New Rangers chairman Dave King held a press conference on Monday to announce the availability of season tickets for 2015-16. The team may have stayed down but prices went up, an increase of five per cent at a time when inflation is at -0.1 per cent.
Perhaps to sugar that pill, the South Africa-based entrepreneur, who revealed that his strategy for stabilising the loss-making Championship club is to ramp up the running costs, claimed that, by the end of his three-year plan, Rangers would be in a position to win the Premiership title and claim a place in the Champions League.
That may not constitute rabble rousing on the scale of a Sir David Murray or Charles Green but former Celtic captain Tom Boyd claimed yesterday that King’s ambitions are unrealistic.
Not only does he believe that the Championship club has no chance of catching Ronny Deila’s side within that timescale, he also argued that Celtic, should they manage to qualify for the group phase of the Champions League between now and 2018, will be comfortably out of reach of their former rivals for the foreseeable future.
Rangers have no manager and released 11 first-team players. They were thrashed 6-1 by Motherwell in the play-off final after finishing third in the Championship. By contrast, Deila has been in situ for a year and won the Premiership and the League Cup. While Jason Denayer has returned to his parent club Manchester City following a season-long loan, Belgium defender Dedryck Boyata has been signed for £1.5 million to replace him.
Celtic have arranged pre-season matches against Den Bosch, Dukla Prague, Real Sociedad, Rennes and Eibar. Rangers have yet to make an announcement on that front. All of which convinces Boyd that Celtic will have won seven successive titles by 2018. He does not see Rangers reaching that level by then.
“I’ll say no,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that – in my opinion, no. Look at where Celtic are now and where Rangers are. There is a massive gap and it will take a good few years to bridge that.”
Boyd, back at Parkhead as Celtic donated £7,000 to the Glasgow Taxis’ Outing Fund for Sick Children, also rejected King’s suggestion that his old club need a return of Old Firm rivalry. “No – they need the Champions League money,” he said. “They certainly need competition, which I think they got – to a degree – from Aberdeen last season. But, more importantly, where Celtic are now is that they need to get in to play against the best teams in Europe and keep the challenge of that alive and then, hopefully, go beyond the group stages. That is certainly more of an attraction just now than playing Rangers.”
Prize money is being increased from next season for club football’s most lucrative and prestigious competition. Reaching the group phase will bring a guaranteed £8.75m, with £1.1m for a win and £365,000 per draw before ticket sales, corporate hospitality, sponsorship and other revenue streams kick in.
Should Deila become the fourth Celtic manager to successfully negotiate the qualifying rounds, Boyd argues that the gap between them and Rangers will become a chasm.
“You can then get better players and I don’t see that over at the other side just now,” he said. “I don’t see how you can attract better players to the Championship unless you are doing what you did previously and that is paying them over the odds.
“That is the only way they will go to play Championship football – and that didn’t work too well out for them before.
“It will need to be a different strategy unless [Rangers] are buying in lesser quality players. So my take on it is that it will take a right good few years before they even come close.”
While there is nothing but uncertainty on the horizon at Ibrox, Boyd is confident that his old club are in good shape for the challenges to come.
“There are fewer changes to worry about,” he said. “The structure of the team and the formation and the pattern of play has been installed now.
“Ronny’s system was completely new to the players last summer when he came in. Some players weren’t suited to that but he has now managed to find his team and managed to strengthen it with the January signings.
“Celtic are as strong as they can be for the Champions League qualifiers.”