Money has been the root of all evil for Rangers; the splurging of sums the club weren’t generating propelling them to the abyss with liquidation seven years ago. Yet, the spending of more money than they take in seems permanently cited as the cure to all ills by those within the Ibrox club. Steven Gerrard has added himself to an exhaustive list of those that consider this approach as ultimately the only means to knock Celtic from their perch.
Gerrard’s men will be attempting to put the faintest pulse back into the Premiership title race this lunchtime. The Rangers manager accepts only a win at Celtic Park would do that, with their eight-in-a-row chasing rivals having established a 10-point league lead.
That is surely an all-too-sizeable gap to bridge, whatever happens today. Many would say the same for the financial gap between the two clubs as Celtic post profits on an annual £60 million player budget, while Rangers should break even operating with a budget of around £30m.
Gerrard acknowledged those differentials in stark terms this week in a manner he has previously side-stepped since he took on his first management post last May. He has been indulging in bakery metaphors to do so. It appears a clear message to his board that they must apply the self-raising flour to his budget.
And also implies that the egg will be on their faces if cannot purchase the ingredients he needs to get the club back in the honours mix after what is likely to be an eighth season without a major trophy.
In becoming the latest Rangers manager to toil in Celtic’s shadow, the impression that cannot be shaken is that on the matters of fiscal responsibility the Ibrox club can be accused of wanting to have their cake and eat it.
Gerrard, despite suggestions to the contrary from such as John Hartson last week, didn’t play up Rangers championship prospects when their Ibrox club’s first derby win in 14 attempts brought a thunderous 1-0 win in December and drew them level on points. He knew the lay of the land then, and knows it now.
“Listen, Celtic have won the last seven trophies,” Gerrard said. “Celtic have good players. Celtic’s budget is double, or more, my budget. The last thing I’m going to do is get carried away and think I’m better than Celtic because we took three points off them. Now that would be stupid, and if I did think that or gave anyone any evidence of that, then I’d be leaving myself wide open to criticism.
“We’ve got tons and tons and tons of work to do to get to where we want to get to, forget competing with anyone else. We’ve got tons of work. We need to be better personnel-wise in certain areas. We need more and better options. I know exactly where we are and where we need to get to. No one I know close to me, players or staff, is getting carried away and thinking we are anything other than a team in progress that needs a lot of hard work.
“[To bridge the gap] we are going to need support, financial support, that’s reality. We’ve build a decent base since we came in here in terms of the changes and what we’ve tried to do. We are doing everything we can to improve things at the training ground, at Ibrox and the team. Tactically, we believe we have moved on leaps and bounds but when you’ve built your cake you need a lovely icing on it and a bit of decoration on it that will hopefully make a difference. That’s the reality and the brutal truth of it. I’m still as confident as I was when I came in that we can achieve that, but I am going to need some help and support.”
Gerrard says there is no question that he needs the board to fund the recruitment of a goalscoring midfielder of stature. “Are we closer to Celtic head-to-head if you compare 12 months ago to now? You would probably say yes. Do we need to improve and get better in certain areas around Alfredo [Morelos], which is the answer to your question, one million per cent. Now, can we do that? Yes, but sometimes it’s hard to do it on a free contract or a loan because, for example, Ryan Kent [who is on loan from Liverpool] might be going back. Somewhere along the line, you need to get the icing or the bits to decorate the cake and you know, and I know, that costs money.
“I am not expecting us to go and buy Paul Pogba or [Aaron] Ramsey, [Kevin] De Bruyne. We can go into a market where we can improve and get more and better options around Alfredo, assuming he stays, to be better against your Hibernians and St Johnstones and Dundees and hopefully that’s the next step.”
Gerrard rebuffs the Hartson charge that Rangers believed their own hype after sweeping Celtic aside at Christmas time by pressing them high with a zeal and aggression that he accepts they will have to seek to replicate this afternoon.
“We are a humble group,” he said. “We celebrated when we beat them because it had been it had been a long time, it was a big moment, a good performance and you are entitled to enjoy it and lap the rewards up but at the same time you have to take any criticism that comes your way. There’s a lot of noise at the moment, a lot of it ex-Celtic players and pundits, but it’s allowed, you have to accept it and be a man and take it. It’s an opportunity at the weekend to go and show what you’re about if you’re a player. You exclude the noise because it’s not going to affect the game or performance and you go there and try and take maximum points. Pundits say certain things off the cuff that when they analyse it I’m not sure there’s any truth in it or any examples of it being true. But the reality is there’s a lot of pundits about at the moment, who are creating a lot of noise our way. The same people have been quite complimentary at times as well, so we have to accept it.”
The financial constraints within which Rangers must live, meanwhile, would appear harder to accept.