Paul Le Guen left Rangers when they were sitting second in the league and is painfully aware of the high standards Old Firm managers must aspire to meet. So he was the obvious person to ask about Mark Warburton’s Premiership ambitions after Rangers sounded a warning shot across Celtic’s bows with a Scottish Cup semi-final win on Sunday.
The Frenchman knows that Old Firm managers are judged against their fiercest rivals. When Le Guen parted company with the Ibrox club in January 2007, Rangers were sitting 17 points adrift of leaders Celtic. Next season will be the first time since 2011/12 that the teams have been in the same league, and so the comparisons will become relevant once more.
Where Rangers can expect to finish next season was the question dominating the aftermath of Sunday’s thrilling clash, which saw the Ibrox side more than compete with Celtic over 120 minutes.
Le Guen, who was at Hampden to analyse the game for a French television station, knows expectations will weigh heavily on Warburton’s side as they adjust to life in the top flight again.
He wondered whether third place, where Hearts seem set to finish in their first season back in the Premiership, will be good enough, with, perhaps, not even second place acceptable.
“I know exactly what the pressure is like here in Glasgow,” said Le Guen. “The pressure will be there on Rangers even next season. They have been promoted but they are expected to finish where – first, second… is third enough?
“They will have to cope with that,” he added. “They will do that in their own way. I think that playing so well against Celtic will give a lift to such players. They will believe that they can go far and will take benefits from that.”
Le Guen, now 52, enjoyed his return to Glasgow for Sunday’s Old Firm match. “The atmosphere never changes, does it?” he said. Le Guen’s last Old Firm match in charge of Rangers was a 1-1 draw in December 2006, when a stunning equaliser from Brahim Hemdani after Thomas Graveson’s opener secured a point for the Ibrox side.
But it wasn’t enough and Le Guen lasted only four more games, becoming the first Rangers manager to fail to complete a single season in charge.
He believes it is only natural that Celtic have suffered for Rangers’ absence from the top flight in recent years.
“I think it’s logical to say that Celtic have dropped their standard,” he said. “That is normal, that they would not spend so much money without Rangers there to push them.
“But when they meet together, they still produce suspense. I enjoyed it. I hope that people back in France enjoyed watching it, too.”