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Could Old Firm bosses win titles with other clubs?

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Jim Spence | 16:26 UK time, Monday, 25 April 2011

How do you measure the talent and ability of an Old Firm manager?
Could Neil Lennon or Walter Smith win the Scottish Premier League title with any club outside of the Old Firm?
The last team outside of the Glasgow pair to win the top flight was Aberdeen back in the 1984/85 season.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith

Sir Alex Ferguson (left) and Walter Smith have had success in Scotland in different eras. Photo: SNS

With one half of the duo set to take the top prize for the 26th season in succession, it begs the question: are Old Firm managers more talented than others or are they winning the league because of their huge extra resources?
Could Smith win the SPL, for instance, with his old club Dundee United?
Wattie, was and still is much cherished by United fans of a certain vintage, who recall his time as a player and as a coach under Jim McLean with great affection.
He played a huge part in United's glory years in Europe.
But that was pre-Bosman and before the Old Firm had seriously exercised their financial muscle, which was first unleashed at Ibrox during the Graeme Souness era and radically reshaped the Scottish game.

Lennon is now in a strong position to cap a great first season in management by winning the SPL.
But could he do the same if he was manager of Aberdeen?
The Dons went one better than United in not only reaching, but winning a European final, two, if you count their Super Cup triumph.
But in today's environment where both clubs pay around a sixth of Old Firm wages and can no longer retain the services of giants like Wille Miller and Alex McLeish or Dave Narey and Paul Hegarty, for their entire careers, could Old Firm managers either past or present, achieve today a fraction of what McLean and Sir Alex Ferguson did with those clubs.
So how do you measure the ability of an Old Firm boss?


  • Comment number 1.

    There's no longer any way that any ex-old firm manager could be successful with anyone else. Unless of course, there's a major 'adjustment' in terms of football finances (see recent sky tv court case) and wages fall to more realistic levels. Then, and only then can the NE teams compete again

  • Comment number 2.

    The game is so much changed for anyone to really compete with either of the Old Firm (or certainly Celtic for the foreseeable future - unless Rangers are bought over and do not lose their tax case).

    The 80s was a completely different scenario than today - Celtic and Rangers, together, averaged less crowds than what one of them now does whereas Aberdeen could get averages c16-17,000. This was comparable to Celtic when they pipped Hearts for the league in 1986 (c21,000).

    Debt is also a huge problem at these clubs - Aberdeen, Utd et al can rarely afford to keep their best players and can't even demand top dollar for them either, yet both Rangers and Celtic have spent upward of £30m in the last four seasons, with Rangers spending over £15m in players in one season.

    The net debt at the likes of Aberdeen and Utd are beyond their annual turnover and must be crippling them. Put into perspective, Aberdeen's debt (as a percentage of turnover) would be like Celtic or Rangers being £75m+ in debt.

    It's worth pointing out that despite the much more level playing field* during the early 80s that the Old Firm won 7 out of 15 trophies available from 79/80-83/84, so there was never any true dominance during that period.

    *I say level playing field, Rangers were still reeling from the massive expenditure on Ibrox and subsequent lack of funding for player development.

  • Comment number 3.

    The simple answer to the question Jim is no.
    Rangers and Celtics players are vastly superior to everbody elses in the league by default. A gang of monkeys could do what Neil lennons done with the millions hes had to spend. Just try watching the games involving the old firm against non old firm clubs on ESPN. Celtic v Kilmarnock & Dundee Utd V Rangers in the SPL and Celtic V Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup were three of the most pathetically one sided games ive ever seen.
    The worst thing is virtually all the games are this one sided unless the glasgow two have the occasional off day.
    The glasgow pairs dominance is ruining the game and im surprised the tv channels even want to show such boring rubbish any more.
    We have to inject some competition into the game somehow.

  • Comment number 4.

    The only measurement that counts for an OF boss is the league title. Second is not an option as many a 'failed' manager has found to his cost.

