Celtic play Rangers on Sunday in a title-deciding match at Parkhead. Perhaps we’ve all been…
The furore over Celtic’s summer transfer activity seemed to have reached fever pitch on Thursday morning when the rumours and reports of Moussa Dembele moving to Lyon began to gain traction and credence.
Reuters financial columnist, Jamie McGeever, noted Celtic’s share price had risen by 20% in the past week, to the backdrop of fans pointing to the news as yet another example of Peter Lawwell’s insistence on treating the club like an accounting sheet. The club were simply looking at the numbers while ignoring the on-field issues. One prominent Celtic podcaster went as far as to suggest that if the club sold Dembele and brought in Shane Long on loan “someone needs to lose their job.”
Indeed, the club that were effortlessly strolling to a consecutive treble just six months ago now seem to be in a full-blown crisis. Panic stations are on full alert. By the time you’re reading this Dembele may already be gone or the club may have opted to keep a hold of him for a little longer. Either way, it’s all irrelevant. Because while Brendan Rodgers and his loyal support have been muttering and complaining about the transfer window they’ve done well to ignore the barbarians at their gate.
Littered throughout any debate over Celtic’s dismal summer is the notable use of one word: Rangers. While fans of the Scottish champions may still insist that they have no equal in Scotland, their closest and most appropriate comparison in the transfer window has been their cross-city rivals that have undoubtedly done well to hit the ground running where Celtic have stumbled. And that contrast is most notable to all.
Where Celtic failed to find a suitable backup to Kieran Tierney at left-back and ultimately settled for the return of Emilio Izaguirre, Rangers plucked the recently-capped Croatian international Borna Barisic from NK Osijek. While Celtic have fumbled about in their hunt for a central defender, Steven Gerrard quickly identified the young and promising Nikola Katic to partner the proven, Premier league talent of Connor Goldson.
Although Rangers’ task of rebuilding a squad once the slate had been wiped clean after last season’s disastrous campaign was far easier to plan for rather than the incremental improvements needed at Parkhead, most Celtic fans would surely admit – at least in private – that Goldson, Katic or even Barisic would have been ideal transfer targets to bolster key holes in their own team.
Without a single kick of the ball between both sides, Rangers have already built up some notable momentum while Celtic’s board and manager bicker among themselves. Whether the gap has genuinely shortened won’t be known until these two teams lock horns. Which, conveniently, brings us to Sunday’s first Old Firm derby of the season.
While this week may have been spent watching Celtic fans openly complain and criticise the men that run their club, the colourful and often remarkable banners that will be hoisted high or draped over seats will not be aimed towards the dark, green leather seats in the main stand but instead focused entirely on the red, white and blue corner of the stadium. Sunday will undoubtedly prove to be one, massive reset button for the narrative that currently revolves around Celtic and it will be up to Rodgers and his team to decide what happens next.
Regardless of whether Dembele is in Sunday’s side, Celtic will still have the superb talents of Scott Brown, Odsonne Edouard, Callum McGregor, Tierney and James Forrest to rely upon in a game that they are still, undoubtedly favourites to win.
While Rangers have looked impressive since Gerrard walked in the door, they haven’t yet faced a team with as much talent and purpose as this Celtic side. Nor have they met a side that has grown so ruthlessly efficient at making sure they show up on derby day. Sure, Maribor were no slouches in the Europa League but last weekend’s clash with Motherwell and the last two European ties have shown a Rangers team that are by no means at full capacity just yet.
In many ways, Celtic are exactly what their fans demand them to be: unrivalled. Yet with that elevated status in Scottish football comes a heavy burden of every narrative being intricately wrapped around every step they take. Lawwell, Rodgers and this team are in complete control of how this current situation at the club unravels from here on. And the only way to take full advantage of that is by beating Rangers on Sunday.