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John Laverty

Forget what the league table says... there is still a chasm between Rangers and Celtic

John Laverty



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Narrowing the gap: Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are
closing in on Neil Lennon and Celtic... but at what cost?

Narrowing the gap: Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are closing in on Neil Lennon and Celtic... but at what cost?

PA

Narrowing the gap: Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are closing in on Neil Lennon and Celtic... but at what cost?

It felt like a corner had finally been turned. Celtic 1 Rangers 2. Stevie G's first victory in the other lot's manor; indeed, Rangers' first win at Celtic Park since 2010, when Walter Smith was in charge.

The 97th match of Gerrard's managerial career delivered the most significant result.

They're now just two points behind the Bhoys with a game in hand; an improvement on this time last season when they went joint top with B***dan R***ers' men but had played a match more - and, points-wise, were considerably worse off than now.

Indeed, this feels like a more accomplished Gers outfit than a year ago, a team more in the image of a young, ambitious manager who relished one-city-two-club bitter rivalry as a player and is now showing he can be equally inspirational and tactically astute from the dug-out (although Rangers' current tactics - 4-3-2-1 formation, gegenpressing - look suspiciously similar to his beloved Liverpool's).

Eight of the starting XI who saw off Lenny's charges last week were brought to the club by the former Anfield and England captain. It's beginning to feel that the first silverware of the Gerrard Gers era is only a matter of time; they came close in last month's League Cup final, another Old Firm encounter they dominated yet was ultimately settled by a blatantly offside goal.

And having played only eight of their 19 league games at Ibrox, they certainly have reasons to be cheerfully optimistic post-Hogmanay. Priority: stop Celtic winning another nine-in-a-row and thus moving one step closer to a historic, unprecedented, Real Madrid-style Decima.

Gerrard's recent acceptance of a contract extension suggests the 39-year-old is willing to spend the next four years turning the Scottish Premiership into a genuine two-horse race once more.

But although the league table paints a pretty picture for Rangers fans while delivering a salutary wake-up call to their rivals, the Old Firm duo's recently published accounts tell a markedly different tale.

If you missed the stark details of Rangers' latest balance sheet, that's because they sneakily published it late on a Friday evening, two days before meeting Hearts in a crucial League Cup semi-final.

In US journalism, Friday is known as 'Take Out The Trash Day'; the ideal time to deliver/bury bad news (see The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 13).

And the frightening revelation was that Rangers had posted an £11m loss - not as bad as the £14m deficit from a year earlier but still deeply concerning for a club which was liquidated eight years ago after being crippled by unsustainable debts to the tax man and others.

With ironic and (naturally) bitter symmetry, Celtic's profit after tax was around £11m.

And although they spent a fortune trying - and failing - to make an impression in Europe under Neil Lennon's Northern Ireland compatriot and latterly reviled predecessor, they've stayed comfortably above water through selling the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Moussa Dembele and Kieran Tierney for huge profit.

Perhaps more worrying for the long-term sustenance of the 'new Rangers' Stevie G era was the bean counters' warning that the club with most title wins in world football (just ahead of Linfield) required an injection of £10m just to stay solvent until the end of this season.

Step forward - yet again - their tycoon/chairman Dave King, who is currently bailing the club out courtesy of an eye-watering eight-figure sum every year.

But even the Castlemilk native, who is rumoured to be worth £600m, doesn't have bottomless pockets. And losing that amount of money - he'll never get any of it back - while at the same time seeing their rivals from across Glasgow rack up 10 successive domestic trophies, is stretching myopic loyalty to mind-boggling levels.

Rangers have hardly been parsimonious in their headlong pursuit of parity/betterment, tripling their staff costs in the last three years, while Gerrard's talk of boosting the squad is reminiscent of something a cash-rich English Premier League manager would say, not one whose club is teetering once again on the precipice of financial disaster, having lost a whopping £65.2m since 2013.

Steve Davis has been offered a new improved contract; you don't need a long memory to recall that a similar one was brokered for the Northern Ireland captain in 2012 - just before administration and a shattering, enforced relegation to the fourth tier of Scottish football.

Midfielder Davis - a New Year's Day baby - was 27 and in his prime back then. He could be forgiven for fearing that lightning could strike twice.

Ongoing losses, reliance on benefactors and share issues, living from hand to mouth; is there any good news for the Teddy Bears?

Well, yes. Their turnover has increased by 63%, and is now close to what it was in the days when David Murray was the big cheese.

Revenues are, de facto at least, encouraging, they've made it into the Europa League's last-32 and if they win the Scottish title - which is the only thing that really matters to the fans and is clearly not beyond the realms of possibility - lucrative Champions League money will pour into the Ibrox coffers once again, thus making this business more sustainable.

And of course their inspirational manager is likely to stay at Ibrox for as long as his future predecessor Jurgen Klopp remains in charge at Anfield. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Just one more thing

You could set your watch by it... the third round is upon us, and BBC sports reporters are busy banging on about the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup, giant killers, plucky minnows et al. So which tie did the Beeb choose to broadcast live on Sunday? Premier League Liverpool versus Premier League Everton...

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