Has Celtic Dominating the Scottish Premiership Created a Stagnant Competition?

No is the short answer. Let’s explore the reasons why…

Celtic wrapped up an eighth consecutive league title with two games to spare when they swept Aberdeen aside at Pittodrie earlier this month. They have already clinched the League Cup and they can secure a third domestic treble in as many seasons if they beat Hearts in the Scottish Cup on 25 May. To the casual observer, it might look as though Celtic’s domination of the Premier League has created a stagnant competition. But if you scratch beneath the surface a little, you will see that the Hoops’ hegemony is going to be challenged over the next few seasons.

Glasgow dominance is nothing new in Scotland. Celtic and the old Rangers have dominated the top Scottish division ever since Alex Ferguson won a second title with Aberdeen in 1985. Between them they have 104 titles, while Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs have seized just four apiece, the new Rangers are still looking for their first major honour since being founded back in the summer of 2012.

The Rangers Founding Father Charles Green

Celtic’s dominance over the past eight years is in sharp contrast to what has happened at Rangers. The club that was founded in 1872 was liquidated as a result of financial mismanagement and a Phoenix operation was launched by Founding Father Charles Green in 2012, beginning life in the old Third Division.

Rangers had won three league titles in a row between 2009 and 2011 before going out of business with the new club starting in the lowest division in Scottish football.

Many people believe that this is what created a stagnant competition. For years, they argue, Celtic had it all their own way, cruising to title after title without having to break a sweat. Yet now a ‘Rangers’ is ‘back’, emboldened and ready to challenge for glory once again under the guidance of Steven Gerrard.

Two home wins each for Celtic and Rangers this season the the Glasgow Derbies.

For them it has been a long and painful journey to get to this point. Despite losing virtually their entire first team – the club was in liquidation and the best players were able to ‘walk away’ without any transfer fees being due, few wanted to play for the club that was called Sevco but subsequently changed its name to Rangers.

Sevco/Rangers clinched the Third Division title in their very first season as a professional football club then won the League Two the following year to make it up to the Championship. However they suffered a humiliating 6-1 aggregate defeat to Motherwell in the 2015 Premiership playoff final. They finally ret to the top flight in 2016, but they were, despite the bluster, in no fit state to challenge Celtic.

A Brave New Era at Ibrox?

They burned through managers during this time – Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowall, Stuart McCall, Mark Warburton, Graeme Murty, Pedro Caixinha and Murty again – but now they finally appear to have a leader that they believe can challenge Celtic’s dominance.

For their fans Steven Gerrard has been a breath of fresh air since his slightly leftfield appointment last summer. He inherited a team that was woefully leaky at the back, and he has improved their performances on the pitch without managing to win a trophy. He spent a net sum of £7.9 million, but totally overhauled the squad through loans and free transfers, and the churn at Ibrox has been substantial.

Their stadium was rocking as Tavernier and Arfield handed Rangers a 2-0 victory over Celtic in the Dead Rubber match last Sunday. On the day it was a thoroughly dominant display as recently crowned Champions Celtic were restricted to a mere three shots on goal.

Rangers fans believe that their side totally nullified Celtic’s attack, and they broke forward with purpose, dynamism and intelligence throughout. This was a good performance from Gerrard’s men and it meant they have managed back-to-back home wins over Celtic for the first time in their history dating back to 2012.

It also moved Rangers up to 78 points for the season, which is eight more than they managed in 2017/18. The Bluenoses went into the last game of the season brimming with confidence, after a six-game winning streak but were firmly brought back to reality after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Kilmarnock to finish off their season.

This time around they have banged in 82 goals, as seen in this spread betting blog, and leading the way once more, but they have conceded just 27, as Gerrard has made them much more organised and disciplined at the back.

Big Summer for Celtic

Meanwhile, there is never a dull moment at Celtic Park. Double Treble winning manager Brendan Rodgers has decamped to Leicester, sparking an outpouring of fury among the fans. Neil Lennon is in the hot seat in an interim basis, but that defeat at Ibrox upset the supporters, the majority of whom seem to favour a big name appointment.

Newcastle’s Rafa Benitez has been linked with the job, and that would be a great coup, but they are unlikely to prize him from the EPL. The likes of David Moyes and Chris Hughton do not exactly get the pulses racing, and Celtic will have to think long and hard before making a managerial appointment this summer.

Rafa is probably the man most Celtic fans would like to see appointed.

There are also significant concerns surrounding the playing staff. Several loanees are about to head home. Timo Weah has already left, while Hoops fans are unlikely to see Olivier Burke again, while Jeremy Toljan will also go. Rodgers may allow the club to keep Filip Benkovic, who cost Leicester £13 million last summer, for another season, but that is not a given. Dedryck Boyata has left on a free transfer to Hertha Berlin after Celtic rejected a big money offer from Fulham last summer. Mikael Lustig and Emilio Izaguirre are also likely to leave as both reach the end of their contracts.

There is a lot of deadwood in the Celtic squad and it needs a major shakeup in the summer. Scott Allan, Jack Hendry, Cristian Gamboa, Dorus de Vries and Marvin Compper ideally need replacing in the squad.

However, Champions League qualifying starts in July and, with the managerial situation still unclear, there is not much time. A few important players have also lost their way somewhat of late, and the new boss will need to put an arm around the likes of Olivier Ntcham, Leigh Griffiths and Scott Sinclair in a bid to improve their performance levels.

Hoops Remain Favourites for Glory

However, Celtic retain a strong core of star talent and they are sure to be favourites to win next season’s Premiership title. The Hoops need to do their utmost to hang onto Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney this summer. James Forrest has already said he wants to be a Celtic player for life and that will give his club a huge boost. Kristoffer Ajer is going from strength to strength, Ryan Christie is a good player and Tom Rogic has the sort of flair that can win games. Scott Bain is a solid goalkeeper. Captain fantastic Scott Brown is still going strong at 33, but the club will need a succession plan over the next couple of years.

Yet it is undeniable that the gap between Celtic and Rangers is closing, and Gers fans sense their chance. This season they have been able to beat the Champions twice on their own patch and on each occasion their great rivals looked wobbly. Glen Kamara, Steven Davis, Scott Arfield, Ryan Kent and Ryan Jack combined to get the better of Celtic who had until these games were unused to getting an Ibrox humbling. The Gers fans reckon that their midfield made Brown, Rogic and McGregor look ordinary.

Celtic will surely respond in the transfer market, capitalising on their monetary advantage over the Rangers, so Gerrard will have to be a shrewd operator in that department if he is to compete.

He says that he is trying to create an elite environment in which new players can thrive, and he convinced several impressive players to move to Ibrox last summer. He has a big job on his hands in convincing Liverpool to loan him Kent for another year, but is hopeful that this will go through. There are sure to be more intriguing youngsters at Anfield that he can borrow.

The former England captain could raid the Premier League for more ageing stars like Jermain Defoe, keen for one last hurrah in Scotland. Rangers ended the season nine points behind Celtic but Gerrard says they no longer fear their great rivals, so next season’s title race will be intriguing and the Hoops chances of making it nine in a row will be in serious jeopardy if they repeat the mistakes of last summer when targets like John McGinn weren’t secured and Moussa Dembele was sold on the last day of the transfer window, with no time to find a replacement.

Joe Bradley

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

Leave A Reply