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Rangers and Celtic can only dream of Premier League's TV money

 

By Julian Taylor

As Scottish football absorbs the exciting appointment of Steven Gerrard as Rangers' new manager, ushering in a fresh interest towards the Premiership next season with the former Liverpool captain going up against Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, questions inevitably surface over where the Old Firm stand in the grander scheme of things.

Both clubs can justifiably claim to have world followings, average crowds of over 50,000 and rich histories requiring no introduction. However, the pre-eminence of modern football's lucrative trappings south of the border keeps the Glasgow duopoly as a relative, albeit fascinating, sideshow.

There is no argument that, in stature alone, both Rangers and Celtic would comfortably gatecrash the so-called 'Big Six' of the Premier League. Still, recent revelations that Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all smashed through the £1billion prize money barrier this season underlines the stranglehold they have at the top at a time when they are looking to claim a bigger percentage of overseas TV rights.

Not for the first time, the Old Firm must accept the reality that, within a British context and since Sky revolutionised the English game forever in 1992, they are victims of geography.

Morally, the revelations are hard to swallow. After all, considering the TV money pouring into the coffers of Premier League outfits - making it easily the biggest sole source of a club's income - supporters are still expected to pay, on average, north of £45 for match tickets.

Both Glasgow giants view themselves, with fair justification, as at least equal to England's super-imposed elite, in terms of history, prestige and sustainable fanbase. Indeed, the Rodgers versus Gerrard angle will be as enticing as that of, say, Pep Guardiola against Jose Mourinho. Yet the lack of immense broadcast income restricts the potential worth of Celtic and Rangers, always with ideas above their current station.

Then we have those formidable figures of a previous generation, whose value would, in the current grotesque climate, be astronomical.

Take Norman Whiteside, for instance. The Northern Ireland legend and raw Manchester United galactico was, regrettably, caught offside from this current TV-fuelled carousel. He was just one of many top-class stars who graced the British game in the Eighties, when Chelsea and Manchester City, for example, were entrenched in mediocrity.

And, curiously, from the perspective of ability, are Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, David Silva, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah really any better than Whiteside's contemporaries Bryan Robson and Paul McGrath, or Liverpool's Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, from less obscene times? Such a suggestion is ludicrous.

Yet Whiteside, during his peak, in a watery context of muddy pitches, fenced terraces in stadiums within tight streets of local communities, when working class fans could habitually afford sensible ticket prices, earned a net pay of just £350 per week at Old Trafford. The Belfast man subsequently doubled his income when Sir Alex Ferguson helped facilitate his move to Everton.

How must Whiteside, this totemic Red Devil of the past, feel when he sees Sanchez pocket £391,000 a week plus a £75,000 loyalty fee every time he scuttles onto the Old Trafford pitch? The Manchester United Whiteside watches these days have been far more Hollywood than Salford for a long time, and arguably no better for it.

Meanwhile, if Rangers, in particular, are to somehow reach the kind of highs akin to that of appearing in a European final as recently as a decade ago, they live in hope that the Gerrard 'brand' in world football, rather than a surplus of hard cash, can help. Necessity being the mother of invention, the Light Blues pledge a future with youth and affordable, experienced talents, like new signing Scott Arfield from Burnley.

From what was effectively a European Cup semi-final in 1992/93 to the prospect of Gerrard negotiating summer Europa League qualifiers against unknowns, Rangers - slowly blinking from financial crisis -are still dealing with a generational reality check.

Celtic's Champions League group stage participation in recent times yields them up to £30m per season - yet Huddersfield Town banked £104.5m from their debut Premier League campaign.

The better Parkhead players of late are consequently susceptible to the gravy train. Ki Sung-yeung, Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk certainly didn't exchange Celts for bigger clubs when considering career moves south; rather a Faustian-style pact of much tidier salaries at the expense of silverware.

The success of Van Dijk at Southampton earned the Scottish champions £7m due to a sell-on clause when he was transferred to Liverpool for a mind-numbing £75m. And Celtic star Kristoffer Ajer's new four-year contract probably contains similar protection, which at least helps the club's ambitions. Small consolations.

Next season, the Rodgers and Gerrard show is where it's at. At least psychological mind games come free.

Belfast Telegraph

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