Not since the halcyon and competitive days of the mid ’00s has Scottish football contained so much intrigue across multiple competitions.
The days of Celtic throwing their weight around in the top of the European tree seem to be over for good, and twinned with the inherently unbalancing effect of TV deals at the same time, Scottish football started a decline that the administration and subsequent relegation of Rangers did not help to extinguish.
Since Rangers’ relegation Celtic have won the Premiership a highly impressive yet totally predictable four times, and as Rangers climbed up the divisions, comfortably winning Division Three and Division Two, the competitiveness of a once great league was draining away faster than a holey bucket.
The 2015/16 season however has thrown some masking tape over the holes and thanks to the resurgence of a young and defensively solid Hibs team managed by ex-Celtic and Everton player Alan Stubbs, a Hearts team beating Rangers to the Championship last season, and Motherwell hammering the nail in the coffin of Rangers’ promotion hopes in the play-off finals, the competitive spirit of Scottish football is back in business.
While Celtic continue to look more than favourites for their fifth title in as many years, Aberdeen are snapping at their heels despite a far inferior budget.
However, the real intrigue is a division below in a battle between two teams that believe they belong in the Premiership. Rangers, a superior side in terms of squad depth, financial power, and fan-base, are in prime position to go up this season.
After making the most of their financial power in the summer by poaching the best of the relegated Wigan Athletic side, including star players such as Liam Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn while retaining the core of the squad that so nearly were promoted last season, the Ibrox club sits at the top of the table after a convincing victory over Hibs on 28 December.
Hibernian on the other hand are a different proposition. Managed by an impressive Stubbs, their squad of home-grown and youth players have finally begun to provide results on a consistent basis, a world away from the struggles of Stubbs’ first three months in charge with only five wins in 11 league games.
The squad Stubbs has built is impressive considering Hibs’ budget; a healthy mix of experience and youth, the average age of the Easter Road squad is 24.5.
This cornucopia of different factors and contrasting budgets – Rangers have spent over half a million while in the Championship while Hibs have recruited through free transfers – and the refreshing trust in youth, has made the Championship one of the most engrossing leagues in the UK this season.
The two managers embroiled in a war of words for most of the season, with Stubbs calling Warburton’s rebuilding job at Rangers “very easy” and Warburton hitting back before the game in December stating that he was more worried about what to get his wife for Christmas than what Stubbs had to say about Rangers.
This battle of the tactical minds, with Warburton succeeding with Brentford in England before coming up to Scotland, and Stubbs learning his trade under David Moyes at Everton, alongside the inter-city rivalry, has revitalised Scottish football. The meeting of the two sides on 28 December, which was picked by BT Sport for live TV coverage, shows the increase in interest from the companies that will decide the future of Scottish football.
Assuming both clubs are promoted this season either by winning the league or through the play-offs, Scottish football will finally have the competitiveness it craves. The return of the Old Firm combined with a renewed and now recent rivalry between Hibs and Rangers, and the return of the Edinburgh derby will only increase the competitiveness of the league.
Image courtesy of daniel0685