    The OF do have considerably more resources than others, though they may be just as much defined by the 'will to win' in their management teams as Martin O'Neill so ably demonstrated in taking on Advocat's £90m outfit.

    Could Wattie win a title with DUtd? In today's scenario almost certainly not. Wouldn't get close.

    Could Lennon win a title with any other SPL club? As above.

    The facts tell you that only 16 or 17 non-OF clubs have won the Scottish title since 1893. Even in the days when the disparity in resources was less than now, the OF still dominated with occasional blips from Aberdeen under Fergie and DUtd under McLean.

    The only pre-season question that counts in Scotland is: will it be Rangers or will it be Celtic. The rest of them have historically as they are now, playing for the occasional trophy in the occasional good couple of years.

  • Comment number 5.

    The disparity in resources between the OF and the rest of us answers your question Jim. Were Mickey Mouse at Celtic and Donald Duck at Rangers there would still only be two teams in it.

    Rob04 above makes a good point re. measuring the relative ability between OF managers. O'Neill did well against Advocat's millions. Rangers fans I am sure can argue that Smith has done remarkably well against Lennon despite the relative financial condition of the two clubs. Celtic should really be home and hosed by now which says a lot for Smith and his coaches.

    The sad thing, for us non OF fans, is that this duopoly will not be broken any time soon, if ever.

  • Comment number 6.

    The posters here all make valid points - check out the Martin Samuel article in today's Daily Mail. He draws an interesting parallel with what's happening in Spain.

  • Comment number 7.

    You measure the talent and success of an Old Firm manager by how well they do in Europe against sides that have the same or far greater resources.

    To that extent we can say that Walter Smith has been somewhat successful by taking Rangers to the final of the UEFA Cup. But that success is offset by years of underperformance in Europe when they arguably had the players to do better. Martin O'Neil can be regarded as a success because he also took Celtic to a UEFA Cup Final (and narrowly lost to the following seasons Champions League winners - managed by Jose Mourinho), and he made Celtic unbeatable at home. Gordon Strachan was also successful - taking Celtic to the CL last sixteen twice.

    If the hidden question is: will it ever be possible for another side outside the Old Firm to again win the SPL then my answer is yes. But it will take a very good manager (perhaps a genius) and he will have to be lucky.

    There has never been a more fortunate time to compete against the Old Firm.

    Rangers are in deep financial trouble and both Old Firm clubs have downsized somewhat. All it will now take is for a very good manager to be fortunate to discover a group of very talented young players within a club with a very good scouting and coaching system.....and then hold on to them for two or three seasons. That's how Alex Ferguson brought success to Pittodrie and then Old Trafford and it's how Brian Clough brought success to the Baseball and City Grounds respectively.

    England is now like Scotland. Can a small club like Derby or Forest win the EPL again? Yes. But where we need to unearth another genius like McLean or Ferguson, England needs to discover another genius like Clough (though the contribution of Peter Taylor should never be forgotten).

  • Comment number 8.

    Football as we know it is about to see a major transformation - just wait and see. When the big financial bubble really begins to burst we will see a much more even playing field - at home and abroad. Those who have missed out from fiscal prudence will see their prudence rewarded. That means good times lie ahead for the likes of Arsenal, Celtic and Hibs, and the German clubs in Europe. These are the clubs who have lived within their means and will be best placed to take advantage when the wheels come off.

    If you are a supporter of Man Utd or Liverpool you should be very worried.

    The disparity in wealth has been caused by the TV deals. It will the reduction in the value of such deals that will bring greater parity.

    Internet piracy is going to seriously dent the pockets of the TV companies. The knock-on effect of being able to watch "pay-per-view" games for free via one's internet connection means that those TV companies will have less customers, less income, and so less to offer the clubs. The prima donnas pockets will be hard hit too - and not before time!

  • Comment number 9.

    Agree with much of this. There is surely a growing awareness among fans of internet piracy. Some people say its remarkably easy to do if anyone had a mind to do it. And you are right on the value of economic prudence.

