Rangers’ European adventure has gone better than most anticipated but as laudable as progress has been, with David Weir insisting a place in the last 32 is possible, the former Ibrox captain claims that even that will not be enough to satisfy a support who are pining for more on the domestic stage.
Celtic have bagged the past seven Premiership titles and are focused on maintaining their grip until they reach double figures and set a new record. It is a scenario their city rivals do not even want to countenance. And the man who played a pivotal role in the 2008 side that made it all the way to the Uefa Cup final before being bettered by Zenit St Petersburg believes the fans would forfeit any notion of a repeat run to ensure the team not only closes the gap on Brendan Rodgers’ double Treble winners but usurps them at the top before it is too late. “The fear of ten [in a row league titles] won’t go away and that is the nature of the beast. Everyone knows that is in the back of every Rangers fan’s mind and that is the worst case scenario. They would sacrifice everything else for that to be stopped,” said the man currently working as Brighton & Hove Albion’s first pathway development manager.
“I don’t think the fans want to close the gap on Celtic, they want to get past them. Closing the gap isn’t good enough. People can talk about six points, nine points, or 30 points, it is still a gap. Until you overcome the gap, the fans will not be happy.”
Steven Gerrard’s men are in Moscow for the latest Euro tie, against Spartak, but the spotlight is on how they perform off the back of that trip as they track Celtic, who currently sit four points ahead of them.
“They have to look to win all their games before the Old Firm game in December,” said Weir, appearing on behalf of BT Sport. “Everyone is capable of beating anyone in this league, you have seen that already this season. Hearts have improved, so have Hibs and Kilmarnock and Aberdeen are always competitive. Then you look at the Livingstons and Motherwells, these are difficult games as well. If you are playing on a Thursday night and then coming back and having to play on a Sunday lunchtime, it is tough on you. Rangers have to navigate that to be competitive and challenging Celtic. Fortunately for them, right now, Celtic are in the same boat. That keeps it on a level playing field, but the other teams aren’t and that gives them a slight advantage going into matches. Rangers are going to have to work doubly hard.”
But decent performances in Europe could still help in the quest to reel in Celtic, bolstering finances and allowing them to showcase their talent.
“Rangers need investment to consistently improve their team,” added Weir. “Celtic have done that for years, maybe not this year, but over the four or five years they have spent money on their team. They have spent money wisely in terms of bringing players in, developing them and then selling them for a big profit.
“Recently, Rangers haven’t really done that. They sold Josh Windass for decent money and I am sure their model will involve that. But you have to have a buyer for your players and the European run will help with that in terms of increasing their value.”
Recruitment will also play a key role. Weir knows that many might have questioned the need to splash out on another international goalkeeper when Wes Fotheringham was viewed as one of the side’s more consistent and valuable performers last term, but he says that bringing Allan McGregor back to the club has proved an astute move, branding his former team-mate a natural winner.
“In my time at Rangers I couldn’t fault Wes,” said the former Ibrox assistant boss. “He was getting better, he was a good age and had a lot of good assets. I am sure Allan’s signing would have raised a few eyebrows. Wes has done nothing wrong and. I am sure he’ll be frustrated but on the other hand he’ll look at Allan and say to himself ‘he isn’t bad, is he?’ Allan knew he would be under pressure to perform because there were other good goalkeepers there but that is when he is at his best, when he is asked questions.
“He is the same as he was the first time around in that he enjoys the challenge, his mentality is right for Rangers. It was a bit of a worry because he is older and he has had a few injuries in the past, but he has shown he has not lost any of the attributes he had in the past. He has kept Rangers in a lot of games, especially the European ones with his performances. It is great to see him doing so well because I know what it means to him to play for Rangers. I think he is as good as he was before.
“He always makes big saves at big times. When you have a snapshot of someone that is what I think of him – saving Georgios Samaras’ penalty at Ibrox and when you need someone to make a save for you, you wouldn’t want anyone else. He has always been the type who wants to win. He is last in from training, he is competitive by nature and I would be very surprised if that has changed because he is a winner.”
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