Rangers being perceived to have improved might keep Celtic on their toes in the Scottish Premiership this season.
In any sport, when someone comes along to test you and puts the pressure on, you either crumble or it makes you better. And I think for Celtic it’ll be the latter – but we’ll soon find out.
Rangers have done a fantastic job to qualify for the group stages. So far in the league they’ve won one and drawn two, both of which were away from home so you understand that. They were good draws, so they’ll be pleased. There’s excitement around them.
But you have to remember that most of the time with Celtic and Rangers you’re judged on the Old Firm.
I don’t think Steven Gerrard has to win the game on Sunday, but they need to put in a performance. That’ll decide whether the fans are thinking, “yes I like this” or “oh I’m not so sure.” If they get beaten but give a decent performance, that may keep most supporters happy. A draw and a great performance – fine. A win – even better.
If they get beaten easily, people will feel nothing has changed. So there’s pressure on both managers and both squads.
Still, Gerrard has been great so far. Whoever decided to take him on board decided they’d had enough of hiring-and-firing managers without any excitement, so they’ve brought in Steven and backed him, which is great. It’s helped Scottish football, which has been given a kick up the backside.
This will help us to promote our game. We must make sure everything else is right to send it around the world. We’ve fallen badly, with our coefficient dropping significantly – which is why Celtic and Rangers have to play so many games to get into the European group stages. We need to do well when we get there.
Celtic’s draw is not an easy one. I couldn’t tell you too much about Salzburg, but Rosenborg could be a problem. They’re up-and-running and have had a lot of games already. Leipzig lost their first game in the Bundesliga, so they’re bottom of the league – but it was Dortmund and it’s only one match. They’ve been a power over the last three or four years, having come from nowhere and become a major force with Red Bull’s backing.
That’ll not be easy for Celtic – that’s not an easy group. But because of that, you’ll get some great European nights when those teams arrive in Glasgow.
The atmosphere at Celtic Park makes it different on those evenings. When I was a manager at Celtic I saw AC Milan players sitting on the bench looking out thinking, ‘wow’. The great Clarence Seedorf and Kaká hadn’t seen anything like it before.
But it only really happens on the big Champions League nights, when you’re playing the likes of Barcelona, Man United or Milan. It’s an incredible atmosphere, because it’s different – league matches aren’t the same. The Champions League music sets it all off – as soon as you hear that tune, you know you’re about to see football you’ve never seen before, especially in Scotland where you could be going from playing Livingston one day and Barcelona the next.
You’ll always have to change tactics from competition to competition. Your philosophy stays the same, but if I’m the Celtic manager and I’m preparing for Motherwell, I’ll spend 20% of the time on defending and 80% on attacking.
If you’re up against Barcelona that ratio is reversed. You can’t fight fire with fire when you’re faced with these huge sides.
It’s a different mindset, but it can be done if the players are professional and they understand who they’re playing against. What you don’t want to do is frighten them, or make them panic. But they must understand they aren’t as good as, say, Man United.
That’s how we went out and beat those big teams.