December 29th 2019. Celtic 1 – 2 Rangers. An incredible performance by Steven Gerrard’s side at Celtic Park who in truth blew Celtic away in central areas of the pitch on the day to thoroughly deserve their victory.
Crucially, victory at Celtic Park put Rangers within 2 points of Celtic with a game in hand. At long last, the chance for Rangers to be the torch bearers in the SPFL title race once again seemed upon us.
I even wrote an article at the time stating that Rangers won the Glasgow Derby battle and that Celtic simply HAD to win the January transfer window war. You can read that article here – https://cfbfootball.com/2019/12/30/rangers-win-the-battle-now-celtic-simply-have-to-win-the-january-window-war/
But when you look at Celtic’s business in January – the arrivals of relatively unknown Ismailia Soro and Patryk Klimala – you would hardly say that the Celtic board backed Neil Lennon and the club to such an extent that they had blown Rangers out of the park in the window.
Just as I said in my previous article, Rangers had to keep their key men fit and at the club – Jack, Morelos and Kamara – and they did. So what changed?
Both Celtic and Rangers ventured to Dubai for a winter break but only one of the sides has returned from that break looking fit and firing while the other has returned and performed as if they are at breaking point.
Since the break Celtic have scored 27 goals and conceded 3 and won 8 games on the bounce in all competitions. Meanwhile, on the other hand Rangers have scored just 12 goals, conceded 6 and have won 5 out of their last 8 games in all competitions- losing two crucial league games to Hearts and Kilmarnock while drawing another at home to Aberdeen. The question surely has to be why?
During the break, both Glasgow giants went to same location at the same time with the ascendancy seeming at the start of the winter break appearing to lie with Rangers. Furthermore, as stated earlier Celtic hardly blew their rivals out of the water in the January transfer market. So how can we now be in a position within a matter of weeks that Rangers trail Celtic by 10 points – albeit with a game in hand.
The responsibility for that – in my view – lies at the door of one man – Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard was a world class footballer – one of the very best in class – and he may well grow into being a world class manager as well. I would also add that he has undisputedly improved Rangers as a footballing entity to the point that they are rightfully considering serious challengers for the major trophies in Scotland again which wasn’t the case under Pedro Caixinha. So, in that regard he’s done his job to an extent but failure to win a single trophy this season – barring an incredible Europa League run- would mean that Gerrard’s position would have to be untenable.
No Rangers manager who succumbs to 9 in a row is surely the man fans would have confidence in to stop a potential 10 in a row? I could be wrong of course but that’s how I see things from the outside looking in regardless of much of a footballing legend Gerrard is.
If my prediction is true that a trophy-less season would result in Gerrard leaving Ibrox then there is only one many who I think could realistically galvanise Rangers as a club and a fan base to stop Celtic achieving a potential 10 in a row. That man is Walter Smith.
Whether Walter Smith would risk his status as unquestionably one of Rangers greatest ever managers to try and stop a Celtic bid for 10 in a row is ultimately unknown and only Smith himself could answer that.
However, one thing is for sure the question at the very least will have to be posed to Walter Smith in my mind if Rangers indifferent form under Gerrard continues. The next 3 months of the season are massive not only for Gerrard and his fate at Rangers but also for Scottish Football as a whole because if Celtic do win 9 in a row and are going for a potential 10 in a row then for me we will enter the most important and high profile season arguably in modern Scottish football history next season with so much to gain for one side and so much to lose for the other.