Football: Old Firm's isolation set to increase

David McKinney assesses the potential consequences for Scottish football following Rangers' ninth successive title
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The Independent Online
The revolution started by Graeme Souness in 1986 is complete. In equalling Celtic's record of nine consecutive League titles, Rangers have fulfilled the dream of the man who ignited the spark for this famous club. Since the departure of Souness six years ago, Walter Smith has continued to become the most successful manager in the history of the club.

Yet as he celebrated with his players at Ibrox yesterday after they flew in by helicopter from their game with Hearts, Smith might have reflected that the securing of the ninth title is not an end but a beginning.

Rangers are already making plans to capitalise on their success of recent years. Players will leave, others, such as Sweden's Jonas Thern, will come in, but for their chairman, David Murray, Smith, their players and their supporters the greatest achievement has yet to be realised.

Only a 10th title will appease their supporters, success in Europe will be as welcome but, as Celtic struggle to reinvent themselves, the Rangers success will continue because it has come at the perfect time.

The 50,000 supporters who regularly fill Ibrox can take advantage of the business acumen of the chairman by buying bluenose burgers and bears cola. They can visit the in-house superstore knowing their money goes straight to the club, and they can even watch Rangers Television in the depths of Ibrox before a game then follow the action from giant screens from their seats.

However, it does not take giant pictures to illuminate the future for Rangers. In business terms, they are nine leagues ahead of the rest of Scottish football with the exception of Celtic, and constant participation in the Champions' League has not only swollen the coffers but the lure of the premier tournament has proved an attraction for players like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup.

The financial pages of newspapers are scrutinised as much as the back pages, as the business that is Glasgow Rangers Football Club rumbles onwards. But that business has its roots on the field and it is there that Rangers have proved intimidating.

The projection is a bleak one for the rest of Scottish football for the next few years. Celtic would appear the only club capable of mounting any kind of challenge to the champions, while the rest fight it out for the European places.

Ultimately, Rangers and probably Celtic will outgrow the Scottish League if they have not already done so. The next step will be a midweek European League to which the smaller clubs will have no access, and they will be left to continue the struggle with bank managers as stadiums have to be paid for and the transfer market disappears.

Only Celtic would appear to have the facilities to compete regularly and consistently with Rangers, yet they appear to be staggering from one crisis to another.

Pierre van Hooijdonk left the club amid bitter rancour, Jorge Cadete has hinted Saturday's 3-0 win against Dundee United could be his last game for the club and Paolo Di Canio, the influential Italian has also suggested he could leave.

Tommy Burns, the manager, has gone, his position being replaced by a general manager and first-team coach, and while Rangers prepare for their new season the supporters of Celtic are stalling over the renewal of season tickets until successors to Burns - the list is headed by Bobby Robson - are found. Celtic insist that no one has yet has been approached.

Given the respective positions of the two clubs, the futile arguments will begin as to which was the better side, the current Rangers team or the players who took Celtic to their nine in a row achievement in the 1960s and 70s.

But to believe such comparisons can be made has only ever been an illusion because, while the likes of Peter Schmeichel might be certain the current Manchester United side would score 10 goals against the 1968 vintage, it is an assertion that can never be put to the test.

It is hard enough to be the best in professional sport at any time without having to compete with history as well. No team or individual can hope to compare with 30 years of progress, with the only certainty in the debate being the fact that each team or individual beat the best of their time. They cannot be expected to do more than that.

Rangers have proved themselves the best team in Scottish football over the last decade and that achievement has to be recognised for what it is.