Andy Walker knows how it feels to be an underdog on Old Firm day. During his two spells as a Celtic player, he often found himself in teams left trailing in the wake of a powerful and consistently successful Rangers.
Even during those most difficult periods for the Parkhead club and their support, however, there were occasional afternoons to savour when the odds were upset by Walker and his team-mates against their city rivals. But when the Sky Sports pundit looks at the Rangers side who currently trail Celtic by 33 points in the Premiership table, he says he simply “can’t make a case” for the prospect of them avoiding a fourth consecutive defeat in the fixture this season when they travel to Parkhead on Sunday. In a withering assessment of the Ibrox men, Walker has labelled the players under the caretaker charge of Graeme Murty as “weak” and “timid”. The former Celtic and Scotland front man also feels the very notion of an Old Firm rivalry has been made redundant by the overwhelming dominance Brendan Rodgers has established as manager of the champions. While Walker won’t go quite as far as his old Celtic strike partner Frank McAvennie has by predicting a 7-0 or 8-0 drubbing for Rangers, he has no doubts the bookmakers are secure in offering record odds of as much as 15/2 on an away win.
“Listen, I played in an era where Rangers were really dominant but I felt we had some good players,” said Walker. “We certainly had a bit of heart. We lost a number of Old Firm games, but I remember going to Ibrox in 1995 when everyone was saying we would get pumped by five or six goals. It wasn’t the best Celtic team I played in but Paul Byrne scored a great goal and we drew 1-1. I remember playing up front on my own, which wasn’t a role I was suited to, but we went there with a game plan and we gave our supporters something to cheer about. We might even have sneaked it in the end. I can also remember winning 2-0 at Ibrox the previous year with John Collins and Paul McStay scoring. We weren’t as good as Rangers but we had a bit of heart, a bit of something. I look at this Rangers team and I would question their heart and their determination. We’ve had a 5-1, 1-0 and a 2-1 for Celtic so far this season. I was at all three games and Celtic were totally dominant in every game. I would expect the same on Sunday. The atmosphere used to help both sets of players but I just wonder if the Rangers players are a bit wary of it now. When I look at Rangers now, I think they are a bit weak, a bit timid. There’s not a great deal of leadership on the park, never mind in the whole structure off it. That’s why I think Celtic will win comfortably, but I’ll let Frank McAvennie give you the score prediction! I’m playing golf with him next week, so we’ll have a chuckle about that. Celtic will win comfortably as they have done in the previous games. I’ve been impressed with the way that they’ve played but I don’t think anyone will take anything for granted. The atmosphere will help. The fact the players will be thinking of going through the season undefeated will also help. The thing I like about Celtic is that even when they’re two or three up, they’re still hungry for more goals. They have scored four, five, six in games this season but I would imagine that Rangers will come up with something on Sunday to make it a closer encounter. But I can’t make a case for them winning it. Right now, the Celtic v Rangers rivalry is a wee bit redundant. It will be for a while. I don’t think Celtic are interested in comparing themselves to Rangers, being better than Rangers – that is gone. It’s up to Rangers to get their act in order.”
Celtic’s act has seldom been in better order in recent times than it is under Rodgers who has yet to experience a domestic defeat since replacing Ronny Deila last summer. Walker believes the former Liverpool boss will inevitably be lured back south of the border, even touting him as a potential successor to the troubled Arsene Wenger, pictured, at Arsenal, but feels Rodgers won’t be getting itchy feet just yet.
“He is at a level now where he can pick and choose,” said Walker. “He will go back to the Premier League. But I think he is enthused about what he is doing here. Champions League football fires his imagination. He can be inventive as a coach. He made a big splash down south when he came up with a gameplan which saw him go toe to toe with Manchester City twice this season. I think Brendan will stay for next season. He’s happy to be here for that. Then it will just depend on what happens down south to some of the bigger clubs. If Spurs, or that type of club, were to make a change for whatever reason then he could do something with them because he is very talented. I don’t think he could do Everton, having been at Liverpool. Arsenal? Why not? He could certainly handle a club that size. It will be a great test for Celtic and tell you a lot about Brendan and how much he loves being Celtic manager if a big club becomes available.”
l Andy Walker was promoting the Ladbrokes Football Show, broadcast live every Thursday from 6pm via the Ladbrokes Facebook page.