Archie Knox feels there are parallels with Rangers’ failed attempt to win ten in a row 21 years ago as Steven Gerrard threatens to take Brendan Rodgers’ crown in his debut season at Ibrox.
Knox, assistant to Walter Smith during the rampant run of the 1990s, is staggered that Gerrard is even close to upsetting Celtic’s seven-year stranglehold of the title having drawn level on points with an impressive Old Firm win on 29 December. Indeed, he still feels it would be a minor miracle if his old club was to go on and wrest the Premiership trophy from their great rivals.
However, the impending arrival of Jermain Defoe and the return of Steven Davis have increased the excitement among the success-starved Rangers supporters and Knox can understand why. Celtic were convincingly beaten in the derby, even if the score was only 1-0, and there is uncertainty about the futures of Scott Brown and Dedryck Boyata.
For Knox it smacks of 1998 when it was revealed that he and Smith would go – along with a host of seasoned stars – at the end of a season when they could have made history.
The 71-year-old said: “That’s what beat us – the fact that everybody was going to be departing the scene at the end of the season. You don’t want uncertainty in football as you are always planning ahead.
“I would never have thought Rangers would be up there challenging and it would be this close at this stage. To be where they are, they are putting pressure on Celtic.
“I just thought that Celtic had the better players at this particular time. They have won two trebles, which is a fantastic achievement, but it’s still difficult to keep that going. Even when we had the nine-in-a-row teams, the edge goes off. I can’t say it would be a miracle but it would be a phenomenal achievement if Rangers were to manage to win the league and they obviously think they can.
“The signing of Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis brings in a lot of experience which is a big thing and it’s a big challenge for them.”
Knox feels the derby win was massive and has renewed belief in the Rangers camp in the same way that Wim Jansen’s Celtic side were energised when they won the 1998 New Year game and went on to stop Rangers’ run.
And he has picked out Scott Arfield for special praise as being the driving force in Gerrard’s side, comparing his desire to that of Gary Neville who was signed as a kid at Manchester United when Knox was assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson.
He said: “That was as good an atmosphere at Ibrox in I don’t know how long.
“Rangers have made their mark, so they have got to try and sustain that now. With the signings, that is what they are trying to do.
“Arfield did a brilliant job in that game, He gave Scott Brown a hard time of it and did not to allow him to have too much influence on the game. I had Scott in the Scotland youth teams. He reminded me a bit of Gary Neville. Here was a boy who was so determined to be a footballer that he wasn’t going to fail.
“We signed Gary Neville because we wanted his brother Phil, who was captain of England under-16 schoolboys when he was 14. But Gary was focused on what he was doing. He would never be put down and Scott Arfield reminds me a bit of him.
“Celtic never really got into the game at Ibrox. In the previous 12 games they hadn’t lost. So finally losing one will be a realisation for Celtic of what they’ve got on their hands.
“So I think that doubts are certainly there. Celtic will be seeing Rangers are level on points, albeit having played a game more than Celtic, with two Old Firm games to come.
“But the big teams have to respond to that. It was the same in our day.
“Whenever there was a challenge you had to face it and be capable of overcoming it. That’s the way Celtic will be looking at it.”
l Archie Knox is appearing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with Colin Stein and Willie Johnston on 10 January. Tickets: www.ticketsglasgow.com