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Rangers title win: Former chairman Dave King on Steven Gerrard, Premiership victory and wanting Celtic to improve

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, majority shareholder and former chairman Dave King explains the extent of the problems he faced when he first arrived at the club, why Steven Gerrard will be at Rangers for the long-term and how this title is just the beginning….

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Dave King reveals his conversations with Steven Gerrard when he took the manager's job and why he will remain at Ibrox despite links with Liverpool

Rangers' title win over the weekend was not just a historic 55th but signalled a long journey back to the top of Scottish football.

After being demoted to the Third Division back in 2012, the entire future of the club was at stake with many wondering if, not when, they would ever return to the highest echelons.

It has taken the club just nine years with majority shareholder and former chairman Dave King being integral in the rebuilding process at Ibrox.

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, he explains the extent of the problems he faced when he first arrived at the club in 2015, why Steven Gerrard will be at Rangers for the long-term and how this title is just the beginning….

How are you feeling now this historic title has officially been confirmed?

I was watching the Celtic game, which I never do. I was just overwhelmed - my son phoned me and we were both in tears.

We have waited so long and I have been holding off until it was 100 per cent so I have been kind of holding off because I have waited this long so I might as well until it is absolutely certain.

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So when it happened it was an overwhelming sense of emotion, speaking to people like John Gilligan straight afterwards who had been with me on this journey.

Reaching out to people and people reaching out to me - it was overwhelming to be at the end of that journey and to know that journey is over and a new journey is beginning at the club.

I think it is important for Rangers Football Club that we do not keep living in that era, we have had that era because of what was going on at the club and asking supporters to indulge us in various ways throughout a number of years but it was important we got to a point where we ended that period and we ended that period by winning a title.

To win the title has brought that period to an end and is an absolute relief for me.

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King opens up about Rangers winning the top-flight title for the first time since 2011

It was on Saturday, six years to the day, since you took over the running of the club - quite appropriate that it was the anniversary for this journey to finish on then wasn't it?

I did not know that but wish I had known that because I phoned Tav [James Tavernier] this morning to thank him for everything he has done for the club as captain.

I told him he knew more than any of the other players what this means and I hope all the players realise what it means to Rangers Football Club but him more than anyone.

Six years is a long time but it's a short time when you are rebuilding a football club and in someways, I look back and think it was maybe a season too long and we could have done it quicker but I look back on it all with a level of satisfaction I have now and I think it is just an immense achievement for everyone at the club, past and present.

There are people who are not at the club now who made big contributions - Mark Allen for example, and a lot of repairing the infrastructure was down to him.

There's a lot of people there to enjoy it but a lot who are not who deserve some accolades for what was achieved right across the club in that six-year period.

Dave King took over at Rangers in March 2015
Image: Dave King became chairman at Rangers in 2015

The day you stood out of the back of Argyle House with Paul Murray and John Gilligan there - there were all those supporters there - there was a real sense it was a turning point. But going back, can you remind us of just how much of a mess the club was in?

I knew it was bad but it was extraordinary how bad it was - I was in South Africa watching what was going on, I had been involved in the club and had been on the board so had some sense of what the club was, the infrastructure and how it worked in a way that most supporters don't have.

And you had (Mike) Ashley and the (Sandy and James) Easdales and the way the club was being run was clearly wrong in terms of Rangers succeeding on the pitch.

But until the EGM where myself, Paul and John Gilligan were able to get into Argyle House and Ibrox and actually understanding the level of dereliction it was at levels I never dreamed of.

I never dreamed there would be a stadium that nearly breached health and safety standards - at Rangers Football Club or at any club you cannot have your customers coming onto your premises not fit for purpose.

When we actually realised we not only inherited a club that needed a lot of work on the park but we realised we also had to divert a lot of these financial resources into areas off the park as well.

That made it even more of a formidable challenge for us at the time and it was not hopeless because we got involved to give hope to people but in the normal sense of the word it did seem hopeless.

We had to come in and give people hope and I knew it was going to be difficult but sometimes it seemed insurmountable.

It wasn't and we had to get on with it but it was a lot tougher than I expected because the club was more derelict than I expected.

Rangers celebrate
Image: Rangers have won 28 of their 32 Scottish Premiership matches this season

Along the six-year journey, there were some ups and downs, one of the other big moments was appointing Steven Gerrard. At the time, did you appreciate it was a risk, and do you feel justified now at taking that risk?

At the time I appreciate it was a risk, but my whole life has been a risk - you make decisions when you do not know what the outcome is going to be.

