interference in team selection had been a contributory factor that had led to the breakdown of Romanov's relationship with former manager George Burley - despite the latter guiding Hearts to one of their best ever starts to a season. Rix let the cat out of the bag and he paid the price as he was sacked a few weeks later. Romanov continued to meddle with the picking of players for years to come.
Now it seems it is happening again. In this case, it appears that the Rangers board are now doing the bidding of shareholder Mike Ashley who also owns Newcastle United - the club where the new loan signings have come from. McDowall revealed that this order came from Derek Llambias who had previously worked with Ashley at Newcastle and is now effectively the Sports Direct magnate's stooge at Ibrox. Also giving the order was Ibrox board member Sandy Easdale who is rapidly becoming like Squealer from George Orwell's "Animal Farm".
The following dialogue comes from the STV website
Asked if he was duty bound to play all five incoming players each week, McDowall replied "yes".
Then asked if he had to play every one of them every week, he again, replied: "Yes. They are obviously good players - they play for Newcastle - but I will carry on and do what I am told to do."
He added: "I was told at the offset that players would be coming in that wouldn't be my responsibility. So I'll carry on regardless.
"I'd like to think I can make a substitute and make a change, but that's where we're at."
When asked who selected the players to come to Scotland McDowall stated it had been a decision made by Llambias and Easdale.
"Well they're the board, it's up to them," added the caretaker manager. "I've been told what to do and I'm happy to carry out what they've told me, so I don't have a problem with it at all."
When questioned over how comfortable he was with the situation, McDowall said:
"Well I've handed in my notice and I'm working my 12-month notice period and I've told the guys I'm happy to take the team.
"So I'm not going to complain, I'll carry out the instructions that they give me and I'll do my best."
Ronnie Esplin of the Press Association went on Twitter to give the first indication of dressing room unrest after his chat with Rangers player Fraser Aird. He posted: "Fraser Aird appears understandably bemused by news that 5 Newcastle loan players are guaranteed their place at #rangers"
One could hardly blame Aird for being puzzled. After all, you work harder in training and perform your tasks better than the five new players yet you being more in form than those guys would be an irrelevance. They are playing come what may and you are effectively competing for five outfield places instead of the normal 10. If someone, whose own football grounding in terms of coaching is non-existent has decided that you are dropped for no other reason than wanting his particular favourite to play, your morale and any other player who suffers because of this insane policy, is bound to plummet.
This regularly happened at Hearts under Romanov. Anyone who wanted a better contract than the one being offered by the Russian-born Lithuanian was dropped. Anyone who he just took a dislike to regardless of how well they were playing, like midfielder Julien Brellier, was isolated. Personal favourites who he wanted in regardless of, at best, inconsistent ability - Saulius Mikoliunas - or, at worst , complete and utter garbage - David Witteveen - were picked ahead of better players who were also in-form.
Not surprisingly, dressing room morale at Tynecastle fell and things came to a head late in 2006 with the now infamous 'Riccarton Three' press conference. Then-captain, Steven Pressley, midfielder Paul Hartley and goalkeeper Craig Gordon voiced their frustrations at the 'hands-on' approach Romanov had been taking towards team selection. While their irritation was understandable, the trio's tactics were stupid. Instead of exhausting all avenues with the Players' Union such as trying to negotiate with the board of directors and balloting the rest of the workforce for possible industrial action - as what happens in any other unionised place of work - they presented Romanov an industrial relations gift with this act insubordination, however understandable it may have been to vent their fury. Within a year, all three were no longer at the club.
Could there been a 'Riccarton Three' moment at Rangers' training base at Murray Park? It would be as foolhardy as the act staged by the trio at Hearts back in 2006 as Mike Ashley would have no qualms about being as ruthless as Romanov was in disposing with the troublemakers. However, the seeds for such a stand have been sown and if Ashley cares even a smidgin - and that's debatable - about Rangers winning promotion to the Premiership via the playoffs, he has made a huge rod for his own back with this move.
There are players at the club who are nearing the end of their contracts. If five other players are in line to oust them from the first team regardless of form and ability, why should they give a hoot about trying their best when it has been made clear that will not be enough for them to be selected? This was evident at Hearts when Valdas Ivanauskas and later Stephen Frail were in charge. Due to both of them having to pick certain players, some of which clearly had no business being a footballer full stop let alone play in the top flight of the Scottish league, a sense of "why should I bother?" infected the rest of the squad who had this crazy old-fashioned belief that the best players on form should be selected. Frail's spell in 2007-08 in particular epitomised this. With the exception of a handful of games, Hearts clearly looked like a team going through the motions as the rump of the squad laboured to carry a number of passengers forced on them by their Lord and Master from Lithuania.
The likes of Frail, Ivanauskas and Rix were lame ducks and that's the position that McDowall has been reduced to at Ibrox today. He says he likes to think he has the luxury of making a substitution. If Ashley's minion Llambias gets all Romanov on him, there's little chance of that. There was one infamous moment at Tynecastle when Rix told substitute Lee Johnson to get warmed up as he was going to send him. Johnson duly did so and when he came back to strip off his tracksuit and get ready for action, Rix had to tell him to sit back down as a few rows away up in the main stand, Romanov had relayed the message to his beleaguered puppet dressed up as a coach that there was no way in Hell that Johnson was stepping onto that pitch.
It's an absurd situation for the manager of any club to find himself in. You wonder how long it will be before McDowall will even be allowed to sit in the dugout itself. The way things are going at Ibrox, Derek Llambias on the touchline relaying Ashley's instructions to the players via walkie-talkie, preposterous a scenario it may well be, wouldn't be at all surprising if it happened.
What a mess.