Brendan Rodgers has allowed Rangers to steal a march on the defending champions, according to former Ibrox player and coach Ian Durrant.
The man who worked with the Govan side’s U20 squad before he was sacked in the summer, said he had been surprised at the lack of transfer manoeuvrings by Celtic, who have added only Moussa Dembele, while their rivals have virtually rebuilt the squad that won last season’s Championship.
“I’ve been surprised by it. But if you know Brendan Rodgers, the English league is a wee bit later than us in terms of declaring their squads and maybe he has a couple of irons in the fire. I think he’ll need to act quick because you want to get the team bedded in. Mark Warburton has basically brought in a new team. I remember reading last year that he likes to run a thin squad but I think now he’s top heavy. He’s added competition. You want to get in the team and stay in the team but you’ll be looking over your shoulder. I looked at the bench the other night there and it’s a formidable squad they’ve got.”
Among those lured to Rangers this summer are standout names such as Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar, suggesting to Durrant that Scottish football has regained some of the lustre he feels has been missing in recent years.
“It’s back to the old days with marquee signings,” he said, adding that the absence of so many big teams in the top flight had proved detrimental to the competitive image of the game north of the Border, but claimed that the arrival of the likes of Rodgers, Barton and Kranjcar suggested things were again on the up. “When you are signing players from the English Premiership it’s a feather in your cap.
“Celtic have still to play their cards in terms of signings so it will be interesting. But Barton and Kranjcar are quality players and [Josh] Windass looks to have settled in very well. I saw a bit of England under-19s and [Jordan] Rossiter looks like an excellent capture.”
Durrant is excited by the return of regular Old Firm fixtures, as well as the match-ups with Aberdeen and Hearts and he is in favour of Barton’s swagger, which he believes adds extra spice to encounters.
“I think Joey likes to do that but it’s what happens on the pitch. It’s no use doing your talking just now, your talking has to be done on the pitch. We’ll see what happens on the tenth of September [when Rangers visit Celtic]. I’m sure there will be fireworks because everyone knows what Scott Brown can do so we’ll see if Joey can do it. I’m looking forward to it.
“The Old Firm has always been littered with gallus players. You go back to [Jim] Baxter, you’ve got [Kenny] Dalglish, [Henrik] Larsson, [Brian] Laudrup. I think Joey Barton will certainly bring entertainment but he will bring some other stuff as well. He’s quite popular on Twitter. But hopefully people are talking about him for the right reasons.
“You have seen his level of ability throughout his career. He has excellent credentials. I might have liked to share a dressing room with him. But we had a few characters so it would be interesting to see if he fitted in. He seems a down to earth boy. I hope we are talking about the football.”
And no matter how big the player, Durrant says an Old Firm game is bigger.
“It’s a game you can easily get caught up in. You just have to go and play the game. It’s 11 versus 11 but with the most iconic and strangest atmosphere you’ll play in. It’s frightening when you walk out, the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up. When you come out that tunnel, it’s like a chorus and you’re going out to the lions’ den at Celtic Park. It’s an atmosphere you can relish; if you can handle an Old Firm game you can handle playing anywhere.
“It will blow Barton and Kranjcar away. You can talk about it and describe it but it’s not until you play in it.
“You’ve got the Old Firm back again, a stronger Aberdeen and Hearts so it looks like it will be a competitive league. You’ve got the Old Firm game early doors so that will give you a marker in terms of how the season is going to pan out.
“I think it’s the fifth game of the season and if they can handle that occasion and Rangers can stay close to Celtic in the early part of the season then it will be interesting. I think we are looking to Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts to put in a real challenge to Celtic so I think it will be a great league.”