A bit of nostalgic schadenfreude – take 1

By Gabriele Marcotti of CNN 26 July 2000

You can pencil in Glasgow Rangers to win its twelfth title in thirteen years.
Celtic (or anybody else in Scotland) has about as much chance of breaking Rangers’ hegemony as Pamela Anderson does of winning an Academy Award.
Perhaps more than any other season in recent history, this one looks like a no-brainer.

After winning the title with a record margin, Rangers addressed its needs with clinical precision. In come Scottish international Paul Ritchie and Dutchmen Fernando Ricksen (perhaps the only professional named for an ABBA song) and Bert Konterman to strengthen the league’s stingiest defense, while Kenny Miller and Allan Johnston provide even more options down the flanks.

Throw in the fact that **** Advocaat remains one of the sharpest tactical minds around and, simply put, it looks like a total mismatch. Celtic fans may point to the fact that their club played most of last season without star striker Henrik Larsson, who is now back from injury. True, but then Rangers also spent most of the year without its star centerforward, Michael Mols, who is also on the way back. Celtic is simply light years behind Rangers in terms of quality.

Indeed, apart from Larsson and possibly midfielder Paul Lambert, it’s hard to see any Celtic players cracking Rangers’ starting eleven. Which means that new boss Martin O’Neill is in for a bumpy ride. He can draw strength from the fact that doing worse than his predecessor, John Barnes, will be virtually impossible, but, beyond that, there is little to cheer at Celtic Park.

Top scorer Mark Viduka is gone and O’Neill¹s choice to replace him, former Chelsea dud Chris Sutton (hardly a snip at US $10 million) raised more than a few eyebrows. O’Neill did very well at Leicester City, but he may find that making a mediocre team respectable is far easier than turning a respectable team into a champion.

Indeed, if Celtic isn’t careful, even the runner-up spot could be far from a foregone conclusion with clubs like Hearts and Hibernian ready to step in if the “Bhoys” falter. At least some degree of novelty should come from the new league format. Clubs will face each other three times before breaking off into two separate six-team mini-leagues some time in March. They will then play each of the other teams in their mini-league once.

Beyond the obvious flaw that some clubs will inevitably play more home games than others, the Scottish League’s experiment could all be rendered moot if, as some expect, Rangers have locked up the title by March.
Still, if record goal totals and utter domination are your cup of tea, it might be fun to watch.

London-based Gabriele Marcotti writes a weekly column on international soccer for CNNSI.com.”

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