Football

Celtic vs. Rangers: Old Firm clash that needs new thinking

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Celtic manager Ronny Deila has insisted that this weekend's Scottish Cup semi-final showdown with Rangers is an occasion to be enjoyed, but the absurdity of that sentiment will soon become apparent come 1.30pm on Sunday at Hampden Park.

"It's going to be fun," the studious Scandinavian insisted earlier this week. He'll learn fast that the resumption of British, if not world football's most bitter rivalry is to be prepared for, tolerated and then consigned to history rather than a pleasurable experience for those closest to the furnace.

A whole range of strong emotional adjectives are part of the lexicon of the Old Firm derby, but fun simply doesn't feature.

51,000 fans deprived of the chance to focus their energies on hatred of the enemy will show Deila what the Glaswegian dust-up historically stands for, which lost among the fervour of expectation on both sides represents his first true test as Hoops boss.

Lose-lose situation?

The 39-year-old has been passable in his seven months in the job, no more, no less. A reputation as a promising coach capable of harnessing young talent and maximising their potential to earn a profit got him the job as Neil Lennon's replacement.

You need more than that to deal with the emotional demands of facing Rangers though, even a club still coping with utter turmoil that's become commonplace off the pitch and struggling desperately to meet expectation on it.

Defeat is utterly unthinkable for Deila, who may not survive if he becomes the first Celtic manager in history to be beaten by a Rangers side in the lower reaches of Scottish football. Even a win will merely be treated as passable under the circumstances, with Hoops fan only likely to offer the Norwegian a score below par for a convincing victory delivered in style.

Is that an unfair expectation? Absolutely. Fairness doesn't come into though, not when Rangers have been provided with a timely vehicle to vent all their frustration with events at Ibrox towards an opponent rather than fighting internally.

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Absence has hit both clubs hard in very different ways

Celtic fans and indeed the Parkhead hierarchy may not care to indulge this particular strand of the storyline too freely, but they need a thriving Rangers far more than they'd care to remember.

Hoops chief executive Peter Lawwell puts the cost of their continued absence from the top flight at £10 million a season, not to mention the wider global perception that the Scottish game is stuck in perpetual purgatory while they wait for their marquee attraction to return.

Hoops supporters wanted Rangers kicked to the curb as punishment for considerable off-field transgressions, a perfectly understandable reaction when it comes to a rivalry entrenched in every ideology from religion to national identity.

That stance smacks of misplaced pride though, because If they think incredible Champions League nights at Celtic Park against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich are sustainable in the long-term without genuine rivalry on the home front they are sorely mistaken.

Can Rangers raise their game?

All eyes will be on a genuine must-see moment in Scottish football for the first time in three years at an absolute minimum, but more than being any kind of great spectacle or exhibition football the match badly needs to competitive.

We're not asking for a cheeky chip bringing back memories of Henrik Larsson here, or a long-range blockbuster with shades of Pedro Mendes, but a Celtic landslide would be nothing short of disastrous and could have wide-reaching implications.

Fierce challenges, total unwavering commitment and the odd dash of quality in the final third would suffice, stopping just short of the ugly scenes generated by a landslide win for Rangers at Celtic Park back in 1999.

That fierce showdown lives long in the memory among 399 meetings between the two sides to date, primarily for the wrong reasons thought it has to said.

Referee Hugh Dallas took a coin to the head and later had his windows smashed as Rangers ran out 3-0 winners at Celtic Park, in a match which featured three red cards and resulted in more than 100 arrests, widespread condemnation and calls for a serious rethink in terms of managing the fixture moving forward.

Controversy creates cash though; there's no other game on the British Isles that can generate that kind of attention. If contained and controlled the raw feeling surrounding the fixture can lay the foundations for sustained future competition, but that of course is a massive if.

Can the Hampden cauldron be contained?

Celtic fans lit the blue touch paper ahead of the resumption of on-field hostilities earlier this week, crowd sourcing £3,000 to place a newspaper advert in Sunday's Scottish Herald which rubs salt straight into the wound of recent Rangers struggles.

The propaganda piece includes the line: “Celtic supporters believe there is no track record of matches between Celtic and our semi-final opponents and that the game on 1 February is in fact the first meeting between Celtic and the new Rangers club, which was established in 2012.”

A fringe view that Sunday's view is the 'first ever meeting' between the two clubs rather than the 400th was never likely to garner a positive reaction, with a vocal minority threatening to undermine the positive gesture of a formal donation from Celtic to the fund for stricken Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen's fight against Motor Neurone Disease.

Rangers supporters trust responds

The last thing this match needed was another combustible element thrown into the mix, no matter how big the temptation to make light of Mike Ashley and his partners getting feet firmly under the table at Murray Park. That's unless he decides to sell it off of course.

A statement from the Rangers Supporters Trust in response has expressed concern over a post they believe has been placed deliberately to incite trouble.

Taking a quick flick through some of the hate-filled forums professing fandom for either institution would get Deila to do a u-turn on his hope to enjoy a fun-filled Sunday at Scotland's national stadium.

There is a job to do for everyone who holds the game dear north of the border and that includes harbouring the passion that envelops its oldest rivalry, to the point where its most loyal supporters aren't forced to go from feast to famine once again following Sunday's long overdue resumption of on-field hostilities.

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