On Saturday 10 September millions of people will be tuning into one of the most highly anticipated Manchester derbies in recent memory. Both Manchester teams are in the midst of a Renaissance and these star-studded sides will no doubt seek to establish a winning precedent in the first Manchester derby of the season. However, this meeting is not the only eagerly awaited derby on 10th September. Celtic and Rangers face each other for the first time in league football since Rangers were liquidated in 2012.
The most celebrated date in the Scottish football calendar is undoubtedly Glasgow’s Old Firm Derby and the seemingly indefinite return of this fixture has done much to boost the reputation of Scottish football. There is certainly a buzz around the Scottish game that has been absent in recent years.
In 2012 Rangers were liquidated and re-established into the fourth tier of Scottish football. Having been denied access to their original position in the first division by fellow clubs, Rangers started again and worked their way back to the top. The appointment of Mark Warburton as manager in June 2015 was the catalyst that resulted in Rangers’ promotion to the Scottish Premiership after 4 years of lower league football.
The absence of Rangers, the most competitive side to Celtic, resulted in the last 4 years of the first division essentially being over before they had begun. Despite a resurgent Aberdeen side finishing second in the division for the past two years, no side could mount a realistic challenge to Celtic’s dominance. The ease of league football for Celtic, due to lack of competition and pressure from their old rival, resulted in a naivety in their European campaigns. Celtic, under Ronny Deila, failed in consecutive seasons to qualify for the Champions League group stages. Notwithstanding winning the league twice in his only two seasons at the club, Ronny Deila was sacked largely due to this poor run in Europe. Despite the difficulties of the last few years for the two sides, they meet on 10th September with a sense of zeal about the upcoming season.
Rangers have made several eye-catching additions to their squad this summer following their promotion. The Gers acquired the services of former English Premier League talents such as midfielder Niko Kranjčar and defender Clint Hill. Not to mention the outspoken Joey Barton, who won promotion last year with Burnley to the Premier League. Barton chose to pursue a future in Scotland with Rangers as opposed to the Premier League with Burnley, thereby showing a great confidence in Rangers and the Scottish game in general. It was even rumoured that Rangers were expressing an interest in former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie. Warburton was quick to put these rumours to bed as idle gossip. Nevertheless, although merely rumours, it is very telling that Rangers can once again be associated with players of such a high calibre.
Celtic have not been idle and have also improved their squad in preparation for the upcoming season. The appointment of Brendan Rodgers following the dismissal of Ronny Deila was a huge statement of intent from the Hoops. Rodgers, winner of the LMA Manager of the Year 2013/14 whilst working for Liverpool, is an internationally recognised figure who can attract big names to the club. He has already acquired the likes of winger Scott Sinclair, who scored the winner in his debut against Hearts; Kolo Toure, a member of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, and Moussa Dembele, an extremely promising striker from Fulham. The prospect of the return of competition and the Old Firm will have undoubtedly enticed players to make the move up to Scotland. Further, the fact that Rodgers was lured to Scotland, despite reportedly receiving several job offers in England, pays further testament to this idea.
Both sides have had solid starts to the season. After a wobble in their opening match, drawing to Hamilton, Rangers overcame Dundee away from home and saw a home victory against a spirited Motherwell side. They drew with Kilmarnock but find still find themselves top of the league, albeit with games in hand. Meanwhile, Celtic have beaten both Hearts and St Johnstone away from home. Celtic also triumphed in three, two legged, Champions league qualifiers to reach the group stage of the Champions League. They will face Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Mönchengladbach, a group that is bound to be full of drama.
The spectre of Rangers becoming the dominant figure in Scottish football has already resulted in an improved Celtic side. Subsequently, this has already had a positive effect on the rest of Scottish football. Indeed, Celtic’s qualification for the Champions League has resulted in each Scottish Premiership side receiving £100,000. The last few years have shown us that Scottish football needs the Old Firm and that the members of the Old Firm need each other. So on 10th September when the likes of Paul Pogba and Sergio Aguero walk out ahead of the Manchester derby, remember that a match just as significant and exciting is underway in Glasgow.