Football: Burns will find it hot: James Traynor explains why a giant shadow hangs over Celtic's new manager

ANDY WALKER, only recently bought back from Bolton, has looked Celtic's best player in pre-season work. He scored twice in the 2-2 draw against Flamengo of Brazil last week, and Celtic's long-suffering supporters, anxious to embrace even the slightest sign of hope, took heart.

They have gone without a trophy since 1989, when they won the Scottish Cup, but the return of Tommy Burns as manager in succession to Lou Macari and the former midfield player's pledge to make the club great again is sweeping away pessimism. Suddenly, Celtic supporters have been rushing to buy season tickets, even though home games will be played at Hampden Park this season while Celtic Park is refurbished.

'Everything is progressing well,' says Fergus McCann, the club's new owner and the man responsible for bringing in Burns. However, the real challenge begins on Saturday when the new campaign begins in earnest, and attention will switch from Celtic's domain in the east end of Glasgow to the west.

Rangers, because of their spending power and list of successes in recent years, remain Scottish football's dominant force. While Celtic talk about working towards a brighter future, Rangers are already enjoying the fruits of their labours. Ibrox glitters with silverware and an already formidable squad of players was strengthened in the close season by the arrivals of Brian Laudrup and Basile Boli.

Laudrup cost pounds 2.2m and Boli's signature cost pounds 2.5m. The fee for Walker will be determined by tribunal, but they will not be happy if they are required to pay more than pounds 500,000, even though Bolton are asking for pounds 2m.

Walker cost them only pounds 150,000 when he signed three years ago and although Bolton stole him at that price, he is not a better player now than he was when he left Glasgow. In fact, his departure from Celtic was one of the many mistakes the club have made in recent times.

McCann and Burns, who will have to operate on a meagre budget for a couple of seasons, have taken on the task of reacquainting the club with glory, but they may not be masters of their own destiny.

Much will depend on Rangers, who are already looking far beyond domestic horizons. They have made the championship their own and see it now simply as a passport into the more glamorous and lucrative Champions' league.

Laudrup and Boli were drafted in not to ensure Rangers would remain dominant at home but to strengthen the European challenge, and the Ibrox club's owner, David Murray, will allow his manager, Walter Smith, to spend again if AEK Athens are overcome in a preliminary European Cup tie - the first leg of which will be played in Athens on Wednesday - and Rangers take a place in a Champions' League section with the likes of Milan and Ajax as well as the survivor of another preliminary tie.

Celtic's problem is that everything they do will be judged against the achievements of their greatest rivals, Rangers, who may have to visit the same Premier Division grounds but who are operating on a different level altogether.

Burns, a young manager fuelled by an intense self-belief, will have his moments this season, as will Aberdeen's manager, Willie Miller, and Dundee United's Ivan Golac, but the championship is likely to be won by Rangers for the seventh successive time, and that is the only trophy which matters.

James Traynor writes for The Herald, Glasgow

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