    The OF monopoly in Scotland may be naturally broken at some point anyway as clubs search for bigger markets and the TV companies angle for a better product than the current endless raft of pointless SPL or EPL games. 10 years ago the idea of a European League would have been treated as a bit of fun but these days not so.

    And nice reminder of Clough and Taylor at #7, and how small teams could be dragged up to the dizzy heights of Europe without a chequebook fuelling the adventure.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think the general consensus is that Jose Mourinho and Pepe Guardiola combined couldn't win the title with any other Scottish club outside the Old Firm.

  • Comment number 11.

    At #7,

    You make many excellent points. In the 'non OF success debate' your most telling one rather negates your theory. Raising of a crop of talented youngsters " .... and then hold onto them for two or three seasons." is a credible solution but, very sadly, unsustainable in practice.

    In the halcyon pre-Bosman days Jim McLean was able to lock his young talent into unbreakable long-term contracts. The result was success on the field.

    Had my own side been able to do the same over the last number of years we would be a very good side indeed. Hibs are only able to pay players up to a certain level. Many young players have seemed happy with their lot until an agent sidles up and whispers ' I can get you 15K a week at Rangers/Celtic ', or any side in the Championship for that matter, then a transfer becomes inevitable. You can't blame the young player in this scenario, it is simply a fact of life.

    Given this situation there is no prospect of non OF title success.

  • Comment number 12.


    The current Rangers squad cost more than the current Celtic one. People tend to forget that whilst Smith had a season (that's one season) where he didn't buy a player, he spent upwards of £25m the previous two and another £6m this season (fees that we know about).

    In the New Year Old Firm match, Rangers had one player that cost more than 9 of Celtic's starting 11.

    Smith's asset management is horrendous in my opinion.

  • Comment number 13.

    If you have a club like Celtic, Hibs or Arsenal - clubs that have missed out on success by exercising good fiscal sense - then holding on to a group of talented players might be difficult under the current circumstances we find ourselves in. But I'm arguing that change is afoot.

    It is remarkably easy to watch football games for free online, and as broadband becomes ever faster and our computers become more powerful, it will become even more attractive. Popular high-street entertainment media and adult magazine publishers have struggled to stay afloat because their customers can now obtain bucketloads of music, movies and pornography online without paying a dime for it.

    The same will be true of sport.

    Currently Celtic struggle to attract a certain calibre of player against competition from Championship clubs and smaller EPL clubs - because of TV money. What happens when that TV income is no longer there? Make no mistake: it won't be there for much longer. Because in a worryingly short space of time (if you're Liverpool, Man Utd, Cardiff etc) your TV money is going to disappear as quickly as customers cancel their viewing contracts to watch games for free online. How then, can many clubs continue to hoover up the talent from their more fiscally prudent rivals?

    Rangers will not be in a position to take their rivals best players. There might not even be a Rangers in eighteen months! And if there is no Rangers then Celtic will not have the same levels of income either. Even if Celtic can afford to buy good players and keep hold of them, there will be a greater pool of players available to Arsenal, Hibs, Seville, Everton, etc and they will have less suitors in a position to take their talent away.

    So Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho combined may not currently be able to wrestle the SPL out of the hands of the Old Firm - but that's about to change my friends. A greater equilibrium will soon be upon us. The big clubs will always be the big clubs and enjoy a greater degree of success - through sheer weight of numbers generating income via the turnstiles. But TV income will be vastly reduced as the customer base that pays for it reduces and this will benefit the smaller clubs.

  • Comment number 14.

    TV has destroyed competition in England and Scotland domestically and it has destroyed competition in Europe.

    When the bubble deflates (rather than bursts - a poor choice of word earlier) sides like Ajax, PSV, Benfica, Celtic, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Anderlecht etc, will all re-emerge as forces to be reckoned with again.

    Personally, those times cannot come quickly enough.

  • Comment number 15.

    IRN @ 14.

    I could not agree more. My concern is that the bubble is not about to deflate any time soon.

