Kevin Thomson believes Scott Brown is maturing “like a fine wine” and, while it may leave a sour taste on the palate of many supporters, he believes Rangers need someone with the drive and quality of the Celtic captain to challenge their Old Firm rivals’ dominance.
Thomson has seen his former Hibs team-mate and close friend Brown grow into an increasingly imperious figure in the last two campaigns under Brendan Rodgers, excelling on the pitch and as a dressing-room leader as Celtic claimed consecutive trebles.
It is a winning mentality that has been notably absent in Govan under the successive regimes of Mark Warburton, Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty, but thrown into particularly sharp relief when derby day rolls around. In the last seven meetings with Celtic Rangers have succumbed to an aggregate scoreline of 21-3.
Thomson says new manager Steven Gerrard must instil the standards that made him a Liverpool icon on the Rangers squad, and urged the players to rise to the challenge.
“There needs to be a spark,” said Thomson. “It’s okay having that within the manager, but there needs to be a spark among the players.
“You need good changing rooms at good clubs. You look at Scotty [Brown], no-one can tell me he doesn’t do a good job across the city. Steven has done the same thing for every dressing room he was in at Liverpool. That’s the sign of a good captain. He’ll be looking for someone that can do that for Rangers. Like a fine wine, Scotty’s getting better and better with age, although he’s not looking any better! That’s testament to the type of person he is and the drive to be the best he can be. That’s the challenge.
“He is fundamental to the way Celtic work. You take Scott Brown [pictured] out of that team, they aren’t as good a team. If you get on top of him and make it difficult for him, then they aren’t as good a team. If there are young boys breaking though, I would be saying, ‘there is your benchmark’.”
Thomson speaks from a position of knowledge. He scored the winning goal in his first outing against Celtic – a 1-0 win in March 2007 – and tasted defeat only once in the fixture during three and a half years at Ibrox.
The assumption that Rangers would stand up to their fiercest foes was merely one facet of the lofty expectations within that group, which won five major honours and reached the Uefa Cup final in his time at the club. It is a steely belief that Thomson longs to see again.
“The standards within the club when I was there were simply expected of you,” recalled Thomson, now coaching the under-13 squad at Rangers as well as running his own academy. He added: “There were no ‘rules’. It was assumed that you would be on time, wouldn’t muck about on your phone, you would train hard. That’s the environment Walter [Smith] created and those will be things Steven [Gerrard] has done his whole life and will expect that of the players. Those players will need to rise to that challenge.
“The expectations at Rangers are that you need to win, the fans demand it, the manager will demand it and the players should demand it of themselves. Am I saying they’ll go on and win the title? I don’t know, no-one knows. But he needs to put a team on the pitch good enough to bridge the gap with Celtic.”
Meanwhile, Thomson has revealed that he has contacted Livingston about their managerial vacancy following the departure of David Hopkin.
Speaking at the Scottish FA Uefa B Licence taking place at Oriam, Edinburgh, Thomson was adamant he is ready to take his first steps into front-line management. He said: “I could take the job tomorrow and I’d be comfortable in doing it. Do I want the job? I’d be interested in it. It’s a great job, a big job.
“I’ve enquired about it to see what their thoughts were. The one thing about me is I’m very relaxed. I’ve got a great role at Rangers.”