I start businesses, hope they will be successful and expect them to be but it is not always the case.

I understand risks and make a living out of risks so understand it was a risk but they are calculated risks.

The risk around Steven was more around his character, personality, temperament, knowledge and experience and what he can bring to the club. The only real negative with Steven was the fact he had not managed before.

Not even managing, failing and recycling himself and if I look at the applicants available to the club at the time, a lot of them had experience, but no disrespect to them, also experience of failure.

They failed more often than they succeeded which is why they were available for the job and I felt at the time, and the board agreed with me, that this appointment was so important it had to be an appointment we knew we could build from.

It could not be an appointment that could fail and fail quickly and we knew with Steven that even though he had not managed he was a leader, a winner and he would learn.

So we thought that by bringing Steven in at least if it took time, we had time - no one expected us to win the league in the next year and in my initial discussion with Steven when I met him down at his house, I let him know it was going to take four or five transfer windows and he understood that as well.

So we agreed with each other to come in and build but we could not make another mistake and I really feel Steven's character and personality was right for the club.

You never know what the supporters are going to think, I was uncertain on what they would think and it turns out they loved him but I was there to lead and you have to make your decisions and lead.

Of course, the reaction from supporters was fantastic and then Steven turned out exactly what we expected of him.

He came in and, even after I appointed him, and I came over and we had dinner - it was the first chat after he had become manager and he asked what was important from a traditional point of view.

I said, for example, Rangers managers wear jackets and ties - that is who we are and I replied, "Oh really, I can't wear my tracksuit" and I said, "I'm not saying you can't but I'm just telling you the tradition of the club". So he said, "Ok, I will be traditional".

I do not know if he is comfortable wearing a jacket and tie but he wanted to know what is traditional and he came in wanting to prove himself, work hard, learn but everything he did when he first came into the club was about establishing things but maintaining tradition.

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Highlights of the Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and St Mirren

How important has it been that he has been able to lean on someone like Walter Smith who has been able to guide him and meet him on a number of occasions and I guess guide him through all those traditions as well?

From my point of view, Walter was one of the first when Steven came in to say he did not want to interfere but let him know that if he ever wants to talk then I am there for him.

And I think Steven took advantage of that, as other people did as Steven had come in to do his own thing but has bounced things off Walter and I am sure that has been helpful for Steven - even if it is just navigating the Glasgow environment.

He played for Liverpool so he understands competition from Manchester United and big games but there is something about this Glasgow environment that if you have never been part of it it is very very different.

I spoke to John Barnes who thought he knew everything, not arrogantly, but played World Cups, England, pressure games and he came to Glasgow and did not realise until he got here just how difficult and sometimes toxic the environment can be.

King (left) has backed Steven Gerrard (middle) and chairman Douglas Park (right) to continue helping Rangers strengthen
Image: King (left) has backed Steven Gerrard (middle) and chairman Douglas Park (right) to continue helping Rangers strengthen

You obviously agreed it was going to be a building process but when Celtic won eight in a row, then nine before the pandemic - Rangers fans were obviously getting twitchy and there were questions about Steven's capabilities as manager - did you always maintain faith?

I would have an honest chat with Steven asking where he thought he was and he said to be at the beginning of this season - I think we are ready.

He would not have said it if he did not believe it and there are no guarantees but he felt at the beginning of this season that we were ready.

I was trying to explain to a friend that there are certain things that the 'sporting gods' do not let happen and it's like Celtic and Rangers winning nine-in-a-row in the past - there's something about the sporting gods and Scotland which do not let you get a 10th.

So I have got a manager who is feeling good and the sporting gods who will not let anyone get 10.

That was the lighthearted side of it but to me, honestly, if Celtic had got a 10th it would have been an irritation but the most important thing for me was that we got to the end of this project.

And I felt strongly we would win this year and it felt right we would win this year but I never expected it to be the distance between us and Celtic, that has been extraordinary but I felt this was the season to do it.

But even if we didn't, it would not have affected my faith in Steven whatsoever. Another year, if we won it next year - that's fine. We had to win another title to end Celtic's dominance and kick on from there.

Of course, I am glad it stopped ten-in-a-row, I am delighted but I certainly would not have lost any faith in Steven.

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Take a look at some of the best goals Rangers produced during the 2020/21 SPFL season

Is it in some ways appropriate, with Covid and fans being locked out of stadiums, that after everything the club has had to go through that they have won it with everyone having to watch it from afar?

