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Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Old Firm Haves and Have Nots

Neil Drysdale

Another summer in Scotland, and another period where Celtic possess the money to strengthen their squad and Rangers are forced to sell their most bankable assets. These last few days have seen a whirl of activity surrounding the Old Firm, but once again, as during the past 18 months, the main questions seem to be: where is Rangers' money? And why is there already a sense of deflation around the reigning SPL champions? Celtic, under Neil Lennon, have made several significant strides into the transfer market, even if it hasn't all been one-way traffic. Joe Ledley has signed on a four-year contract from Cardiff City, a move which even surprised his former manager, Dave Jones, while Celtic, who are currently on tour in the United States, are close to securing the services of Mexico's 22-year-old right-back, Efrian Juarez, from UNAM Pumas. However, despite the strenuous efforts of Lennon, Hull City's Jimmy Bullard has elected to remain in England, while goalkeeper Artur Boruc is en route to Fiorentina, ending a spell in Glasgow which has veered between brilliance and buffoonery. The wheeling and dealing isn't expected to end there, with Stephen McManus having agreed to join Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough - a club which is rapidly turning into the Premier League's equivalent of Scotch Corner - while doubts linger over the future of Aiden McGeady, as the Republic of Ireland international is courted by several English clubs. Yet, while intrigue remains part of the equation in the build-up to the end of August, at least there is a sense of Celtic regrouping and dismantling the debris which was left by Tony Mowbray's tenure. At Rangers, in contrast, there has been a deluge of negative stories about the club's parlous financial state, allied to the confirmation of an exodus of high-profile personnel, which makes one wonder whether Walter Smith can cling on to sufficient quality players to have any chance of retaining the title. Kris Boyd has already departed, so has Nacho Novo, while Kevin Thomson is the latest man to spurn the chance of Champions League action for the earthy delights of the English Championship and a contract at the Riverside Stadium. Smith admitted last week that his employers would be powerless to resist a serious offer for the former Hibs star and even though Ibrox supporters can probably stomach Thomson's sale, at this stage there are no indications whatsoever of anybody arriving to fill the void left by the prolific Boyd, whose absence will be felt when the SPL re-commences next month. Worse still, from Rangers' perspective, now that the World Cup is done and dusted, is that it appears almost inevitable that the likes of Madjid Bougherra and Steven Davis will become the target for some of the big hitters in England and their loss would be a grievous blow to Smith. In fact, the present situation represents a complete transformation from 15 years ago when the manager knew he could bolster his squad, courtesy of Sir David Murray's largesse, every summer. It didn't always guarantee success, but that constant regeneration ensured healthy competition for places and was also a relevant factor in persuading Rangers aficionados to purchase their season tickets for the new campaign. Nowadays, the reality is that with Murray and the new chairman, Alastair Johnston, unable to find a buyer for the club throughout the whole of last season - despite Smith leading his charges to their sixth domestic trophy in three years - and with uncertainty continuing to plague the Scottish champions, the 'spend, spend, spend' philosophy of Dick Advocaat a decade ago has returned to haunt them. Smith, who has performed wonders with a mediocre squad, is watching the majority of his best talent being cherry-picked, without having the means to replace them adequately. He is having to trust that David Weir, now 40, will have the stamina and appetite to survive another 12 months in the SPL, and that is even before we discuss the dreaded prospect of the defender having to cope with a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League. It is an unenviable scenario, and one which begs the question of where Rangers might be without their recent successes. Celtic, of course, won't be worried by any of this. On the contrary, they can search for expensive new blood in the knowledge that their Old Firm counterparts are consigned to foraging for journeyman signings in the bargain basement. Little wonder, perhaps, that the bookmakers already have Lennon's team installed as clear title favourites.

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