Wealthy London-based financier Craig Whyte is in advanced negotiations to take control of the Ibrox club in a deal thought to be worth £32million, and could be at the helm before the end of the year.
The 39-year-old lifelong Gers supporter originally from Motherwell -- who has made his fortune as a venture capitalist -- is currently carrying out due diligence after weeks of secret talks with Mr Murray and Rangers’ bankers, Lloyds.
A statement from Whyte's representatives released to the market just before noon stated: "Craig Whyte notes the articles in today’s press regarding discussions between him and Murray International Holdings Limited ("MIH") with a view to him acquiring MIH’s majority shareholding in Rangers Football Club Plc ("RFC").
"Mr Whyte confirms that he is considering making an offer for RFC and is in talks with MIH but that these are at an early stage and there can be no certainty that an offer will ultimately be made.
"Mr Whyte has not yet approached the board of RFC. A further statement will be made in due course."
Mr Whyte could not add further comment today because of stock market rules, but sources close to him told the Evening Times he is a passionate Rangers fan who is determined to press ahead with the deal as quickly as possible and that he has major plans in place for the club.
In an interview in 1996, Mr Whyte said that Scots entrepreneurs such as Mr Murray, and Kwik-Fit owner Sir Tom Farmer, were his inspiration as he attempted to build his own business empire.
And now the man who once had an executive box at Ibrox could be heading for the directors box as the new owner and chairman.
“The money is already in place, and this could be completed in a matter of weeks once due diligence is finished -- there will be significant funds available to progress the club on and off the pitch,” a source said.
“Deep down, this has always been one of Craig’s dreams to own Rangers. When he first started out in the early 90s, Sir David Murray was someone he looked up to. Now he is ready to take over from him.”
The Rangers takeover deal, which our sources say will be financed mainly by Mr Whyte himself, although he has spoken to others -- including Andrew Ellis who failed in a Gers take-over six months ago -- about coming on board with additional financial backing, would see Lloyds given around £25m-£26m to wipe out the current club overdraft.
They have been running Rangers under a strict business plan for the past year after stepping in to take control when debts reached £32m.
Mr Murray would also get back the £6m he paid for the club in 1988 -- in exchange for his controlling interest -- in a deal that has been brokered by ‘turn-around specialist’ Donald Muir, who took a place on the Rangers board last year at the behest of the Murray Group, and Mike McGill, Mr Murray’s long-standing lieutenant.
Mr Whyte has already satisfied Mr Murray of his intentions, his ability to take the club on, and suitably provided evidence of his funding to complete a deal and provide finance for new players going forward.
However, given the much publicised attempted takeover by Ellis, which finally collapsed last summer after a protracted three-month affair, no-one will take anything for granted until the deal is completed.
Mr Whyte is fully aware of the on-going HMRC tax investigation into payments made into players remuneration trusts -- a story we revealed back in May -- although it is believed that the Murray Group have now offered a warranty to any possible liability, should Rangers have a back-dated tax bill to pay after a court case early in the New Year.
Mr Whyte has been off the radar on the Scottish business scene for the past 11 years after making a name for himself as a young entrepreneur before some of his local businesses ran into trouble.
He lives in London, but four years ago bought Castle Grant, just outside Grantown-on-Spey in the Highlands, and spends part of his time living there.
Rangers have effectively been ‘on the market’ for just over a year. In October 2009, it was announced to the Stock Exchange that Mr Murray would consider selling his controlling stake, effectively putting the club in a ‘live bid’ situation.
In March of this year, we revealed that Mr Ellis -- a London-based property developer -- was in talks with Mr Murray over a £30m plus takeover. This was confirmed to the Stock Exchange days after our story.
However, Mr Ellis failed to follow through with his financial pledges and, despite several public declarations of intent and suggestions that current millionaire director Dave King would step in with a firm offer to takeover, on June 15 the following statement was again released to the Stock Exchange, killing off the Ellis bid.
It read: “On 26 October 2009, the principal shareholder of Rangers Football Club, Murray International Holdings Limited, advised the board of directors of the club that it was considering options regarding the controlling shareholding in the Club help by its subsidiary Murray MHL Limited.
“At this time, however, the board MIH has not been able to secure an offer which it considers to be in the best interests of the Club, its shareholders and its fans.
“Following on from the success of winning the 2009/10 SPL title and thereby securing participation in the group stages of the Champions League during 2010/11, the Club recently announced that the football management team had signed new contracts.
“The board of directors of MIH therefore considers that the interests of stakeholders are presently best served by providing the football management team and board of directors with an opportunity to implement its business plan which is supported by Lloyds Banking Group. In these circumstances, MIH hereby announces that it is no longer actively marketing its controlling stake in the Club for sale.”
However, there was never a statement to the Stock Exchange stating the Club was back off the market -- allowing interested parties such as Mr Whyte to continue dialogue with the Murray Group.
Now, if a deal can be agreed and signed, Rangers could change ownership for the first time in 22 years before the end of the year and be allowed to control their own destiny away from the iron grip of their bankers.
TIMES FILE: CRAIG WHYTE
Born in Motherwell in 1971 to dad Tom, who owns family plant hire business and mum, Edna, who owns a babywear shop.
Aged 15, using cash saved from a weekend job, starts to play the Stock Market.
Leaves Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow aged 17 and works in family business.
Named on Britain’s Top 20 ‘Rich Kids’ alongside Oasis star Noel Gallagher.
Sets up own plant hire company in 1990.
Purchases Vital Security in 1993 for £120,000. Provides in-store security for firms such as HMV, ASDA, Superdrug.
Goes into contract cleaning at the beginning of 1995.
Moves to Monaco in 1997 after selling off several businesses.
Is now a venture capitalist and financier who specialises in acquiring and restructuring distressed firms.
Has a wide range of business interests in the UK and overseas including financial services, commodities trading, transportation and property.
Based in London but enjoys spending time at his home in the Highlands.