A Scott Brown voodoo doll at the Ibrox matchday stalls would doubtless do a roaring trade. Brown has firmly embedded himself into Scottish football’s most vilified hall of fame in recent seasons with his off-the-ball shenanigans and winding up of opponents drawing criticism from fans and observers.
And yet Archie Knox, Walter Smith’s assistant for seven of the nine-in-a-row seasons throughout the 1990s, has observed that Brown’s potent alchemy between the Parkhead dressing room and on the pitch is exactly what Rangers need if they are to halt Celtic’s march towards levelling that magic number this coming season.
Brown was central to the mayhem at the end of March at Celtic Park as Alfredo Morelos was dismissed for reacting with an elbow to a sly little trip while Ryan Kent received a retrospective two-game ban for aiming a punch at the Celtic captain. Brown himself escaped sanction for his celebrations in the aftermath of that game but, for all that he has become the man that Rangers love to hate, Knox has maintained that the Ibrox side would be enhanced by a player of his ilk.
“Absolutely. A player like that anyway,” he said. “Both teams need that type of player. For Celtic, they’ve got Brown at the minute, although he’s maybe in the twilight of his career. But Rangers need that. They definitely need that level of player right throughout the team.
“He has won 19 trophies with Celtic, and that’s a remarkable achievement for him. I remember giving him his first cap for the Scotland under-21s against France up at Pittodrie. He’s a lad who has really worked hard at his game and improving his game, and having that personality to influence a team and guys round about him. He’s done very, very well. And Rangers need someone of that stature.
“The guys they have brought in like Ryan Jack have done well, Scott Arfield, too, but they need a big leader. Every team needs a big leader. Richard Gough was a big leader, and there were loads of leaders at Rangers in those days. In the dressing room, you need that. You need a big influence and someone who will have their say in the dressing room and others will listen to them. The boy [James] Tavernier might be that guy, I don’t know, but they need a few of them. Leaders. They need a few of these guys.”
Neil Lennon will oversee Celtic’s charge towards a ninth successive title, an achievement that would give them further bragging rights over the Ibrox side; Knox and Smith levelled the late Jock Stein’s tally when they hit the ninth title but no team has yet done it twice. That challenge is significant in Lennon’s appointment given that the anticipated pressure will be different to anything else next season and, potentially, the campaign after that.
“I think it definitely will be more intense next season,” said Knox. “The demands the supporters put on the teams will be unbelievable, especially if you are getting into the season and nobody has stolen a march on the other. If it’s even-steven then it will grow and grow and grow.”
If there is psychological comfort for Rangers to draw on this season, from the two home victories that Steven Gerrard’s side had over Celtic in the league, Knox has warned Rangers of putting too much stock in it. And, crucially, he has maintained that Celtic are still superior in terms of the quality they have available.
“Rangers beat Celtic twice last season, but you have to examine the teams in the last one,” he said. “Celtic weren’t at full-strength and the league was over and done with.
“You would see a difference if there was something to play for, albeit the Celtic supporters wouldn’t want to accept this because they will think their players should always be up for playing Rangers, but that certainly wasn’t the case in the last game. They had one eye on the cup final that day.
“The biggest thing is recruitment. Rangers have a bit of catching up to do to even come to the level where Celtic are at the minute, which has been proven.”