As a member of the squad that clinched nine-in-a-row with Rangers 20 years ago, Stuart McCall knows all about the enduring adoration that comes with such an achievement.
But he believes stopping their rivals doing it might be as good as it gets for Rangers now. It is a sad reflection on how things have declined at Ibrox and how far ahead Celtic now are.
Even Ibrox legends from a time when the very idea of finishing second was scorned can see how finishing second in the current campaign is the best they can hope for – unless Rangers can go one better than last season in the Scottish Cup.
As far as the Ibrox side’s league ambitions go, it is now simply a matter of trying to cut the margin between themselves and Celtic while also warding off the challenge for second place from Aberdeen.
McCall conceded the gap between Rangers and Celtic is currently “alarming” but puts little blame at the door of the current Ibrox management team. Rather, he saluted Celtic’s consistency. The champions have dropped points against only one team this season – Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“Yes, the gap is alarming,” said McCall. “But that is down to the incredible performances of Celtic, not necessarily the poor performances of Rangers. I would expect Rangers to think they could have had a few more points. But you would also expect Celtic to have a few less. I would still expect Rangers to be second,” added McCall. “And I imagine that, in that Rangers dressing room, the manager, the board, everyone – they’ll all demand that they finish second. They will be saying: ‘We’ve got to be second’.
“I mean, second to Celtic is not good enough. But, in the grand scheme of things, that’s what they should be getting.”
McCall, now manager at fourth -placed League One side Bradford City, knows things will hot up the closer Celtic get to creating a new Scottish record of ten consecutive league titles.
He was part of the Ibrox side that emulated Celtic’s run of nine league wins won under Jock Stein so is sensitive to what it would mean in Glasgow if either side should go one step further. It’s Celtic who are currently very well placed to do so.
Unconvinced Rangers can prevent Celtic, who are on course for their sixth successive Scottish championship, going on to win seven and eight in a row, McCall views frustrating the champions’ plans to win a ninth or even tenth title as a more realistic aim.
But, in order to do that, he makes the point that money, a lot of it, has to be made available to Mark Warburton, if it is still Warburton in charge.
“It’s got to be the target, it’s got to be,” said McCall, with reference to stopping nine-in-a-row. “Because that’s what football is about up here, that rivalry, so it has to be the aim for Rangers,
“We can talk about youth structures and progression, which you’ve got to do,” he added. “But, if Rangers do happen to stop Celtic before they get nine or ten, there will have to be a huge financial input. That’s obvious.”
McCall has his own worries at Bradford, who are trying to gain promotion to the Championship on a strict financial budget. But he admits he is kept up at night fretting about Celtic’s continued dominance.
“No, I don’t think about it all … just every waking minute of my life!” he said.
“Seriously, you’re getting to the stage where it will be talked about. Going back to when we did nine-in-a-row, when we got to five and six, Rangers fans started singing songs – just like Celtic fans are singing them now, about nine and even ten.
“Each season, it will build and build. And everyone will be aware of it. I’m just hoping they’ve got a transfer war chest somewhere, building and building – so they can go and buy Messi and Ronaldo to stop Celtic! No, all kidding aside, it’s natural if you are a Rangers-minded person that you should fear Celtic getting there. And, if you are a Celtic-minded person, that’s the dream for you, isn’t it? To go and smash it.”
McCall knows Rangers, in their present state, are a long way from being capable of challenging Celtic. Even a Messi or Ronaldo might not be enough right now. Not when someone like Brendan Rodgers is pulling the strings at Celtic. This, he said, was the real glitch in Rangers’ plan to rival Celtic this season.
It’s not as if Celtic have spent wildly more than Rangers have in the last 12 months. Rangers’ marquee signings Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar have not contributed due to ill-discipline, poor form and a premature departure in the case of the former, injury in the latter.
“They [Rangers] are a long, long, long way away at this moment in time,” accepted the former Scotland assistant manager, who was originally heartened by the signing of Barton.
“Then Brendan Rodgers has come in, he’s been a massive success, and the Barton thing was obviously a disaster. I think the blow to Rangers, and there’s no doubt it was a blow, was when Celtic managed to go out and get the manager they have at the moment,” added McCall.
“I was saying something last season, when we met up with the Celtic lads [with Scotland] there was something not quite right. It’s given [Scott] Brown, [Stuart] Armstrong, you could name a few, a new lease of life.
“But how much have they actually spent over and above [Scott] Sinclair and [Moussa] Dembele?
“Because it’s only two signings really who have come in and made an impact.
“It’s been what the manager, the coaches, have got out of the players there, because the majority of them are the players who were there last season.”
l Stuart McCall was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.