    In the day when SKY was a blue thing overhead supporters of clubs similar to mine had a reasonable chance of success given fiscal prudency and an excellent youth system. We have both but the big money is elsewhwere due to TV.

    The current rumblings from Platini re. clubs with enormous debts is a chimera. These clubs are listed on the Stock Exchange, in the UK at any rate, which rates them as a bussiness

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry I shall continue.

    as a business and have little regard for the niceities of any governing body.

  • Comment number 17.

    As people have rightly pointed out the SPL is a straight forward two horse race. I'd always hoped that investment and a new stadium might have given Hearts at least some sort of platform to compete. No offence to the other clubs out there, but Hearts seem to have looked like the most likely to do the above in recent years.

    It does strike me as strange that Scotlands capital doesn't have a bigger football club than either Hibs or Hearts. By every objective measure, Edinburgh is a superior city to Glasgow, particularly in terms of wealth and with a population approaching half a million it should have a football club to reflect this.

  • Comment number 18.

    By ‘every objective’ measure superior to Glasgow? Not superior in terms of population either and for your argument, not superior in terms of having a football culture. Even a football backwater like Aberdeen has won a European trophy.

    Edinburgh has a wealthier but smaller population: a predominantly middle-class profile. The poorer classes largely live on the periphery, where the m-classes don’t have to see them. It’s a rugby not a football city, where Scotland’s elites send their kids to school, have coffee and plan their annual ski holidays over snifters of whisky and the skirl of the ‘plastic’ pipes, tartan and shortbread. Unsurprisingly given this profile, every second child is called Cameron, Angus or Douglas, Emily, Olivia or Charlotte.

    If the first question to people in Glasgow is ‘what school did you go to’ as a proxy for what team you support or what religion you are, in Edinburgh, its about networks and what private school you attended.

    Superior in attitude? Always!

    Investment in Hearts? Your club is £35m in debt. Sold its traditions to foreign owners and used as a slush marketing platform for foreign players that you couldn’t otherwise afford.

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear oh dear Rob,

    Never had you down as having a chip on your shoulder ! Touch of generalisation surely. I was born in Meadowbank, raised in Abbeyhill and, because my parents worked damned hard, spent my teenage years in Duddingston which is very nice. I attended state schools, am not not called Cameron nor are my brothers, my sister is not Olivia. My parents were raised in Pilton and Granton respectively which were perfectly decent housing schemes until the Corporation lost interest in the late 70's. I do enjoy a dram right enough but have never been ski-ing though.

    Edinburgh is emphatically not a rugby city. I would surprised if the average crowds for the sole senior side exceed these for Glasgow at Firhill. You need to go down to the Borders for exclusive devotion to the funny ball.

    Phew, glad to have got that off my chest ! Do remember that for every Morningside there is a Kelvinside, every Barnton there is a Newton Mearns etc. etc. 'Fur coat and nae drawers' is not the exclusive preserve of the capital.

    The main reason why Edinburgh is vastly superior to Glasgow is that you cannae get brown sauce on your fish supper west of Broxburn. No idea why you put up with it !

  • Comment number 20.

    No chip at all Hibby. I lived and worked in Edinburgh for over a decade and always gave as good as I got among the private school crowd. Couldn't resist a generalisation or two given some bait to do it!

    'Fur coat and nae drawers' not heard that in a while!!

    Bad news though: I smuggled a lifetime supply of brown sauce past Harthill! I prefer my suppers that way!

  • Comment number 21.

    No offence to the other clubs out there, but Hearts seem to have looked like the most likely to do the above in recent years.
    Not really.

    I mean, Dundee Utd are the current holders of the Scottish Cup and finished third in the SPL last season. Hearts are favourites to finish third this season but Utd could still pip them and won't be far behind. In addition, Hearts owe about £35m (to Vlad and other creditors). For that outlay, it's surprising that Hearts have not finished at least third in every season in recent memory. But in the last 10 seasons have finished 2nd just the once and outside the top three on six occasions.

