Celtic backed to win 56 titles before Rangers as Old Firm rivals branded 'lightyears' apart
Celtic will clinch their 53rd league championship, and their second-in-a-row under Ange Postecoglou, with four games to spare if they defeat Hearts at Tynecastle in their next Scottish Premiership clash on Sunday.
Rangers would remain two ahead in the overall tally having claimed title number 55 under Steven Gerrard in season 2020-21 but Hartson reckons Celtic will surpass them by reaching 56 first – which they would accomplish in season 2025-2026 if they won three more consecutive titles after this one.
“I believe the gap between Celtic and Rangers right now is huge, really huge," said the Welshman, who won the league three times during his spell at Parkhead in the early 2000s. “For me, Rangers are a long, long way behind.
“I know some people might disagree with that, but that’s just my honest opinion. I think it could be lightyears before Rangers get back on top. When I say that I’m talking about a good few years. I just think Celtic are riding the crest of a wave at the moment and have a style and system that works. Even the next manager who comes in, whenever that may be in one year, three years or five years, will continue to play the same way.
"The players have just bought into it so well. It’s a system being played right through the club from the Academy to the first-team. And it’s a system that works. Celtic are so strong with their full-backs pushing forward to create an overload in the middle of the park. They then have a striker who can come short or play in behind.
“There is also a tremendous work-rate within the team with the players so determined to win the ball back whenever they lose it. Ange just has it all in the palm of his hand at the minute. Therefore if Celtic keep going as they are I can see them dominating for a good few years to come, I really can. I just can’t see anything changing.
“Rangers are going to move players on with the likes of [Alfredo] Morelos and [Ryan] Kent leaving in the summer. But there is no guarantee the ones who come in will be up to standard and can cope with the pressure.
“That pressure will only build now Celtic are winning everything. I actually think Celtic might get to 56 titles before Rangers do. All the talk was about the 55 under Steven Gerrard blah blah blah. But right now, when you look at the finances too, Celtic are in a great position.”
While recent Old Firm derbies have been closely contested, particularly the 1-0 victory for Celtic in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final, Hartson insists he has yet to see evidence of the gap closing despite Rangers midfielder Nico Raskin stating otherwise last week.
“I was with Martin O’Neill on Monday night when we were having dinner and we were talking about this," he added. "There has been a lot of talk about Rangers doing this or Rangers doing that.
“I’ve heard people say: ‘we’ve improved and the gap is getting closer.’ Well, stop talking and try and beat Celtic first. You’ve got to win games at some stage. Listen, I don’t think Michael Beale has done too badly since he’s gone into Rangers. He has made a real fist of it in all fairness, putting a good run together with a lot of wins.
“They’ve been behind in games and been pegged back and have shown some character and spirit to fight back. So I think he has got something going there. But in terms of how far behind he is, he’s got one helluva job on his hands, to get anywhere near what Ange is doing right now.
"He’s reminding me of Martin and the job he did. But back then Rangers were a really good team. They had Ferguson, Arveladze, Lovenkrands, Moore, Numan, Klos and Ricksen. `They were a very good side and the games were close.
“I lost in two semi-finals to Rangers. But right now, although they are making a fist of it in some games, Celtic are dominant.
“They have got too much and also that X-Factor player, similar to what we had 20 years ago. If Henrik [Larsson] didn’t score I would pop up with a goal. If I didn’t score Stan Petrov or Thommo [Alan Thompson] would break through.
“This season Callum McGregor has scored late goals with Jota also playing his part. So I think Michael Beale will know he’s got a major job on his hands to turn things around with Celtic in a great place.”
John Hartson was speaking at his annual Golf Day. The Hartson Foundation has raised more than £1.2million for various cancer charities.
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