While Rangers continue to trail rivals Celtic at the top of Scottish football, here’s how the narrative will continue to play out. Former Rangers player/manager is invited to sit down with the media. Former player/manager is asked how Rangers will close the gap on Celtic. “Investment” says former player/manager. Rinse, repeat.
It’s almost like 2012 to 2016 never actually happened. Like the way to fix the ills of the Ibrox club is to throw yet more money down a dark hole, because that’s really what they’re suggesting. Either that or, as Maurice Johnston stated earlier this week, they want Dave King to put his hand in his own pocket and spend himself.
Being asked to write big fat cheques is the everyday life of a football chairman, and they should all know this coming in. But you cannot demand a man plough in millions of pounds from his own money. King hasn’t helped himself by boasting about a £30million war chest, which he now suggests was meant to cover additional costs rather than just bloat the playing squad. However, there are far worse alternatives if “sugar daddy” is the route you seek. Just ask Hearts supporters.
Rangers are still struggling to get themselves on the straight and narrow financially, so directing representatives with briefcases full of cash away from Ibrox in search of the best available players on the continent isn’t really an option.
Celtic haven’t even spent all that much, yet. They probably will in the near future with a massive influx of Champions League money coming in. But, at this stage, they’ve spent £500k on Moussa Dembele, £3.5million on Scott Sinclair, £2.8m on Eboue Kouassi, a small fee for Dorus de Vries and around £1m on Cristian Gamboa. One of those players has just arrived and has yet to start, another hasn’t been seen since the autumn, and the last is a back-up right back. The two players who’ve made a massive contribution, at a cost £4million between them, is Sinclair and Dembele.
Other than their input, Celtic’s terrific season has been built of contributions from players who were already at the club from last season. That’s what makes it such a terrific job by Brendan Rodgers, and why it’s unfair to paint the success in comparison to Rangers as the benefit of money in football. As any Celtic fan will gleefully point out, Joe Garner cost three times as much as Moussa Dembele.
We’ve yet to have an indication of what transfer market Pedro Caixinha will prefer as he searches to pluck a few diamonds from the rough with the resources at his disposal, but avoiding Mark Warburton’s penchant for continuing returning to League One and League Two in England may be a start.
Regardless of what Celtic spend, a Rangers team on their current budget should not be third in the Ladbrokes Premiership table. This is what so many pundits seem to miss when they talk about the financial gulf. There are two gulfs and they always seem to forget the other: the financial gulf between Celtic and Rangers, and the financial gulf between Rangers and everyone else.
Rangers should not need a pot of gold to score a victory, any victory, against Ross County in three attempts. This is the tremendous advantage given to either half of the Old Firm; if, at the start of any particular season, they lack the funds to compete with their rivals in terms of player recruitment. They should still be able to compete with them in the league table by virtue of being markedly better than the rest of the competition.
Of course, the weaker you are the more prone you’ll be to an odd slip-up, while games between the two clubs are unlikely to swing in Rangers’ favour if there is a massive financial gulf between the pair. However, I say repeat this point again: the gap should not be 33 points!
Pray for change
Imagine a Hibs fan in the aftermath of the 2012 cup final. Or, to take it forward a little bit, imagine how they felt after watching Hearts win the Scottish Championship while they remained in the second tier. “What’s the point?” must have been muttered by more than a few. Now, the Hibees are on the course for the second tier title, they’ve won the Scottish Cup and are currently on the best run of results against their rivals since the 1970s. Things change.
Celtic are on a historically great season. They look on course to go the entire domestic campaign unbeaten, something that’s never happened before since the league expanded to more than just 18 games per league term, as it was in the 1890s. While this writer would certainly not like to back against them to lose any particular match, history would suggest it’s a feat that’s not going to be repeated twice.
Right now it seems inconceivable Celtic will fall from their perch in the foreseeable future. But football swings from one direction to the next in unpredictably ways. Rangers better just hope it swings back in their direction before 2021.