Scot­land

World Soccer - - Contents - Phil Gordon

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

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