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Ashley could be in control with SFA's approval – in spite of outstanding charges for breaching club ownership rules as he looks to take shareholding to 29.9 per cent.

Mike Ashley could be in control of Rangers as well as Newcastle United within weeks with the Scottish Football Association’s approval. The development looks increasingly possible despite Ashley being charged with breaches of club ownership rules by the governing body of the game in Scotland.


The Newcastle United owner has been cited under two disciplinary rules and Rangers under three rules but Telegraph Sport can reveal that Ashley plans to increase his stake at Ibrox to 29.9% – which would give him effective control of the beleaguered the club without triggering Stock Exchange takeover rules.


Such a move seems likely to be approved, albeit cautiously, by many in the game, because while Ashley plans to use Rangers as a branding vehicle for his sportswear chain Sports Direct, a healthy, competitive Rangers – in the Champions League with the Old Firm rivalry renewed – would attract more interest, sponsors and broadcast revenues across the board.


The SFA compliance officer, Tony McGlennan, believes that there is sufficient evidence to charge Ashley and Rangers under rules which prohibit a person involved in the management or administration of one club from being involved in the same or similar capacity in another club. Under SFA rules, it makes no difference whether the clubs are in different football jurisdictions and the charges will be considered at a hearing on January 27.


Ashley signed an undertaking with the SFA that he would not become involved in the management or administration of Rangers without the prior written consent of the association’s board. Since September, however, Ashley has executed a series of coups designed to put him in charge at Ibrox.


Having been thwarted by the former chief executive, Graham Wallace, and finance director, Philip Nash, in at attempt to acquire the rights to the Rangers trademark and crest, he bought 4.16million shares for a total of £850,000 to increase his holding in the club to 8.92 per cent.


He thus avoided having to invest in a share issue launched by the club with the intention of raising much-needed cash but which, in the event, brought in only £3.1million. In alliance with Sandy Easdale, Rangers’ football board chairman – who acts as proxy for a number of other shareholding blocks – Ashley had the 51 per cent investor approval to requisition an extraordinary general meeting in order to get rid of Wallace and Nash.


In the event, the pair quit, leaving Ashley free to nominate two board members in return for a loan of £2million, later increased to £3million. He installed Derek Llambias – his former managing director at Newcastle United – to conduct a review of the business and stem annual losses of over £8million, as first revealed by Telegraph Sport. In recent weeks several non-playing employees have lost their jobs or will soon do so, including Ally McCoist’s secretary, who has been in place for 30 years.


It is the sum of those actions which prompted McGlennan to cite Ashley and Rangers on dual ownership or administrative interest charges. However, early speculation that this would prompt Ashley to pull out of Rangers is wildly off the mark.


The SFA’s position is that it could not continue to ignore what it construes as obvious breaches of its rules. The question of Ashley’s ambitions for Rangers is entirely separate.


Ashley already controls sales of the club’s merchandise through his Sports Direct retail chain and a revived Rangers, capable of playing in the Champions League once more, would be a vehicle for brand advertising on a European scale. He is not immune to business setbacks – he lost a notional £6million when the online fashion retailer MySale issued a profit warning on Monday – but in pursuit of his aims at Ibrox Ashley is prepared to take his shareholding up to 29.9 per cent.


The club’s annual general meeting will be held next Monday and will be asked to approve a fresh share issue designed to raise £8million. An open issue will require 75 per cent shareholder approval but an offer to existing investors requires only 51 per cent – and, as has been demonstrated by his previous request to requisition an EGM targeted at Wallace and Nash – he has the necessary support.


Such a move would then require the agreement of the SFA board. No meetings are currently scheduled but if the Rangers share issue is agreed, Ashley’s lawyers will ask the SFA to call the board together to consider his position.


There is no certainty of anything like unanimous approval, but many in the higher reaches of the Scottish game acknowledge that a revived Rangers, capable of resuming the Old Firm rivalry and renewing the club’s presence in Europe would make Scotland more attractive to broadcasters and league sponsors, with general benefits.


In fact, by the time the SFA’s disciplinary hearing convenes at the end of January – five days before Rangers meet Celtic in the first Old Firm derby for almost three years – Ashley’s alleged infractions could have the status of a prior offence, committed before he completed his tactical strike on a badly battered club.

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