FORMER Northern Ireland international defender Gareth McAuley, who played 10 games for Rangers, has had a swipe at Celtic.
The 40- year-old centre-half, who has now retired from playing, insists the Hoops’ record-equalling ninth successive title triumph is a HOLLOW achievement.
McAuley reckons the crown counts for nothing as it wasn’t won on the pitch, Neil Lennon’s men should not be hailed as a great side and Scott Brown should not be rated alongside Parkhead legends.
The 80-times capped Irishman, who also played for Leicester City and Ipswich Town before his brief stint at Ibrox after joining from West Brom in 2018, told the Belfast Telegraph: “This triumph will always be tainted and hollow.
“They didn’t win the title on the pitch, they were handed it.
“I actually feel sorry for the Celtic players now.
“They have officially been crowned SPFL champions, but all their hard work, dedication and gutsy performances when they ground out results will be forgotten.
“In the record books there will always be an asterisk beside this season’s championship.”
NINE IN A ROW…Neil Lennon with the Premiership trophy.
McAuley reckons his fellow-countryman Lennon will share his thoughts, even if he didn’t not say so publicly.
He remarked: “I know Neil Lennon was on TV recently saying this title win was the greatest one under his management.
“But that was all for show and to wind up the Rangers fans watching at home.
“Deep down, it will rankle him that his team weren’t able to secure the title on the pitch.
“Of course, it wasn’t their fault, the Covid-19 pandemic sadly intervened and football was cancelled.
“But, as a result, history will not look too kindly on this Celtic nine in a row team and that will hurt the current crop of players.”
Lennon’s side, who were 13 points clear at the top of the Premiership with only eight games to play when football went into cold storage in mid-March, equalled the feat of Jock Stein’s great teams who conquered the domestic game for nine years.
Walter Smith’s Ibrox side also won nine on the bounce, a sequence that came to a halt in 1998 when Wim Jansen’s Parkhead outfit halted their bid to go into double figures.
McAuley reckoned there is no comparison between Lennon and Stein’s line-ups because Gers were out of the top flight when the Hoops won four of their championships.
He added: “This team will never be revered in the same way as the great Celtic sides that won nine in a row between 1966 and 1974.
NO LEGEND…Scott Brown can’t be compared to Lisbon Lions heroes, insists McAuley.
“Or the Rangers teams between 1989 and 1997. Those players are Old Firm royalty.
“They won titles after titanic and terrific battles against top sides. Think of all the stars and even world-class players in their ranks.
“Yet, the Celtic sides of the last nine years, while successful, will be remembered for winning titles when Rangers weren’t in the league — and then being handed the title this year.
“That must be so frustrating for players who thrive on competition.
“I say this as a former professional footballer and a competitor, not as a former Rangers player.
“I would feel exactly the same way if it were the blue half of Glasgow in this position.
“I certainly wouldn’t be celebrating, because, as a professional sportsman you crave competition, the thrill of the win after a hard-fought battle.
“Knowing you have given everything possible to beat your opponent on a level playing field.
“Scott Brown is a great player in Scottish football, and I know he would love to be regarded in the same way as the nine-in-a-row Celtic players of the past.
“But that’s not going to happen. He’ll be held in high esteem, but not on the same level as a Bobby Lennox or a Stevie Chalmers.”