As we head into a new season at Rangers, the club’s razor-sharp focus on another title tilt and a shot at Champions League glory is evidently clear.
The Gers have cut an evolved figure this pre-season – as has manager Steven Gerrard – as expectations rise alongside standards in the club’s camp.
Gone are the days of overhauls and here are those of forward planning and expert execution. Even the pre-season schedule looks decidedly different.
Out go far flung qualifiers against lowly opposition in the Europa League, in come Arsenal and Real Madrid.
But whilst the Ibrox club can only control what is within their wheelhouse, across the city things also couldn’t be going much better from a Rangers point of view.
New Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou cut a dejected and frustrated figure over the weekend as his side fell to an unconvincing friendly defeat to Preston North End.
Pre-season or not, it was clear the Aussie manager was upset and this was an early indication of the pressure which is already beginning to mount.
🍀 Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou gives his verdict on a disappointing preseason loss to Preston and what it means heading into the Champions League qualifiers
🗣️ "It was a struggle the whole game." pic.twitter.com/gWUw7P8Ey4
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) July 17, 2021
Fast forward a few days and suddenly there are gripes regarding the speed at which transfers are being completed – with that old word “hesitated” rearing its head at Parkhead again – as a threadbare square prepares for their own Champions League journey.
Talks of a “miracle” wildcard addition to their Euro squad only served to support the notion that this will be a short-lived excursion amongst Europe’s elite.
Spaces need filled at Parkhead and they need filled quickly, with the domestic campaign less than a fortnight away and project players and teenagers the only names through the door.
It’s a predictable and altogether hilarious scenario thus far and the popcorn is already being prepped ahead of another season of discontent at Parkhead.
Rangers meanwhile continue to do all the right things.
Steven Gerrard has the air of a man well aware of his surroundings by now, more mature in stature, commanding in commentary and decisive in action.
The Liverpool legend has spoke about last season just being the beginning; so far the energy coming out of Ibrox suggests that is very much the case.
The infrastructure at Rangers – at every level being matched against that modern footballing buzzword “elite” – has helped fill out a squad who already call themselves Champions.
The signings of Fashion Sakala and John Lundstram – who had Premier League clubs at their door – stand out as well-planned, decisive and deliberate transfer moves, aimed at improving in specific areas.
With talk of a £7m offer for Dutch playmaker Joey Veerman [Glasgow Times] and the positive suggestion of more moves from the Gaffer, they won’t be the only examples of this.
Of course, both sides need to deal with the threat of losing their top talent but the one major difference is that those at Ibrox don’t seem in any major rush to leave.
Even if Rangers can learn from Celtic’s stubbornness in refusing to let their top players go on the cheap.
Before pre-season the smart money was on Rangers; as we prepare for the big-kick off it has to be said that it would wholly irresponsible to place dosh on a Celtic which is in veritable tatters.
The difference in professionalism and structure at both sides appears more a chasm than a gap, something exemplified by this early transfer business.
And Rangers’ razor-sharp focus on the season ahead is threatening to widen it even further as Celtic flap from one disaster to the next on and off the pitch.
As Rangers prepare to bolster their squad ahead of next season, one major target has been included in his current club’s training camp despite talk of an Ibrox bid.