As the Scottish Premiership season was officially ended last month and Celtic crowned champions for the ninth season in a row (a feat only achieved once before in the clubs’ history) cries of “tainted titles” rang out across Glasgow. Parts of the Rangers support are still refusing to recognise a title they were convinced was still being contested – despite being a sizeable 13 points behind the victors when coronavirus brought the season to a halt.
Can they really stop the 10? They managed to do it once before, back in the season of 1974/75 when Celtic last won their ninth title in a row, stopping them from clinching their tenth by winning the league that season. There are similarities between the Rangers team then and the one we see today. In Celtic’s first nine-in-a-row season, Rangers had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup as well as beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final. In the first half of this season it seemed as though Rangers were on a similar victory hunt – making it one stage further than their Scottish competitors in the Europa League with their incredible comeback over Braga and beating Celtic at Parkhead for the first time in nine years right before the winter break – and then it all went downhill from there.
But what exactly went wrong for Rangers? Their post-winter break performance started strong – winning their first premiership fixture against St Mirren as well as progressing through the Scottish Cup after defeating Stranraer 2-0. Despite the game against Braga, a disappointing draw with St Johnstone and a loss to now relegated (failing league construction) Hearts in the cup spelt the beginning of the end for Ranger’s title aspirations.. They went on to be beaten by Hamilton in the Scottish Premiership and then suffered a 3-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League before football across the world was suspended.
So what needs to change? Many argue that Gerrard is the man for the job, that he will be the one to lead Rangers to league victory next season – but is that really the case? In the last two years Gerrard hasn’t won a single trophy for the club. But, thanks to the way the season was ended, his failures at the club have managed to withstand another season without criticism. His inability to discipline Rangers superstar Alfredo Morelos has seen the striker consistently see red throughout his spell at Ibrox. The players he has signed are proving to be suited more to the European climate than the Scottish Premiership. Towards the latter half of the season Morelos’ goals started drying up, his leaders on the pitch all but disappeared from the team and his defenders looked afraid of their own shadow. Gerrard was finally beginning to get a taste of the unique stresses of being on the struggling end of the big two in Scotland and he was certainly beginning to buckle under the pressure.
But it looks like Gerrard is going nowhere, so it’s time for Rangers to solve problems on the pitch if they’re looking to stop the 10. Their latest signing of young talent Ianis Hagi looks like it could be a step in the right direction for the future of the club – he’s a strong talent on the pitch and the Rangers fans seem to be invested in him as well. But where the real change could come for the Glasgow side may not please everyone. Former Celtic man Charlie Nicholas suggests that for Rangers to really start challenging for the top spot next season, they need to start by signing a new striker. The fans love him but Morelos is expendable. He’s goalless in his last eight games in the premiership; has the same number of old firm goals as you or I (aka zero) and a real disciplinary problem that Gerrard can’t seem to keep under control. From the money the club could derive from his sale they could find a player who would score just as many goals as Morelos but without the weighty disciplinary baggage that accompanies the Colombian striker.
Ultimately it will be a struggle to stop 10 in a row; Celtic finished this season very strong domestically. Next season they’ll be vying for the 10th – a chance to make history once more and it’s going to be very difficult to stand in their way.
Rangers will need to go into every game next season more determined than ever before – treat every game as a must-win and aim to top the league for themselves, rather than simply to stop the historic 10. Without the crowds it’s going to be an even tougher battle, especially for the Scottish clubs, who pride themselves on their iconic supporters. Even without such drastic changes to the way games are going to be played next season, Gerrard certainly has his work cut out and it’s up to him to prove him and his team are up to the challenge.