Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha yesterday dismissed the suggestion from his Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers that the Portuguese had been put under pressure by his board to win the title because they had outspent the champions this summer.
Whether that was a psychological gambit by Rodgers or a pop at what he perceives to be the inflated fees Rangers are reported to have paid for Caixinha’s tranche of new arrivals only the Irishman will know, but Caixinha was having none of it as he prepared for his first meeting with Celtic this season.
Celtic won five of the six clashes between the clubs last season, drawing the other, but Caixinha insists he is not overly stressed by the significance of the outcome and nor, he claims, has he been fazed by Rodgers’ remarks.
“How much did he invest in his first season here?” he asked. “You might want to have a look at the numbers or, if you want, you can add the two seasons – the previous one and this one – together and afterwards you’ll draw your own conclusions.
“But I don’t need to answer what he said, what he thinks or whatever. I just need to focus on my team and my club – on the investment that we need to do, or the investment that we’ve made over the last five seasons and what we need to do to help us keep investing in the same way.
“Because I arrived when last season was already [under way] I don’t know the investment by Celtic [prior to that] so I’m asking you to compare it. Then you’ll have your answer.
“I’m not worrying about the wages bill or the fees. But once again I invite you to do your investigation and place the numbers out, then people can conclude for themselves.”
Caixinha also claimed that, if Rodgers was attempting to get under his skin with that observation, he was wasting his time.
“Whether it’s mind games depends on with whom you are playing these games,” he said. “It’s only mind games when you say something thinking that you are going to have one answer or what you are saying is going to affect other decisions or choices.
“But it does not affect me. It is not my concern; I just want to help to take the club in the right direction to get back to the position where it needs to be, which the club [has been] doing gradually over the last five seasons.”
Celtic would appear to have had a net spend of £8 million since Rodgers took charge. Rangers’ spending has been more opaque (did they really pay Preston £1.5m for Joe Garner?) but is probably short of that figure. Caixinha, though, did concede that you do tend to get what you pay for.
“One thing I need to agree with is that money brings quality and not only in football,” he said. “If I have money I can go to one store and buy the best products and normally the best products are more expensive than the others. That’s the law of the market.
“But I don’t want to discuss budgets or what’s more or less expensive. I’m just here to discuss a football match, which we are totally focussed on winning.
“That’s what really matters to me. I’m not concerned about what the others say, if the others have more money or if the others want to put more pressure on me by saying we have more investment so we are also contenders.
“I know that they [Celtic] are the ones who won the treble, they are the ones who are leading the league so maybe, with the bookies, they should be the favourites. Let them think like that.”
The injuries Portugal centre -back Bruno Alves and Welsh full-back Declan John sustained in Tuesday’s 3-1 Betfred Cup quarter-final victory over Partick Thistle have yet to clear up and club captain Lee Wallace will be out until next month but Caixinha insists he would have no qualms in starting 19-year-old Ross McCrorie, who made his Rangers debut as a substitute at the Energy Check at Firhill Stadium, tomorrow.
“When we closed the [transfer] window I told everyone: ‘We have the players we asked for,’ he said. “We have one squad that is complete, we have one squad which gives us options and solutions and also one squad that is giving competitiveness.
“These situations allow you to make decisions. I will not have any problems at all placing our players – it doesn’t matter which players are in which position, age level or name – in a game like the Old Firm because I believe in and trust each one of them.”
Last season Caixinha tried some mind games of his own by naming not only his own starting XI but that of his opponents on the eve of their meetings but he declined to second-guess Rodgers yesterday.
“They have two options; they go more or less the way they started against Paris Saint-Germain or they go like they do against the majority of the teams,” he said. “If they go against us like they go against PSG, I will take one message from that. If they go the other way I will take a different message – and I will keep both from you.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, the 46-year-old insisted that he would derive no extra satisfaction from ending Celtic’s 56-game undefeated sequence under Rodgers, should he succeed in doing so.
“It would mean nothing,” he said. “It just means that we will be, by the end of this round of fixtures, two points from the leader, if Aberdeen don’t win their match. That’s what it means – plus maybe, instead of one glass of red wine, I will take two.”