Four key signings and Rangers will be competing with Celtic. Those were the views of Charlie Nicholas last week after Mike Ashley effectively seized control of the Championship side.
Yet little did he know that the two clubs would be paired together in the semi-finals of the league cup, marking the first time the sides have met since Rangers entered liquidation in 2012.
So it looks like Nicholas might have a better idea as to how they’re matched when the highly anticipated tie is fought out on either January 31st or February 1st.
Despite Rangers competing in the lower leagues of Scottish football for the past couple of seasons, the ex-Celtic striker told the Daily Record: “It wouldn’t take a lot of investment to make Rangers able to compete with Celtic. I don’t know if you can talk in terms of finances. But if you look at their squad I’d say they are potentially only four players away.”
During the club’s exile from the Scottish Premiership, Celtic have won two league titles, the Scottish Cup and twice qualified for the group stages of the Champions League. They’ve also raked it more than £25 million from the sales of Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper.
However the Parkhead side has been hesitant in reinvesting such sums into the first-team, with supporters accusing chief executive Peter Lawwell of penny pinching. Attendances at Celtic Park have also plummeted, as fans appear uninterested in paying money to watch their team compete in a seemingly one-horse league.
This season Celtic sit third in the Premiership, although if they win their game in hand they rise to top spot. Meanwhile Rangers are trailing seven points behind Hearts, though they’ve also played a game less.
Although Nicholas may have been flippant when suggesting the acquisition of four key signings might be enough to challenge the Hoops, it might not take any at all when the sides meet in three months time.
Celtic will rightly be regarded as hot favourites, but on a one-off fixture upsets can happen. Just look at their cup record in recent years. Exits to Ross County, Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Hearts, Morton and Aberdeen have ended any hopes of a treble, so who’s to say Rangers can’t progress to the final?
Undoubtedly Celtic has the stronger side and with the likes of John Guidetti and Kris Commons on form, it could be a long day for Rangers. But should either pick up an injury, the Gers might seriously fancy their chances.
Ronny Deila hasn’t been shy in underlining his aspirations for a domestic treble during his first season at Parkhead, but if he were to be knocked out of the league cup to Ally McCoist’s men, there would be an uproar from the clubs supporters. It could prove to be the biggest game of Deila’s Celtic career.
That said McCoist’s managerial record wouldn’t fill Gers fans with much hope. Since being appointed in 2011, he’s secured back-to-back League One and Two titles, thus achieving the minimum expectations.
His cup record though leaves a lot to be desired, failing to win any other trophies during his tenure as Gers manager, including a 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Challenge Cup final to Raith Rovers last season.
The advantage McCoist does have though is players who have played in this type of atmosphere before. The experience of Lee Wallace, Lee McCulloch and Kenny Miller will prove vital if they’re to have any chance of beating Celtic.
In the longer term though, if Rangers gain promotion next season will they be able to challenge Scotland’s champions, regardless of the cup result?
Next summer Celtic could lose key players such as Virgil Van Dijk, out-of-contract Commons and Manchester City loanee’s John Guidetti and Jason Denayer. Without this quality, it’s fair to suggest Celtic might become a rather average team.
Therefore it’s vital Ronny Deila retains the nucleus of his squad – Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Van Dijk, Scott Brown, Commons and Guidetti – to ensure they’re ready for the potential arrival and threat of their bitter rivals. Moneyman Lawwell must back his manager in the transfer market and also try and get the club back into the Champions League.
As for Rangers, it remains to be seen how much (if anything) Ashley might invest into the playing squad. A rebuilding job would certainly be required at Ibrox, with McCoist managing an ageing squad. Lee McCulloch is 36, Kenny Miller 34 and Kris Boyd 31. Will these players be up to the standards needed if they’re to challenge for the Premiership title next season? It’s unlikely.
On the other hand, with so many loan signings at Celtic Park, Deila might have a rebuilding job of his own. Therefore, with Rangers’ potential arrival in the top-flight imminent, it’ll be interesting to see how much cash the Hoops spend next season. Perhaps that will reveal how seriously Lawwell takes his latest Ibrox counterpart.
As for now, both clubs have enough problems to worry about before they eventually turn their attentions to the Glasgow derby clash. Try telling that to the supporters though. Only three months to go….