The famous business battle between Hertz and Avis produced the odd phenomenon of second place being a position to be embraced and even celebrated, with Avis’s legendary “We’re only Number 2, so we try harder” slogan.
A variation of this in footballing terms could be the acceptable goal of a Champions League spot from the English Premiership e.g. Arsenal could have the slogan: “We’re happy with only Number 4, so we don’t need to burst our backsides trying to actually win the League for a change.”
You would be forgiven for thinking that being Number 2 in Scottish football – particularly in a head-to-head between Rangers and Celtic – would never be acceptable but it appears you would be wrong.
I have blogged extensively in the past about the battle between the Glasgow giants being THE distinctive product that we have to offer in the game up here and how the fierce rivalry between the big two is essential for the health of Scottish football. It has to be said, however, that this has not actually transpired, despite Rangers’ return to the top flight.
There is a settled order in Scottish football at present which indicates that this historical competitiveness will not be returning any time soon. That order is Celtic at the top, with their city rivals at the very best a firm and distant second place. Without the “So we try harder” part, unless you consider huffing and puffing around the field an indication of laborious effort.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not being critical of Mark Warburton and his men. In fact, they are doing just as well as Celtic are to keep the settled order as settled as can be. They are playing to the script they have been given and are on target to set the objective of their own Chairman to finish in the top two. Dave King has set the bar at being second place and all Mark Warburton has to do to make himself unsackable is meet this demand.
This, I reiterate, is no criticism of Warburton. Frankly, I share the misgivings of some I know and respect who question his ability to make Rangers the dominant force in Scotland. But I strongly defend his right to be given the support of club and fans as long as second place is viable.
The stark reality facing Rangers fans going into the New Year is that the team is second best by a distance. It isn’t the yawning chasm of a gap dreamers would imagine and could be breached by a bit of intelligent activity in the transfer market. Dembele aside, who would make the grade in the EPL from this current Celtic side?
So the present order will continue and it remains to be seen if the board at Ibrox will have the temerity to refuse their given role in this order. Those of a conspiracy mindset who see evidence that the Old Firm is not named as such in vain, will have their suspicions grow deeper the longer this goes on, particularly if 10-in-a-row is achieved.
Rangers’ victory in last season’s semi-final over Celtic could have inspired a panic reaction from the Celtic board but their shrewd assessment of the situation – or their customary parsimony (I’ll let the reader decide) – led to astute decisions i.e. sacking Deila and replacing him with a decent upgrade along with sensible buys. Brendan Rodgers has made all the difference to a team shorn of quality by seasons of downgrading. Staying the few necessary steps ahead of Rangers is the pragmatic philosophy adopted by Celtic these days, with no real attempt to hide the coveted goal of 10-in-a-row. Not every Celtic fan accepts this as the zenith of achievement but there are enough to make the Rodgers Revolution an ongoing crowd puller.
Both Rangers and Celtic fans are being sold short by the lack of ambition their respective boards are presently displaying. No doubt directors of both clubs would cite the lack of money as a reason for this but that would be a poor and cowardly excuse.
At present we are seeing the Old Firm at its worst. We have been here before, with one team dominant and the other constant underdogs. It may throw up the occasional against-the-odds victory but real football fans of both sides and others don’t want a cosy cartel at the top of our Premiership. They want blood and guts and real competition.
Directors of both Rangers and Celtic should know two things: The first is that we the fans want continual growth and improvement, not downsizing, downgrading and “settling.”
And the second thing is that being Number 2 is NEVER acceptable.