It was the match which re-wrote the Old Firm record books. Celtic ruthlessly exposed the gulf between themselves and Rangers in a season of unprecedented domestic dominance enjoyed by Brendan Rodgers and his players.
For Pedro Caixinha, it meant that the early days of his tenure as Rangers manager saw his CV blotted with the Ibrox club’s heaviest-ever defeat at home to their city rivals.
So when chairman Dave King attempts to put a positive spin on the 5-1 drubbing from a Rangers perspective, he is certainly stretching credulity to the limit.
The South Africa-based businessman insists, however, that the painful afternoon at the end of April can ultimately prove to be the making of Caixinha as a success story in Govan.
King believes it fully vindicated his decision to pay compensation to secure the release of the Portuguese coach from Qatari club Al-Gharafa in March, rather than wait to recruit him upon the expiry of his contract this summer.
Having acquainted himself with the squad he inherited from Mark Warburton over the final 11 games of last season, Caixinha has subsequently embarked upon a radical overhaul of first team personnel. In King’s view, it was time and money well spent.
“We brought Pedro in early for a reason, to come in and assess his squad,” said King. “Pedro asked me the question the very first time I met him. He said ‘Dave, why did you pay the compensation to get me in when you could have waited until the end of May and got me for free?’ I said ‘the reason we did that is that we will be in Europe, we have a new manager coming in and we need you to come in and assess the quality of the squad and the way you want to play.’
“The importance of that was emphasised by the Celtic 5-1 game. I think that was a very important game for Pedro. If he had gone against what he was trying to achieve, and instead tried to shore it up and get a 1-1 draw or whatever, he wouldn’t have learned about the players.
“He knew what he wanted to do. He was testing the players in a competitive environment. If we had brought him in at the end of May, he would have got the team for pre-season training, got them running around and gone straight into Europa League qualifiers. But he tested them against Celtic and didn’t abandon them and say ‘let’s lose 2-1 or draw 1-1’. He tested the players and we saw an evolution in his player plan. He learned a lot about the ability and character of the players in his squad in those weeks at the end of the season and identified specific players.
“It’s probably fair to say now we are now in the high 90s, percentage wise, in terms of getting in the exact players he wanted this summer. Okay, we’ve had to invest more money, but that’s a commitment we made to the club.
“We are all happy with the players he got. If I look at the business Pedro has done, his player plan was very different to Mark Warburton’s. It’s not a direct criticism of Mark, although it probably is in a certain sense. The player plan was more positional in that we needed to do this and we needed to do that. It evolved. Pedro has been very firm.”
Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson has worked closely with Caixinha over the close season and has no doubt the standard of the squad has been significantly improved by the recruitment so far of Bruno Alves, Ryan Jack, Fabio Cardoso, Daniel Candeias, Dalcio and Alfredo Morelos. The Mexican pair of Eduardo Herrera and Carlos Pena are now training with Rangers while they await formal confirmation of their work permits, while Caixinha is still pursuing deals for Norwich midfielder Graham Dorrans and Hearts winger Jamie Walker.
“I think you can see the level of player Pedro has brought in this year,” said Robertson. “They either have international experience of have been touted for international recognition. There is a step up in class. He has laid down the way he wants to play and identified players who can play in those positions with aggression and strength of character. Four or five of the guys we have brought in have been international captains at various levels and that’s important because it’s strength of character we needed to add.”
Robertson also outlined the structure of Caixinha’s relationship with Mark Allen who is leaving his role as academy director at Manchester City to become Rangers director of football next month.
“Pedro is here to get the first team playing as well as they can,” he added. “It’s all about putting structures in place and processes in place that will stand us in good stead for the future. Mark will be about scouting and recruitment and the succession planning of the team. We also need to recognise who we are in the food chain in terms of selling players on. We want to create that revenue chain but to do that we obviously have to bring the players through and then replace the players that you have sold. That’s where Mark’s experience from Manchester City will come in, albeit with different resources. He has effectively been a director of football for everything from 23 and below at City. His business background is great and he has a lot of good contacts. We want Pedro absolutely focused on the first team and telling Mark what he needs or where he is short.”