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Rangers boss Mark Warburton with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.
Rangers boss Mark Warburton with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

'Rangers fans need a reality check if they think they're going to compete with Celtic'

Former Hoops forward Charlie Nicholas has been impressed with Brendan Rodgers during his first months in Scotland.
Dec 30th 2016, 12:00 PM 7,884 9

GLASGOW’S BIG TWO will end the year by renewing rivalries in a New Year’s Eve Old Firm derby.

Rangers, back in the top flight after a four-year absence, host Scottish Premiership champions Celtic in a lunchtime kick-off at Ibrox.

And while Mark Warburton’s side lead the chasing pack heading into 2017, the Hoops have already opened up a sizable advantage at the top.

Their last league meeting saw Moussa Dembele’s hat-trick help Celtic claim a 5-1 victory at Parkhead and while Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas has been impressed by the Gers boss, he says fans of the club need a reality check if they think they will be genuine title contenders this season.

“Warburton’s a decent manager,” the former Celtic forward told The42 recently. “I don’t think there’s a manager who could’ve stretched his budget better for signings.

“He needed numbers but they’ve got a lot of old legs there. He looked for experience but I think he picked some of the wrong experience — Clint Hill does you a good job but he has no pace, while Philippe Senderos has no legs either. They have no pace at the back.

“They need a strong goalkeeper. I know Joey Barton was a disaster too.

“I tipped them to be third at best and for Celtic to control it. Rangers are four players of substance away from Celtic. I don’t know what that means financially because you could spend £5 million and have no guarantee with a footballer.

“They’re an average side with a very good manager. Get a reality check, Rangers fans. If you think for one minute you’re going to compete, I’m sorry but you’re so wrong.”

Soccer - Bord Gais Tournament - Final - Celtic v Manchester City - Tolka Park, Dublin Nicholas playing in a pre-season tournament at Tolka Park during his Celtic days. Source: EMPICS Sport

Nicholas, who began his career at Celtic but moved to Arsenal before returning for a second spell in 1990, was delighted with the appointment of Brendan Rodgers in the summer and adds that he is satisfied with how the former Liverpool boss’ first few months in Scotland have gone.

“Celtic have been dull and lazy for about five years,” he explains. “I understand the financial aspects of it but I’m quite a demanding Celtic fan.

“I’m a spoiled old fool who was brought up with the Lisbon Lions and then after that we had great players like (Kenny) Dalglish and (Danny) McGrain. Yes, we had low times and I played in teams that were fabulous and others who struggled so I know both sides of it.

European nights were my great memory of my dad taking me through the turnstiles and the atmosphere of 80,000 fans.

“As soon as Brendan’s name came up and knowing what he did at Liverpool, finally Celtic have stopped getting lazy and shown a bit more ambition. It was more important to sign a big manager than it was to sign a big name player.

“I was absolutely chuffed when he got it because you just knew the man was going to be exciting.

“I’ve never noticed so many young Celtic fans who are keen to get back to the games now. They are fighting each other for tickets and that is wonderful. That is what I’ve been waiting on for ages.

“The Champions League was too soon too far, but anyone who has seen him win his first trophy (the League Cup), it was done emphatically with style and a flamboyancy.”

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Spain Soccer Champions League 19-year-old full-back Kieran Tierney appears to have a bright future ahead of him. Source: Manu Fernandez

Rodgers has been known for giving talented youngsters their chance to break into the first team during his managerial career and Nicholas believes he’s already showing positive signs in that regard.

“When Brendan got in, I knew he was a Celtic fan in the past and what his football make-up has been,” he added.

“I know he has searched Spanish clubs to find ideas and he has got this belief about younger players and making them better. And I thought ‘when is the last time we’ve seen an outstanding young Celtic player coming through?’

“We don’t even make centre-halves now. We’ve got a very good full-back in (Kieran) Tierney, (James) Forrest hasn’t been great but all of a sudden he’s starting to look like the player we expected him to be four years ago.

He has already made these young players better and he’s given them a style, a belief and a confidence that Celtic players must have.

“Understanding playing for a big club is tough, a lot of people don’t realise that everyday you’re under pressure. Every training session you’re under pressure, and I know Rodgers challenges his players everyday.

“That’s big club mentality and tells me that it can only go in one direction, which is up.”

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