8 games in to the Season, or a quarter of the way, we sit to analyse where we are at in the SPFL. With more ups and downs still to come and as much as some would not like to admit it – there is a genuine title race in Scotland.
Since Rangers’ return to the SPFL in August 2016, Rangers have struggled to get anywhere near Celtic in the league – albeit putting up a decent fight in the Old Firms at Ibrox last season by getting their first wins in 13 over Rodgers – but by the same token exiting both cups and going out on a whimper to miss out on yet another Final. Their last being in that year of 2016 before they got promoted.
3 seasons in, in a period that many called The Banter Years, Rangers had absolutely nothing to show for in terms of progression. Their maiden season back up some then fall a massive 40 points behind to a Celtic who went on to win the league in what will always be remembered as the Invincibles season which started the winning cycle of their first of three trebles.
With Rangers regularly conceding 4 and 5 in every Old Firm, after comedy-like showings from the likes of Caixinha’s barking dog in a caravan to Murty’s Inverness headstands, Rangers soon found their ailing squad to be quite simply not any better than Aberdeen’s. After 2 successive seasons finishing 3rd, amongst being rejected by Derek McInnes who was asked to take over in Govan, Rangers were at their lowest ebb.
So when Gerrard was announced in May 2018, many lauded the appointment as a throwback to the Souness days. Many ridiculed the idea that an under-18s coach from Liverpool could be the one that stopped Celtic and their financial muscle. But with Gerrard now having had 3 transfer windows to overhaul Rangers we take a look at the squads and compare what type of challenges he has had to come up against when you look at the riches at Celtic’s disposal.
When you take transfer fees alone, £52-53million is what Celtic have spent to buy their squad which sits at 31 players with a mixture of youth graduates and loans.
The majority of them joined after 2016 signed by Rodgers and Lennon with the likes of 2013 recruits Rogic and Biton being the longest serving signings after Brown. With Craig Gordon and Griffiths in 2014, the old guard stand to be two of Deila’s final signings. Of the 31; 26 have been after 2015. The same year when Rangers made their first signing within their squad, Captain James Tavernier.
So with both squads being pretty much signed in the same era of 2015 onwards, the transfer strategy has been a little more complicated than that of their rivals. The current squad at Rangers has cost around £21-22 million in transfer fees. And just a bit smaller than Lennoxtown’s 31 with 28 senior players being trained by Gerrard.
And when you consider; Kent, Helander, Goldson, Katic, Barisic and Grezda make up £18 million of Gerrard’s spend, you can then start to see the amount of free transfers they have signed due to their lack of financial power to their Glasgow rivals. 13 free transfers compared to Celtic’s 4 to be exact.
This tells you the story of just how much Celtic have invested to every position spending more than double to what Rangers can afford.
Captain James Tavernier, when he joined 4 years ago from Wigan cost 200k in a cut price deal in the same Summer Celtic splashed 4 million on Jozo Simunovic.
The financial disparity between the 2 has never been greater when Celtic turned over 100 million to Rangers 33 million in their 2018 financial results.
So, what’s my point?
The pont is this. After a rocky first season, where Steven Gerrard was praised for a successful Europa League qualification, he was also brought back down to Earth for his inability to challenge in cups whilst dropping 36 points in a league of 12. Embarrassing results to Celtic, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Hibs, St Johnstone, Motherwell, Livingston and Dundee meant the only clean sweeps were against 6th placed Hearts, 10th placed Hamilton and 11th placed St Mirren.
But one year forward things seem a little different. Rangers now find themselves 7 points better off having beaten everyone put before them including 4 of the teams that caused them problems last season.
Their only blemish being the Old Firm loss in September. As early as the season is, this is the stat that should encourage Rangers the most. Rangers are the league’s top scorers this year but they have been in the last 2 seasons without getting anywhere near the league title. And with them having only conceded 5 times it’s their best defensive start to a season since 2011 where they still lost the league.
Points are what matter and as much the Old Firms are important, if Rangers manage to avoid dropping even half the points they did last season, an 18-point swing may just be enough to cause the biggest upset we may have seen in Scottish Football since Scotland beating World Cup Winners England in 1967 or Gretna reaching the Scottish Cup Final in 2006. And if they do stop Celtics quest for 9 in a row, it will be hard to argue against it being the biggest achievement the Scottish Football Leagues have ever seen.