After six games of the 2021/22 season, Celtic had already lost three games and were in sixth place in the Premiership. By November, Steven Gerrard had indicated his evaluation of the prestige of Rangers Football Club by jumping ship to manage a rudderless Aston Villa. At that point, and various moments thereafter, the much-vaunted Old Firm rivalry seemed very much to be a case of two bald men fighting over a comb.
Fast-forward to May 2022, and as Celtic celebrate the regaining of the Scottish Premiership after a thrilling league campaign under Ange Postecoglou, Rangers prepare to face Eintracht Frankfurt in a Europa League final that they could be considered a good bet to win. And while some people leap into action to find betting sites not on gamstop, the rest of us have the chance to look at the Glasgow rivalry and wonder whether we could be on the cusp of a genuinely interesting era of the Old Firm.
Two newly-minted managers with a decent start under their belt
Although things didn’t look quite so promising last autumn for the Bhoys, it was always advised by Australian football experts that Postecoglou tends to take about a season to bed his philosophy in at a new club. Celtic fans will be wondering what the future looks like, if that 3-0 scudding of Rangers in February was “bedding in”. That came in Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s first Old Firm game as Rangers manager. Performances have improved in each outing since, and the club has found the league form that deserted it in the winter. And then, of course, there’s the European front.
A surprising continental campaign from the Bears
In the last 16 of the Europa League, the Light Blues travelled to Dortmund for a game even the most optimistic fan would have considered a likely defeat. Instead, Rangers did the improbable and thumped Borussia 4-2, completing the job at Ibrox a week later. While each fresh round has brought another chorus of “Here’s where they mess it up”, they’ve done nothing of the sort. Captain and full-back James Tavernier has looked like an international star with seven goals across the European campaign, and no-one would be surprised if Rangers lifted the trophy against an Eintracht side in domestic turmoil.
So what about 2022/23?
While both major Glasgow clubs will have positive moments to look back on from this campaign (even more so for Rangers if they can win against both Eintracht and Hearts, in the Scottish Cup final), winning is only the beginning. Neither Postecoglou nor van Bronckhorst were expected to be in these posts this time last year, and both have acquitted themselves well to managing in less-than-ideal circumstances. If both are afforded space – and money – to invest in their playing squads, next season could be a classic chase between these long-term rivals. Let’s watch Glasgow carefully this summer, as the chess game could be fascinating.