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Q&a: What Can St Mirren Fans Expect From South American Owners?


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Q&A: What can St Mirren fans expect from South American owners?

Sports Writer
Wednesday 14 January 2015

AFTER five and half years on the market, a takeover of St Mirren is thought to be finally nearing completion.

AFTER five and half years on the market, a takeover of St Mirren is thought to be finally nearing completion.
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Graeme MacPherson

The buyers are a South American consortium led by Ricardo Pini, an Argentinian lawyer. Pini's last involvement was with the Chilean club CSD Rangers, he and his brother Sebastian taking ownership of the club, based in the city of Talca, in 2010 following an auction to take them out of bankruptcy. On their watch the club won promotion into the top division in 2011, before being relegated again last year at which point Pini relinquished his control of the club. It was a tumultuous four-year stint, full of highs and lows as well as a few moments of controversy. Herald Sport spoke to Pablo Sepulveda, a former football commentator on Chilean TV and a lifelong Rangers fan, for the lowdown on Pini and on what the St Mirren fans can expect should the takeover be completed.

Q. What are your main memories of Ricardo Pini from his time at Rangers?

A. I remember there was high expectation in Talca when he took over. Rangers had been in bankruptcy so the fans were hoping for a bright future - both in an economic and sporting sense - with all the problems left in the past. Over time, however, we learned that Mr Pini was focused just on the business side of things, and the social and football aspects were not important to him. The fans did not matter to him and the traditions of the club were forgotten. Rangers has been going for more than 100 years without ever being champions so their fans are renowned for being very faithful. That loyalty was trampled over.

Q. What did he achieve during that period in charge?

A. Supposedly he wanted to consolidate Rangers in the top division. But gradually we saw that his primary interest was economics. Traditions are important to the fans and soon they started to walk away from their club. Mr Pini's occasional comments in the media didn't help either, with him often dismissing the fans' complaints.

Q. What was Pini's relationship like with the fans and the Chilean media in general?

A. The relationship with the fans was uncertain at first. He had the chance to win the affection and support of the people but chose not to engage with them. Rangers is a club with roots in a traditional area of Chile - Rangers and Talca go hand in hand. Mr Pini, though, did not appreciate that and, therefore, failed at the club. As time went on, the situation got worse with supporters demanding he left and the club returned to more understanding hands. His relationship with the media was also not great because he rarely spoke and ran the club from afar.

Q. What do you know or remember about Pini's takeover at Rangers? (When his group paid around £500,000 to take the club out of bankruptcy, after two previous attempts had failed. The purchase was originally ruled void by the courts due to an alleged fault with the process, before the appeals court overturned that decision to allow the deal to go ahead).

A. It was all very strange. Several bids were made because Rangers was in bankruptcy. The Pinis were not known in the city, arrived unexpectedly, made an offer and got the club at a low price. At first their deal encountered unexpected legal problems before finally the club was in possession of foreigners (Argentines). The first auction bid failed only on a technicality, the second because the company involved did not have enough money. At the third auction attempt, Mr Pini won ahead of two other bids.

Q. And what do you know or remember about Pini's exit from Rangers?

A. His departure came after relegation amid a lot of pressure from supporters had become very upset with Mr Pini and his work. They were annoyed by the matter of "triangulation" (where a player will leave Club A to sign for Club B but go via Club C - who the player will never or very rarely turn out for - for in a bid to reduce costs and tax liability). A lot of players were signed for Rangers but then immediately loaned out and never played for the team. This was done for economic reasons only. That was seen as disrespectful by the fans. What they viewed as a football institution with a lot of history had become just a vehicle for business. That was painful for the supporters.

Q. What can you tell me about the Carlos Sanchez deal? (Sanchez, now with Aston Villa, was signed by Rangers from Valenciennes then immediately loaned back to the French club for five years before signing shortly after for Elche in Spain. The transfer was one, among many, investigated by Cash Investigation, the French equivalent of Panorama, who, upon interviewing Sanchez, discovered that he had never set foot in Talca. A Buenos Aires magistrate included Rangers on a "black list" of clubs they considered "tax havens")

A. Regarding Sanchez, I can only know what I read in the press. He was a player who went on the books of Rangers but never went through Talca. I saw an article in the French media where he was asked about Rangers, the city and the fans. He admitted he didn't know anything about any of it.

Q. What was the highlight of Pini's time at Rangers?

A. The highlight was winning promotion to the top division in 2011 courtesy of a dramatic 3-3 draw with Everton that will remain long in the memory. There was also a good first campaign in 2012 when the team reached the semi-finals of the cup and was in the running to become champions for the first time in the club's history.

Q. And the low point?

A. In sporting terms the lowest point was the decline in 2013 with a team lacking in quality and players not playing for the jersey. There was also the contempt shown to the fans when twice, for games against O'Higgins and Católica, most of the stadium was given over to the away support, including the traditional home Rangers end. That was the last straw for many fans.

Q. It looks like Pini will soon buy St Mirren. Do you think this will be a positive development for that club or not? What can the St Mirren fans expect?

A. I don't think that is good news for them. From experience it will be a deal done for economic purposes rather because of any real interest in what happens on the field. I have nothing personal against Mr Pini but from analysing his time at Rangers there was little there designed to bring joy to the supporters. If there is a way to prevent him buying their club, I would urge the St Mirren fans to do all they can. Nobody can assume a love for a club overnight and ultimately that's what matters.

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Here's a wee bit of the story Graeme missed:

It would appear there was a widespread investigation in 2012. This saw 37 Argentinian players identified as being involved in these "deals" with over 140 agents suspended. When the attempt was made to suspend the players there was a protest from the clubs who stated the practise was legal and common place in the industry. This was clubs in the Argentine A & B leagues, with the "tax haven" clubs being from Uruguay, Chile and Switzerland. The Argentine clubs have since then had to fill out multiple forms and announce when players contracts are ended/transferred. This is all easily googled, just not by the press.

So, if the Argentinian clubs thought it was legal then why wouldn't foreign clubs agree to get involved?

Also, http://www.elamaule.cl/noticia/deporte/exclusivo-ricardo-pini-habla-de-la-actualidad-de-rangers - You'll need to put through google translate. They do admit to being involved, but clearly state they believe it's legal and it allows them to invest in the club. They bought land for the training complex and did indeed invest in the squad. They weren't profitable, but hoped to be in the next season. The Argentinian investigating body called it evasion and looked at deals where players stayed less than a year. As far as I'm aware, no Rangers player was suspended. Pini was still running Rangers in 2013, the investigation occurred in 2012.

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