For any newly promoted side to be judged in direct comparison to a dominant top-flight team in pursuit of a sixth consecutive league title can be regarded as wholly unreasonable.
For Mark Warburton, however, it is a form of assessment which remains inevitable and unavoidable, regardless of the circumstances Rangers find themselves in.
Already trailing 16 points behind Celtic at the top of the Premiership table, Warburton’s team go into tomorrow’s Old Firm fixture at Ibrox as clear underdogs against the relentless and unbeaten champions who have been revitalised by Brendan Rodgers this season.
The remarkable domestic consistency of Rodgers’ men has sharpened the scrutiny placed on Rangers’ struggle to find the kind of sustained winning momentum craved by a support which for so many years was able to take it for granted.
Warburton remains unflinching in his own belief he is on track to take Rangers back to the summit of Scottish football, while also finding it necessary to issue reminders of just how dark a place the club is still emerging from in the aftermath of its financial collapse almost five years ago.
The Englishman describes the gulf which now exists between Celtic and Rangers in terms of revenue and resources as a “staggering disparity” and has again warned it is not something which can be quickly addressed.
Warburton, though, bristles at any suggestion Rangers are now firmly in the shadow of their Old Firm rivals who have established a firm superiority in Scottish football since 2012.
“This is the most successful club in the world,” he insisted. “We are not constantly in the shadow of Celtic. There is no hiding where the club has been in the last three or four years. Are we there yet? No, we are not. Will we get back there? I have got absolutely no doubt that this club will get back to the top. I have got no doubts in my mind whatsoever.
“I said we wanted to be highly competitive this season and I think we are. If we get runners-up spot in the Premiership and qualify for Europe, having just been promoted with a young squad, you tell me if that is a good season or not?
“If that is not recognised, all we can do is say ‘look at the squad, look at the table, look at where we were’. Look at the reality of the situation. Can we compete with Celtic financially at this moment in time? No.
“If you looked at the respective wage structures, I’m sure you would be staggered at the disparity. Our job is to make sure we can compete as soon as possible.
“There is no inferiority complex here, just a realisation. It is just a fact. Right now, the reality is important. A true understanding of the situation, an honesty about the situation is far better. Right now, there is a gap, there is a disparity and everyone would agree. Are we happy with it? Of course not. We have got to close it.
“We can’t go and spend our way out of it, so what do we do? The fact that the board, the supporters and the players are together – it is a long-term plan and we have got to put down strong foundations. I get mocked about that comment, but we have to. If we go and spend £20 million on a striker, that is not the way Rangers will get the long-term health and wellbeing of the club. Rangers have got to get back to the top and stay there.”
While Warburton takes a longer term view of Rangers’ ambition, the club kicked off the season against the backdrop of a marketing campaign which declared their intent of ‘Going for 55’ in reference to pursuit of a 55th top-flight title win.
“It didn’t say ‘Going for 55 in season 2016-17’”, said Warburton with a wry smile. “Listen, the fact is that we have to go for it, that is our aim. We have to take the club back to the top. Look around you, it is a world famous, top class football institution. We are not where we were when we had Paul Gascoigne, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Brian Laudrup, we are not there yet. We can’t go and buy £50m worth of talent. It is not going to happen. So how do we get back there? It is a different route to what the supporters are used to but if you give them information about their club then they understand, there is less shocks, less uncertainty. Tell them where we are, where we want to get to and how we are going to do it.”
Celtic manager Rodgers has stressed that all the pressure is on Rangers tomorrow but Warburton believes there is still plenty at stake for the champions who will clearly hope to avoid their unbeaten run coming to an end in this fixture.
“When you play for Rangers, every game is a pressure game,” said Warburton. “I would have thought it was the same for Celtic, but I will let Brendan comment on that.
“I don’t think the lead at the top of the table is par for the course but this is Celtic’s best start since 2004. For them, it is a record start to the season. They have had a fantastic start so all credit to them. You have to take that into account.
“It would be magnificent for the home support if we can win on Saturday. The backing we have received this season has been first class. This is the fourth match in a row Ibrox has been sold out. So if we can give the fans a win, it will be fantastic. For the players, it would be great to take 16 points from the last 18 heading into the winter break. We have only had one defeat at Ibrox in 18 months. That’s a strong record. We want to protect it on Saturday.”