I have tried to look at some of the other leagues and how home crowds have impacted some of the games and there's a lot of funny things that have happened where certain clubs have not been as dominant this year.

I was trying to figure how much affects a club not having home support and I think for a club like Rangers, having home support is a wonderful thing for a team with the right character and the right qualities.

But it's very dangerous for a team that does not have the right character.

It's like when you are looking at a player, and you look at him when he gives the ball away and there's a groan and his head goes down - he will never come and play for Rangers because they will never have a player who stops making passes.

In that sense a crowd can intimidate you if you are not playing well and across the leagues did it matter to Rangers the crowd were not there? I think this team has been relentless and ruthless enough that the support would have helped us.

But having said that, look at where we are. Could we have done any better? Overall, the performance of the team has been astonishing.

I was hoping we would win the league this year and gave us a magic 55 per cent chance but to win it in the style we have done - forget Celtic's performance, Rangers performance has been huge and how well they have done in Europe as well shows it is not a fluke.

King helped Rangers return to the top of Scottish football during his six years at Ibrox
Image: King helped Rangers return to the top of Scottish football during his six years at Ibrox

One of the things Steven has said in the last day or so is that this is just the start, he's targeting more success. There's always going to be speculation linking him with Liverpool and a move to the Premier League - do you feel he is here for the long haul.

I'm absolutely certain and when we spoke to Steven about extending his contract, one of the last acts before I stepped down, he wanted it.

I did not really want to tie him to Glasgow because if his ambition was to come to Rangers and then move on that was fine.

But I never got the sense that was the case - he had not won anything at the time but he was enjoying Glasgow and told me he wanted to be here long enough to win and build on the winning.

Anyone who has dealt with Steven will know he is not a man to go back on his word, who signs contracts and walks away from them.

I cannot speak for him but if you ask me right now, the most likely scenario will be that he will be with Rangers until the end of his contract, at least, and he will build on the win, I think he can defend a title and go on and do well in Europe for Rangers as well.

And I think the time will go, maybe three or four years, where there will be opportunities and I would say a dream career would be Rangers, Liverpool, England for Steven.

The dream is happening so far - he has come into Rangers, he has had to achieve and he has done that so far and is very much on track but I do not see any possibility of Steven leaving Rangers for Liverpool in the next couple of years.

Not until at least this contract has matured - having said that, he is a long-time Liverpool supporter and Liverpool have a fantastic manager. Although they have had a bad season Liverpool are not going to abandon (Jurgen) Klopp in any way.

So I do not think there will be any pressure from the Liverpool side - I just think the man that I know would not extend his contract and walk away.

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Steven Gerrard and the Rangers players celebrate their title win at the club's training ground after the team were crowned champions of Scotland

I guess the only danger would be if Jurgen Klopp decided to leave Liverpool and the club came calling - it would be a difficult one to turn down.

It would but then again, I still think he has got work to do at Rangers before taking on the Liverpool job and I think Steven Gerrard is smart enough not to get tempted.

Let's just look at Frank Lampard who went to manage Derby and the Chelsea job came along - would he have been better to have waited a couple more years? The job would have been waiting for him at some point anyway.

Maybe Lampard would have been ready later with more managerial experience - not just with players and training but other stuff behind the scenes.

Managing a football team comes with a lot of distractions that are not football related and if you have not learnt some of the corporate politics other than what goes on the pitch and I just think from Steven's point of view - it's his career and he would make the decision.

But if Klopp left and Liverpool came and offered him the job I would be very surprised if Steven did not say 'look, let me finish what I've got to do first' and the more successful he is at Rangers then more opportunities will come around.

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Former Rangers striker Peter Lovenkrands believes Rangers are favourites for the Premiership title next season and thinks Steven Gerrard will remain at Ibrox

If and when that day ever comes, looking beyond what he has achieved in his three years, the building blocks have been put in place at the club. How happy are you with how things are looking at Rangers now - particularly off the pitch and the infrastructure?

I have been involved with the club now for over 20 years and it is the best I have ever seen it.

If I look at the infrastructure we have at the club now and the professionalism we are way ahead of anything we have ever had.

You can look at previous teams of the likes of (Paul) Gascoigne, (Brian) Laudrup, (Mark) Hateley and (Ally) McCoist and those were great teams but as a club, it has a better infrastructure now - the scouting, the nutrition, the sports science.

Right across every aspect, it's in a better position than it has ever been.

