Chris Sutton has warned Rangers boss Steven Gerrard that he will run out of excuses if he fails to stop Celtic collecting a record-breaking 10th successive title triumph next season.
In an exclusive interview with the TEAMtalk, former Celtic striker Sutton believes the jury is still out on Gerrard’s ability to take Rangers back into the winners’ circle, after their end of season collapse paved the way for Neil Lennon’s side to seal their ninth successive title triumph.
Now Celtic are setting their sights on becoming the first club in Scottish football history to win 10 league titles in a row, with Sutton suggesting the biggest weight of expectations will fall onto Gerrard’s shoulders as he is tasked with halting the march of Neil Lennon’s side towards their date with destiny.
“The Rangers fans have a lot of faith in Steven Gerrard and want to believe is he the man who can take them back to the promised land and stop Celtic, but he has proved nothing so far,” BT Sport analyst Sutton told us.
“He’s not won a trophy for two seasons and now the pressure is on him. Gerrard needs to stop coming up with the excuses and deliver and trophies are all that count when you are Rangers manager.
“No team has ever won 10-in-a-row and Gerrard has to make sure it doesn’t happen. If he fails, he will be remembered as the manager who came up short in the season when Celtic made history.
“Gerrard has been backed in the transfer market. He has been allowed to bring in some big-name players on big wages and they just haven’t been able to go the distance and finish the season on a high.
“Celtic have some stalwarts in their team like captain Scott Brown and a few others who have been there a long time and know-how to win trophies, but Rangers are a team still striving to prove they can get to that position and until they win something, those question marks will remain.
“They have fallen away badly in the final weeks of the last two seasons and even if they start well next time and keep pace with Celtic, it will always be in the back of the mind of Gerrard and Lennon that Rangers have a track record of failing when it matters most.
“Winners are only confirmed when the trophies are handed out and on that score, Gerrard and Rangers have failed and that will be a tough reality for them to accept, especially after they beat Celtic at Parkhead back in December and believed they were ready to be champions again.
“They played Celtic off the park that day, deserved their win and the celebrations at Celtic Park would have led you to believe the turning point had arrived in Scottish football.
“Yet the reality is one big win does not win you the title and what we saw from Rangers after they had their little winter break in Dubai suggested they are a long way off from being contenders to win the league.
“They didn’t turn up after the winter break, it’s a simple as that. They lost games they should never have lost and their performances were pretty pathetic, at a time when Celtic hit some great form and pulled clear at the top of the table.”
Rangers ‘moaning and groaning’
The manner of Celtic’s coronation may have been unsatisfactory, with a vote of Scottish Premiership clubs confirming Neil Lennon’s side as champions once again, yet the outspoken Sutton argues Gerrard’s side had already exposed their flaws before football was halted in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I know Rangers were moaning and groaning about the way the season ended, but they were 13 points behind Celtic and there was no way they were going to make up that ground, so they only had themselves to blame for losing the title,” states Sutton, who won four Scottish Premiership titles during his time at Parkhead.
“Ideally, Celtic would have liked to have won the title on the pitch, but we saw the same scenario play out in league across Europe when this crisis started and the reality was the finances did not justify restarting the league in Scotland.
“They don’t have a TV deal like the Premier League in England that brings in millions of pounds every time a game is played and the deal in place is not even comparable to the Championship in England, so a decision had to be made.
“Playing the games would have stretched clubs to breaking point financially and the vote reflected that, so Rangers need to stop moaning about how harsh it was for the season to end the way it did ad realise that their failings contributed to Celtic making it nine-in-a-row.”
Sutton played alongside Lennon in Martin O’Neill’s great Celtic sides at the start of this century and he believes the man currently leading the club towards their history-making season relishes the pressure that goes with the job.
“Being manager of Celtic or Rangers is probably one of the most pressurised positions in British football,” adds Sutton. “Glasgow is a great football city and I loved every minute of my time up there, but the people are unforgiving if it goes wrong.
“The Glasgow football public tell you what they think if they see you in the street and Lenny has been up there for long enough to know what to expect and he has always handled it well.
“I think he likes the grief that comes his way at times and uses it as inspiration and he knows that a very special place in the history books beckons if he can lead Celtic to ten-in-a-row next season.”
The fixtures for the new Scottish Premiership season will be revealed on Thursday and the action is set to get underway on August 1, with Celtic and Rangers set to resume a rivalry that is set to reach boiling point over the next year.
The Premier League is back on BT Sport and they will screen Liverpool v Burnley this Saturday at 3pm