Celtic and…. Who will fill Rangers’ boots?
Posted on August 4, 2012 by Sam Cooke
The SPL kicks off this weekend with one very obvious omission. Rangers, one half of the Old Firm, will not feature in the SPL for at least 4 years; after entering administration a vote was cast with the decision that Rangers would commence the 2012/13 season in the Scottish Third Division.
And so Rangers, the team formed out of the 140 year old club that have won more top flight national championships than any other club in the world (54), more Scottish League Cups than any other side in Scotland (27) and more domestic trebles than any other side (7), will face Peterhead away in their first game of the season. The first visitors will be the following week when they face East Stirlingshire FC, a side who average just over 300 spectators a week (Ibrox has a capacity of 51, 082.)
Just yesterday SPL clubs unanimously voted Dundee as the club to take the vacant spot in the Scottish top flight. The question on everyone’s lips however is who will challenge Celtic….if anyone?
Here we assess which clubs could be Celtic’s new title rivals.
After finishing third in the SPL last season and securing the Champions League qualifying spot, in Rangers’ absence Motherwell seem the obvious choice to make the step up and provide a title challenge this season. That said they lost 2-0 to Panathinaikos in the first-leg and with a lack of signings due to a lack of money (caused partly by a loss of television and sponsorship money after Rangers were placed in the SFL) they may well struggle to maintain last season’s momentum.
Add to this the loss of their most-capped player of all time, Stephen Craigan, after he retired in the summer and the fact that the experienced Tim Clancy and Steve Jennings have moved on, then Stuart McCall could find it tough to repeat their 2011/12 finish of third in the table. Whilst he’s managed to hold onto the impressive Michael Higdon and Jamie Murphy, Motherwell have only brought in one defender in the form of Simon Ramsden.
Verdict – Will they challenge Celtic for the title? No. Will they finish in the top four? Possibly. Scottish football will have to look elsewhere for a Rangers replacement.
And so on down the 2011/12 SPL table. Dundee United finished fourth and in doing so qualified for Europe. United faced a tough game in the form of Dinamo Moscow in the first leg but dealt with them exceedingly well with the Moscow club twice coming back to deny them a win. It finished 2-2 but Dundee United manager Peter Houston can take many positives out of the game ahead of the start of the SPL season. They’ve managed to hold onto captain Jon Daly, the second top scorer in the SPL last season with 19, and brought in Brian McLean who’s a tough defender able to play either centre or right back.
Verdict – They could very well finish second but do not have enough to challenge Celtic.
Hearts finished fifth last season but after a summer of upheaval this is a new look Hearts for a new look SPL. Here is the list of every player who’s departed the club this summer; Ian Black, midfielder (Rangers); Suso Santana, midfielder (Tenerife); Adrian Mrowiec, midfielder (Leipzig); Stephen Elliott, forward (Coventry City); Gary Glen, forward (Ross County); Jordan Morton, midfielder (Livingston); Jason Thomson, defender (Raith Rovers, loan made permanent); Chris Kane, midfielder (Dunfermline Athletic); Gary Graham, forward (Clyde); Rudi Skacel, midfielder; Craig Beattie, forward; Marian Kello, goalkeeper; David Obua, midfielder; Aaron Murdoch, midfielder; Chris Tobin, midfielder; Ryan Stewart, midfielder; Colin Hamilton, defender; Matthew Park, defender.
And here is the list of every player they’ve brought in; none.
So an obvious problem arises; they have very, very few players. They’ve lost key players such as Rudi Skacel and Stephen Elliot and have no replacements. Manager John McGlynn replaced Paulo Sergio in another change at the club this summer, and McGlynn is confident that his young squad can deliver the goods this season. Hearts won the Scottish Cup last season and have finished third twice in the last four years. Had they not lost the vast majority of their squad they would almost certainly be the club most would have picked to make the step up and challenge for the title. As it is they may struggle but if McGlynn can rally his young squad and get a good start they have half a chance.
Verdict – They’ll challenge for second or third spot but nothing else.
Many SPL clubs have had to endure a number of their key players leaving this summer as the loss of Rangers in the SPL meant a loss of all-round TV and sponsorship money for every club in the league. Due to this it will prove even more difficult for smaller Scottish clubs to push on and attempt to provide a title challenge, it’s important to remember that the next biggest ground in the SPL after Celtic’s is Aberdeen’s Pittodrie stadium. This can hold 22,199, just over a third of Celtic Park.
The answer to who will fill Rangers’ boots in the SPL this season; no-one. At least for the foreseeable future Celtic will have an easy run and could very well break some sort of record in earliest point in the season a league title’s been won. Or the likes of Hearts, Motherwell, Dundee United or even Aberdeen may surprise us all and make history, just don’t bet on it.