Mike Ashley has appeared to hit back in the battle for control at Rangers after Sports Direct executive Barry Leach was appointed finance director at Ibrox.
Leach, who is head of brands at Ashley’s sportswear firm, has been acting as a consultant at Rangers since late October but his appointment to the board was confirmed on Monday evening.
The appointment came hours after the club announced they had secured a £500,000 loan from football club chairman Sandy Easdale to provide working capital in the coming days.
Ashley’s influence appeared to be on the wane after the Scottish Football Association rejected his attempts to increase his shareholding from nine to almost 30 per cent.
The Newcastle owner and Rangers also face SFA disciplinary action relating to his dual interests and the fact that Easdale had to loan the club urgently-needed money suggested the Englishman might be prepared to step back.
But the appointment of Leach, who joins former Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias on the board, shows Ashley is prepared to fight back against competition from Dave King and the so-called Three Bears, who snapped up almost a third of shares in the club in separate deals last week.
The move also comes after the emergence of interest from American banker Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, whose approach to the club was confirmed in a statement to the stock exchange on Monday morning.
But his interest preceded the share purchases of the four Rangers-supporting businessmen and the club needs a new influx of cash quickly.
The precarious nature of their finances was laid bare in details over Easdale’s interest-free loan, which Rangers revealed was secured on transfer money due from Lewis Macleod’s move to Brentford on Friday for a reported £1million fee.
The sale of the 20-year-old Scotland squad player had angered Rangers fans given he has been one of the most highly-rated young players to emerge from Murray Park, and the desperate need for the cash was apparent when the statement announced that Easdale’s loan would be used for “general working capital purposes over the next few days”.
Rangers, who borrowed £3million from Ashley late last year, have previously stated their need to recoup the vast majority of the £8.3million losses made last season.
There were claims that Easdale’s money had prevented Rangers being wound up due to an overdue national insurance bill, but it is understood the Scottish Professional Football League is satisfied that there was no default that breached its rules on reporting tax debts.
Rangers are soon due money from the £200,000 transfer of Charlie Telfer to Dundee United and Tannadice chairman Stephen Thompson revealed he had been sent a reminder by the Ibrox club.
But the club appears to be in dire need of a major influx of cash soon and it is unclear how they will get it despite plans for a share issue.
Ashley is unable to increase his stake - if he sticks to the SFA agreement - and American Sarver’s offer of investment would probably only succeed if he managed to independently snap up a major amount of shares in what would likely be a time-consuming and expensive exercise.
His approach to the club appears to have been predicated on the possibility of shareholders voting to accept allowing him an exclusive share deal - but a similar resolution was heavily defeated at the club’s annual general meeting on December 22.
Rangers said his approach “may or may not lead to an offer being made for the company”.
King and the Three Bears - Douglas Park, George Taylor and George Letham - together own about 35 per cent of shares, although they stress they are not working as a group.
But a consortium including King and the two Georges saw a £16million investment offer rejected by the Rangers board in late October in favour of Ashley’s intervention, which saw him strengthen his already tight grip on the club’s retail division.
The Three Bears also offered £6.5million to underwrite the planned share issue just before they each snapped up shares.
It is understood that Sarver has had tentative talks with the Three Bears but it is unclear whether he would welcome being a member of a consortium.
And the bitter nature of the battle for boardroom power continued when King hit back at claims that Easdale had come to the club’s rescue.
Jack Irvine, spokesman for Sandy and his brother James, who is a Rangers plc director, said: “Once again Sandy has stepped up to the plate with this half-million pound loan from his own pocket.
“Whilst we welcomed the recent share purchases by Dave King and Douglas Park and his consortium, this unfortunately did not put any funds into the club.
“Sandy was the only option for this cash injection at such short notice. The Easdale family remain totally committed to achieving a satisfactory financial future for Rangers and they hope all parties can work together in the future with that common goal.”
In response, King told the Telegraph: “Given that Sandy Easdale rejected new funds and was a chief architect in getting the club into this mess, lending a small amount of money is the minimum he should have done. As part restitution he should make the £500,000 a donation rather than a loan.”