One slip on the Anfield pitch by Steven Gerrard in 2014 denied Liverpool their longcherished English title. But that costly mistake had a much heavier price for Brendan Rodgers.
Gerrard’s error against Chelsea ultimately cost Rodgers his job as manager. Now the pair are re-united in Glasgow, on opposite sides of the fence in a very different sort of turf war.
From the moment Rangers recruited the 38-year-old Gerrard as their new boss to try to halt Celtic’s pursuit of an eighth successive Premiership title, Rodgers and his old Liverpool captain became adversaries, not colleagues.
On one side is the man who has won every domestic trophy since coming to Celtic in 2016, with back-to-back trebles. On the other, is a rookie whose only previous experience was in charge of Liverpool’s youth team.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” insists Gerrard. “I knew the size of the club. I’ve watched them from far and been lucky to be here for games with Celtic.
“This opportunity does not come around very often, clubs of this stature. I have confidence in myself.”
What Rangers do not have, is cash. Gerrard’s predecessor, Pedro Caixinha, squandered £10million last summer on signings who failed to deliver. Portugal defender Bruno Alves left for
Parma after only one season at Ibrox and Fabio Cardoso, who cost £1.5m from Vitoria Setubal, had his deal terminated with two years left.
With Rangers’ South Africa-based owner Dave King’s funds under scrutiny, it is no surprise that spending is limited. Rangers made a £200,000 bid for Kyle Lafferty which was condemned by his employers, Hearts, as paltry.
Gerrard has used his Anfield connections to sign winger Ryan Kent on loan from Liverpool, while three defenders were also added: Connor Goldson (Brighton) and Nikola Katic (Slaven Belupo), full-back Jon Flanagan (Liverpool). Midfielders Ovie Ajaria (Liverpool) and Lassana Coulibaly (Angers), plus Nigerian striker Umar Sadiq (Roma), came in on loan, and experience was found in the shape of midfielder Scott Arfield (Burnley) and goalkeeper Allan McGregor (Hull City).
In contrast, Celtic have pushed the boat out. The £9m paid to Paris Saint Germain for Odsonne Edouard made the striker Celtic’s most expensive signing of all time, eclipsing the £6m jointrecord fee, which has stood for almost two decades and was paid for both Chris Sutton (Chelsea, 2000) and John Hartson (Coventry City 2001).
The potential shown by 20-year-old Edouard – who netted a winner at Ibrox and two in another win over Rangers while on loan last term – convinced Rodgers to push for the Frenchman to be given a four-year deal alongside compatriots Moussa Dembele and Olivier Ntcham.
The hunger for an eighth title in a row is evident. “The Premiership is our bread and butter,” says Rodgers. “Your first aim is to win your league and that allows you to savour everything else after that.”
Yet again, Celtic’s biggest challenge could come from Aberdeen. The northeast club have finished second in the last four seasons and manager Derek McInnes turned down the Rangers’ job in November.
McInnes has signed midfielder Lewis Ferguson from Hamilton and the teenager’s Europa League goal at Burnley showed his potential.
Pittodrie witnessed its biggest average attendance since 1984-85, when Alex Ferguson made Aberdeen champions, and is on course to repeat those numbers this term, while four-placed Hibernian had their best crowds since the 1950s – when Hibs were serial title winners – to see Neil Lennon’s stylish football. Across Edinburgh, Hearts have made 13 signings to reshape the Tynecastle squad.
Newly promoted St Mirren lost their manager, Jack Ross, to Sunderland, and replaced him with Alan Stubbs, who won the Scottish Cup with Hibernian in 2016.
“This opportunity does not come around very often...I have confidence in myself” Steven Gerrard
Debut...Rangers’ new boss
Record fee...Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard