RANGERS tied up one title last night while Celtic are on course to wrap up another within the next two weeks, but Aiden McGeady says the fact they are not vying for the same league trophy means something is missing from the Scottish game.
“There were probably a lot of Celtic fans happy at the time when Rangers were demoted to the bottom league but over the last couple of years they’ve probably realised it would be beneficial to have them there,” he said on a visit to Glasgow yesterday.
The Everton player was back in his home city to help launch this year’s voting for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year Awards, where Celtic players Kris Commons and Virgil van Dijk are among the favourites to land the main award, and he said he retains a keen interest in the game north of the border.
“It’s not the same scenario as when I was there but you’re still expected to win every game. It’s the same now. But there probably is something missing to motivate them because they’re miles ahead of the rest,” he said.
“If you look at it now, Celtic could lose five or six games on the bounce and still win the league. It would definitely help if Rangers were there. That’s why the lure of Champions League football is crucial but that’s becoming more difficult every year,” said the winger.
“Celtic have done well to qualify – they had six games before the group stages last season – so it’s a difficult task to qualify and without that there will be a lot of fans who will say ‘I can’t be bothered going this Saturday’. I know people who have that attitude.”
A Celtic fan, who admitted he would like to return to Parkhead at some stage before his playing career is over, he says the historical competition between the city rivals has been sorely missed.
“It’s probably disappointing for Celtic not to be winning all three competitions considering how far they’ve been ahead in the league in the last couple of seasons. I’m not quite sure where Rangers are at just now but they’ve got SPL-standard players and are running away with their league,” said McGeady.
“In a couple of years’ time it could be back to Old Firm games – seven or eight a season – which I think would be good for the game. I can understand how it’s difficult for the Celtic players when they’re so far ahead.
“Without Rangers in the Premiership, the past two seasons have been a virtual procession for Neil Lennon’s men, with the gulf in finance and class meaning no-one else has been capable of pushing them over the course of the league campaign. The fans and players have also missed out on the intensity of Old Firm derbies. The Celtic players will have missed it. I’m not being disrespectful to the teams in the league – the likes of Motherwell and Ross County – but the other matches just aren’t the same as playing against Rangers and they never will be.”
The 27-year-old, who left Celtic for Spartak Moscow in 2010, said he had been hoping for an Old Firm cup clash but with Celtic ousted from both knock-out competitions, he won’t get his wish this term.
“I had a joke with [Everton team-mate] Steven Naismith over Rangers’ draw with Albion Rovers because we always have a bit of Old Firm banter. His response was ‘you’re not even in the cup any more’.
“The Old Firm game was right up there for me because I’m a Celtic fan and you grow up wanting to score the winner against Rangers. The Moscow derby is a similar rivalry but while you have 80,000 fans in the stadium you have Spartak and CSKA fans sitting next to each other. You wouldn’t see that at the Old Firm. I don’t think the atmosphere will be any more hostile when they finally do meet again.”
A member of the Republic of Ireland squad who will face Scotland in the European Championship qualifiers, he is looking forward to a return to Celtic Park, even if any reunion with former manager Gordon Strachan is unlikely to be a warm one given the pair’s struggle to get on while they were working together at Celtic.
“That’s probably an understatement but I’m not here to talk about me and Strachan falling out and having disagreements. These things happen in football.
“I was young at the time and there’s a couple of situations I would handle differently if they happened now. But that’s football. I met him not that long ago when Celtic played Rangers at Celtic Park and he asked how I was getting on. I’ll save the stories for my memoirs.”