Rangers' Alfredo Morelos celebrates making it 2-0 during a Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and St Mirren at Ibrox Stadium
Image: King cites the fact Rangers didn't have to sell Alfredo Morelos last summer to bring other players in as evidence the club are now financially stabile

You obviously stepped down as chairman just over a year ago - do you think the financial stability is now there as well?

I would not have stepped down if the club was not properly funded and for Rangers to be successful as a big club in a small league we have to have the ability to trade players.

Now if you go back to when Steven first came in, he wanted to change players and the style of football - you want assets to come in and assets to go out and value in both sides.

When Steven came in we did not have any value on the way out, not one single player who a club wanted to pay any money for. That was the reality and we made players available, to free players up, to give Steven money for others to come in.

But if I now look at our squad, I do not think anyone can argue now that we have assets that if they want to move on for whatever reasons we will get value for them and we will recycle that value into the club.

At that point though we have got to make sure we have players lined up and come in to replace the guys who have gone out.

We are not always going to have the luxury of what we had this year of bringing players in and not selling (Alfredo) Morelos as most clubs would have had to have sold Morelos to bring others in.

The fact Rangers did not have to do that even shows a level of financial stability and it was important to make this year really really work for the club.

We have got to get the balance right of players going out at value and bringing in other players without diminishing the quality of your squad.

And that's were someone like Steven Gerrard helps the club a lot as well. Where certain players have had a choice of clubs and have come to Rangers to play for Steven Gerrard - that's a big advantage for us as well.

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King says he wants Celtic to improve and challenge the Ibrox side as it will help Scotland's coefficient in Europe

And of course, the changes in Europe mean next season both Rangers and Celtic will be in Champions League qualifiers and there's a pot of gold there that will benefit Scottish football. It could be an exciting couple of years?

That is what I hope happens, I am really hoping Celtic respond and we respond again and beat them.

It's vital for both of our clubs we have a chance to compete in the Champions League and to do that we need the Scottish co-efficient and look at what happened to it when there was just one dominant club.

No disrespect to that dominant club, the others like Aberdeen and Motherwell just could not progress in Europe with the resources they have.

Scotland needs, at national and club level, Rangers and Celtic to be able to access Champions League football and we will not do that unless both clubs are successful.

My one regret this year is Celtic's poor performance in Europe because if they had just done a little bit better than our co-efficient would be good enough already for us to have automatic qualification to the Champions League.

Rangers cannot carry that alone, we need at least one other club competing with us in Europe so I am really hoping next year that Celtic strengthen, Rangers strengthen again and we start to have a more certain path into the prospects of Champions League football.

King says he wants current chairman Douglas Park to unfurl the Premiership flag next season
Image: King says he wants current chairman Douglas Park to unfurl the Premiership flag next season

With everything that has gone on this season, on and off the pitch, is it your goal to get back over to see the team before the end of 2021 or as soon as you can?

I am optimistic I will get there in time for the league starting in August if that is the case - I will be very surprised if I do not get over there for the unfurling of the flag next season and I would be quite distressed if I do not get there.

Many fans believe you should be the one who does it because you have effectively rebuilt the club. How big an honour would that be?

It would be a big honour but I think Douglas Park should do it - the tradition of the club is that the chairman does it and I wouldn't like to see any break from that tradition.

Douglas Park has earned it as much as I have - even if it was offered to me I would say no because the tradition is the chairman does it.

Rangers fans - Ibrox Stadium
Rangers fans celebrate outside of the Ibrox Stadium after Rangers win the Scottish Premiership title. Picture date: Sunday March 7, 2021.
Image: Rangers fans celebrate outside of the Ibrox Stadium after Rangers win the Scottish Premiership title

Have you thought about how emotional Ibrox will be when it is full again?

It's going to be absolutely astonishing and I have had some great nights there, even in difficult times and I would have loved to be in Glasgow over the last couple of days.

Rangers supporters do not do walking away and still support the club through and through and the supporters have been unbelievable.

The number of times I have gone to them when things have not been going well and I have had to ask them to continue with us they have always been there.

And I think it is because even as a board if we made mistakes, we did what was right for the club to get to where we are today.

One thing I think the supporters always knew about the board, after the EGM when I came in with Douglas and Paul and all the other guys was that we were all there for the same thing - to try to get us back to where we are now.

So people always trusted why we were there - even if they didn't agree with some of the decisions we made, they knew why we were doing it in the best interests of the club.

And it's just delightful, from my point of view to have been able to deliver this result to all the supporters.

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