Scottish Football: Rangers ready to roll again

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The Independent Online
JUST 44 DAYS after the 3-0 win over the Commonwealth of Independent States in Norrkoping that concluded Scotland's European Championship campaign, the seven Rangers players involved in that match embark on the defence of the Premier Division title against St Johnstone at Ibrox this afternoon.

The Scottish League - now without sponsorship - faces an uncertain future, with a breakaway Super League (inspired by Rangers and Heart of Midlothian) on the horizon.

Such long-term matters will be far from the minds of the Ibrox faithful today, though. The fans regard the title as their property, and with good reason - for Rangers enjoy a degree of financial muscle that their rivals can only envy, rather than emulate.

The champions paid Hearts pounds 1.3m for the country's second-best defender, David McPherson, to partner the best (Richard Gough) in their back line. Last week the Ibrox club spent another pounds 2.4m to bring back England's Trevor Steven from Marseille, to bolster a midfield already full of internationals.

The rest are in a different league. Scotland's third-biggest summer signing is Duncan Shearer, a striker who has never proved himself at the top level, who cost Aberdeen pounds 550,000 from Blackburn Rovers. With Willie Miller starting his first full season as the manager at Pittodrie, where Hibernian are today's guests, Aberdeen may well be the closest challengers to Rangers. Roy Aitken, the combative former Celtic and Scotland captain, has arrived from St Mirren for pounds 100,000 to become Miller's No 2 - and to play his part on the pitch.

Celtic may have kept Paul McStay, but, partly due to their expenditure on his new contract, they have not yet signed any new players. Without any big-name recruitment at Parkhead - in particular in the forward line - Celtic, who travel to Hearts, may once again have to endure a season as soldiers of misfortune.

Liam Brady, starting his second term as Celtic's manager, has still to prove himself. 'There is a bit of pressure on me now,' the Irishman said this week. 'In your first season, the public and the directors tend to give you a chance; but come the start of the second year everyone is looking for results.'

Hearts' only cash signing, at just pounds 100,000, is an Aberdeen reject: Peter van der Ven, the Dutch defender. Their Edinburgh rivals, Hibernian, are yet to learn the fee they have to pay Dundee United for the former Newcastle forward, Darren Jackson, who will form a potent strike force with Keith Wright.

Dundee United are unlikely to improve on last season's mid-table anonymity without both Jackson and Ray McKinnon, now at Nottingham Forest. They at least have four derby days to look forward to, now that club on the other side of Tannadice Street have returned to the Premier. Dundee's player-manager Simon Stainrod, the much- travelled English striker, has brought in several new faces, including the former Arsenal midfielder Graham Rix and Ian Gilzean, a 6ft 1in centre-forward from Tottenham, whose father made the reverse journey, from Tayside to north London, in 1964.

The chasing pack can only hope that Rangers fail to do justice to their talents. If Walter Smith's side do not self-destruct, it is hard to imagine the title going elsewhere. The reality of Scottish football is that a super league already exists - and it has a membership of one.

(Photograph omitted)