Glasgow: One of world football’s most intense and bitter rivalries will be resurrected in this season’s Scottish Premiership as Rangers challenge old foes Celtic, now managed by former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
Rangers won the second-tier Championship last season and so the Glasgow giants will now compete in the Scottish top flight for the first time in four years following their financial meltdown.
The Light Blues entered administration in February 2012 over an unpaid tax bill during the short, but chaotic, reign of Craig Whyte. Assassination followed in June 2012 to cap an amazing fall from grace.
Following heated discussions their fellow top-flight clubs voted 10 to 1 against allowing Rangers’ application to rejoin the elite, forcing them to start life again in the country’s bottom tier.
Resentment about that decision still lingers among the Ibrox club’s support and should lead to some acrimonious meetings between Rangers and their rival clubs during the course of the season.
Rangers’ absence from the Premiership has allowed Celtic to dominate with the Parkhead outfit winning five league titles in a row.
However, Rangers manager Mark Warburton restored some pride following his appointment last season and led them to the Championship title as well as a win over Celtic on their way to the Scottish Cup final.
The Englishman has strengthened his side well by adding the experience of former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton and Croatian international Niko Kranjcar to his squad, and their presence should add more competitiveness to the league.
“Our aim is to be more than highly competitive,” said the former Brentford boss, whose side start the league campaign at home to Hamilton Academical on Saturday.
“What we have to do is make sure week in, week out, we deliver very high quality competitive challenges with the squad that we have.
“If we do that then we will be in a good position come the end of the season. But it is not for us to make rash predictions. We know we are a strong squad that will get better and more united as the season goes through. We will finish strongly, I’m confident of that.”
However, Celtic, who have appointed Rodgers as the high-profile replacement to Norwegian Ronny Deila in the Parkhead hot seat, remain favourites to defend their title.
Rodgers will have to meet the high demands that will be placed on him after becoming the highest-paid manager in Scottish football history.
His is a more difficult task than previous Celtic managers have faced in the past five years when Rangers were either in disarray or not involved.
But the Northern Irishman, whose side open their title defence away to Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday, knows that no excuses will be accepted for failure.
“I know people talk about the level of Scottish football, but Celtic is one of the biggest clubs in the world, it is certainly not a step down, it is an institution,” Rodgers said.
“The objective is very clear, it is to continue with the domination of Scotland and also make an impact on European football.”
Celtic have added veteran Ivorian defender Kolo Toure to their squad along with young French forward Moussa Dembele from Fulham.
The resumption of regular Old Firm derby matches will see more fiery encounters on the pitch and perhaps lead to the continuation of the two-horse race that has seen the Glasgow clubs win 100 league titles between them. Scottish football, however, will surely be better for it.
Outside Glasgow, Aberdeen, runners-up in each of the last two campaigns, and Hearts appear the best-equipped sides to compete with the Old Firm, although both have already been eliminated from the Europa League before the domestic season has begun.
Opening fixtures (6pm UAE time unless stated)
Rangers v Hamilton Academical (3.30pm UAE time), Kilmarnock v Motherwell, Partick Thistle v Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Ross County v Dundee
St Johnstone v Aberdeen (3.15pm UAE time), Hearts v Celtic (5.15pm UAE time)