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Should Celtic and Rangers stick or twist?



All in all, it's practically pre-season already for Celtic and Rangers. The former's victory over the latter last weekend all but guaranteed them the title. Rangers, now eleven points behind their rivals but eight ahead of the chasing pack, are almost nailed on for second spot. They have only one match left that really matters - a home clash with Celtic. In addition to that game Celtic have their remaining Scottish Cup tie(s) to focus on. Aside from those matches the two clubs can pretty much phone in the rest of their performances.

And the extra time to think about the 2019/20 season will be welcome in both halves of Glasgow. Because there remains uncertainty over who will be in each dugout for the next campaign.

You don't think Steven Gerrard's position is under threat? It certainly wasn't when the winter break came round, after an Old Firm win put Rangers level on points with Celtic. In fact, the attitude at Ibrox was so bullish that Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe were added during the transfer window. They might 'only' have been loan signings, but even the most conservative estimates of their wages are enough to raise eyebrows.

And since then they've dropped points to Kilmarnock (twice), St Johnstone and Hibernian in the league as well as Celtic and been knocked out of the cup in a home replay by Aberdeen. Last midweek's victory over Hearts ended a five game winless run, their worst run since putting their feet up after winning the 2015/16 Championship.

After spending millions last summer on fees and highly paid free transfers, they are only four points better off than at this stage a year ago when Murtyball was running out of steam. All in all, Gerrard has won 28 out of 55 matches in charge of Rangers. That win percentage is much worse than Murty's. It's also worse than Pedro Caixinha's. Heck, it's worse than Paul Le Guen's.

About the only thing more disappointing than that record is the club's accounts. Another year, another loan from financial house Close Brothers - and you don't need to be an accountant to know that borrowing from someone other than a bank comes attached with an eye-watering level of interest attached. The club won't at last turn a profit for the first time in the Banter Years, not by a long shot.

So there's plenty of ammunition that can be used against Gerrard. And there seems to have been a wee shift in attitude towards him from the media. Given that Ibrox's resident Jabba The Hutt exerts an element of control over what local hacks are allowed to say about the club, the fact that they've been given licence to take even the smallest pop at Gerrard suggests that at the very least the club hierarchy are underwhelmed by his performance.

 And yet...lies, damned lies and statistics.

For one thing, there's the eye test. Yes, Rangers have toiled at times this season against well-organized, dug-in opponents. And as regards the gap between them and Celtic, the table does not deceive. But this is not Murtyball. There is a coherent strategy here. There isn't a decent Plan B but just having a Plan A that works more often than not at Premiership level makes Gerrard the most competent manager of the Newco years.

The failures in both domestic cups were a disaster, but I feel Gerrard was entitled to a lot more credit than he got for getting them to the Europa League Group Stage - and making them competitive there. In many an away game he was able to set them up to grind out a result. (It's the Europa League games that wreck that win percentage, by the way). And lord knows what those interim financial results would look like without the prize money earned from that campaign.

That's not to say Stevie G is the next coming of Bill Shankly. Not by a long shot. But if Dave King and co. are tempted by the thought of trying to force him out, they need to resist it. This club is crying out for a bit of stability and consistency.

So too are Celtic. And that's why they shouldn't appoint Neil Lennon permanently.

In contrast to Gerrard, the stats favour the Northern Irishman. Celtic have played seven games since Lennon was parachuted in and they've won five...including a derby...and drawn two. And of course he won three titles and two Scottish Cups during his first spell at the club.

A sizeable proportion of the club's fanbase - those ones who feel Rodgers betrayed them by leaving for Leicester City (and who therefore really need to get a life) - will also point to Lennon being 'a Celtic man' as a crucial factor.

But the eye test which is so much more forgiving to Gerrard is far less so to Lennon. In six league games they have won three via late goals and been held to a draw at Celtic Park by both Aberdeen and Livingston. Against Hearts, Dundee and Rangers they got the job done but played for long periods not just as if the handbrake was on but also that they couldn't work out how to release it. Rodgers' Celtic won with ten men at Ibrox last year; Celtic were deservedly pegged back by Rangers' 10 men last week and you wouldn't have confidently said they were the most likely to nick a winger before James Tavernier's blunder. It's hard to believe that, with Rodgers pulling the strings, there wouldn't have been more energy and more creativity both from the players on the pitch and from the management team.

As for Lennon's own record as a manager, it remains more patchy than many would readily realize or admit. His three titles came during the season that preceded liquidation and the two that followed - titles that you and me could have guided the club to. His time at Bolton can be whitewashed because of the massive problems there, but while he met expectations in his first year at Hibs (with promotion) and surpassed them in his second year by finishing fourth everything had gone wrong when he left Easter Road. He didn't resign, and he wasn't sacked, but results were so bad - 2 wins in the last 14 league games - that he was heading for the exit door soon enough.

Yes, he'll always have Barcelona at Celtic Park. But that feels like quite a rare example of getting his team to punch well above their weight.

Moreover, Celtic's playing style was transformed by Rodgers. It's a style worth continuing both at first team level and below. And doing so requires a coach with similar principles to Rodgers. Lennon is, basically, a different coach.

That's not to say finding a successor will be easy; far from it. There's certainly no obvious internal or Scottish candidate, and the world's most renowned coaches have much bigger fish to fry than Scottish football can provide. There's quite a significant risk that they could end up with another Ronny Deila. That reason alone might tempt the board into the safe option, which is undoubtedly Lennon.

But if Celtic want to continue on an upward trajectory, their best option is a new face. Whereas if Rangers want to do the same they are better sticking with who they already have.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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