Charlie Nicholas: Celtic need a rival to make titles count
Any Celtic supporter ought to be in clover right now. The club is the untouchable force in Scottish football and, with Brendan Rodgers ratcheting up both performance and pay levels, exhibiting a potential to become more competitive in Europe . None more so, you might think, than Charlie Nicholas. Especially as the former striker was well and truly at the sharp end during his second spell at his beloved club because it coincided with Rangers then appearing as the Glasgow football titan that appeared permanently out of reach.
Yet Nicholas sees in Celtic’s hegemony a hopelessness on a wider front that could ultimately both hurt Scotland’s club game and the international side beyond repair.
The fan will never leave him, as he demonstrated yesterday when answering a question about Celtic appearing on course to usurp Rangers’ 54 titles – they are currently on 47 – as they march towards a seventh straight title.
“Well, a lot of people might say that we’ll dig into Rangers’ history and see if that’s the reality,” he said in reference to the history that many believe the post-liquidation newco Rangers did not take with them.
As a Celtic fan he also says the unsayable about his own club, in that he believes title-winning without a Rangers that is a league rival in any real sense, will lose its lustre.
“What does 10 in a row mean to me, as a Celtic fan? Would that be a greater achievement than what Jock Stein did? No, not even close, compared to what the Lisbon Lions produced and the players he brought through. There’s just no competition for Celtic . The only thing exciting their support is Brendan’s philosophy.
“Although I’m obviously not a Rangers fan, in order to put that edge back into the Scottish game we need Rangers. There’s nothing better for me than seeing Celtic beat them –it still gets me off my chair and I don’t need to camouflage that. Rangers fans know what I am, although Celtic fans will debate that now and then.
“But I just want that edge back. In the two previous seasons Aberdeen took their challenge into February and March. We always knew they weren’t going to win it but we wanted them to keep it going.
“Celtic fans needed that, too. Why did attendances drop to 30,000? They hid that figure behind the season-ticket holders but now it’s back up to 50,000 plus. Why? Because they’re seeing a team that’s dominant and exciting. Under Ronny Deila the football was dull and drab and the fans stayed away. There will be the hardcore Celtic supporters who just want to rub Rangers’ noses in it and they’re entitled to that opinion. My view, though, for the good of the country, is different because, if this league continues to be totally bossed by Celtic, then there will be no hope for the national team either. Celtic are producing a lot of players for Scotland at the moment but it could soon be that the best players in Brendan’s side aren’t Scottish.
“I work in the media and, although I now work in England and don’t need to sell the Scottish game, I still care passionately about it. We’re getting to the stage where you’re no longer looking forward to the season starting. People will get fed up of that and fans will drift away. We need teams to compete with Celtic and that generally means Rangers. If Aberdeen can contribute and Hearts can get stronger as well then great. The more the merrier but the gap at the moment is so big.”
Nicholas believes it is could be unclosable. He considers that Dave King and his Rangers board must “gamble” if they are to make any inroads into Celtic’s dominance .
“I still live here, although I now spent a lot of my time down south,” said Nicholas. “They laugh at us down there, of course . They say ‘when’s the split coming, when do Celtic get the trophy?’
“I get all that and I laugh and I make the best of it. However, I’m not enjoying it. It used to always be that the other one would the drag the other along. This goes back to the second change when I returned to Celtic. They couldn’t catch up Rangers and then Martin O’Neill comes in and gets a fortune to spend.
“They drag each other along. But that’s gone – and it’s been gone for a while now. I actually quite like what [Mark] Warburton’s trying to do. There have been failures because he’s been signing bargain basement footballers.
“I think he’s trying to play the game the right way. But to be second in Glasgow, and second in this league, there’s no time – and the fans will want him out.
“Celtic have been guilty of having only two players of substance. I think Brendan would go to three and maybe even four.
“If Celtic get that then how long is it going to take Rangers to get back at them?
“ You could not put a price or a value on what the cost would be. And I don’t ever see Rangers getting four players of stardust quality.
“I’m 55 now and I don’t see it in my lifetime. It could be that far gone.”