    As for the city debate: what criteria do you set?

    I work in Edinburgh and, having many Glaswegian relatives, I know Glasgow well. I studied at Dundee Uni. My favourite? Dundee by a country mile. You can keep your art galleries, posh schools, and your big city jobs. It's people that make a city great and in my experience you'd have to travel far to find a better city than Dundee. But I admit that in my four years at uni there I couldn't find a good chippy in the city - where they fry your chicken in fish batter!! You need to go up to Arbroath to get a good chippy! :-)

    Edinburgh is a rather hollow, egotistical and grandiose city. Rather like the poster who personifies those attitudes.

  • Comment number 22.

    # 20 & 21,

    Given my obvious allegiance I felt unable to respond to #17. Glad I did'nt. Give the bloke some credit though. To receive a good kicking from two of the more considered contributors is an achievement in itself.

    Similar background IRN. Student years in Dundee. Had an absolute blast. One of our daughters teaches in the city so I get down there a lot. You're right about the chippies but you can still get a decent peh. Sorry, pie.

    Glad that you're ten year Eastern exile did some good Rob. Been up North nearly 30 years. Salt and vinegar up here too. Barbaric !

  • Comment number 23.

    Good question .... ANY manager of the OF either finishes 1st or 2nd in the SPL.
    The other teams in the SPL are poor quality(St Johnstone,Inverness CT ...etc) no better than many of the League 2 teams in England.

    This week end attendances prove my point how little resources the non OF teams have to compete versus the OF.Aberdeen v Inverness CT (6,280),Kilmarnock v Hearts (5,006) in the SPL and Bury v Wycombe (6,238),Gillingham v Macclesfield (6,841)

  • Comment number 24.


    Monkeys with typewriters might eventually produce shakespeare but as you can see even monkeys with a calculator can't understand arithmetic

    Factor in the population size between the nations and a difference of over x10 between England and Scotland. So if a team in Scotland got 5006 of a Saturday that might be equivalent to...??? in England

    Sadly I don't think even this will help him.

  • Comment number 25.


    It's quasi-coherent trolling, imo.

    Salt&Vinegar > Brown Sauce.

  • Comment number 26.

    At 13/14. The bubble wont burst. TV money may go down, and with it fees and wages but the big clubs will still be proportionally bigger than the smaller ones. Just less money will be spent on acquiring these players as the smaller and middle teams will also be squeezed and need to accept lesser fees. Sure, some might get closer to the big guns but the main teams will still be top dogs and win most things as per status quo.

  • Comment number 27.


    Aye you're right. Should we have expected anything else ?

    He must have a hide like a rhino though or he has'nt seen #s 27, 28 and 29 of Jim's last blog.

  • Comment number 28.

    Judging the Celtic and Rangers managers against their counterparts outside of Scotland is simple. How well have they done outside of Scotland, for example in Europe? For Neil Lennon it's a bit early to judge, but Walter Smith has had a mixed bag over the years. You can't take the UEFA cup final run away from the guy, there are plenty of 'good' managers in England who have been into Europe but not reached a final. Maybe his time at Everton wasn't great, but as I say a mixed bag.

    Regarding a manager from another club winning the SPL I'd have to say yes. There seems to be lots of talk about financial clout but the truth is that not all the best players cost a lot of money. Money gives you the ability, and the chance, to find success sooner.

    As I'm sure you can guess from my login who I support and looking at the cost of some of the players in the team you have to ask why can't other teas find these gems?

    Are they investing in youth but letting the scouting network wither? Maybe they do not have the name and the lure of European football that Celtic and Rangers have, but who said they have to win it in one year? Build towards it, don't sell all your players the minute you build a good team. Both Hibs and Hearts have been guilty of this in my opinion.

    I'd love there to be more to Scottish football than just Celtic and Rangers, I hate the Old Firm tag and wish we could lose it. What Scottish football needs is a vibrant challenging league and that needs time and investment.

    We need to get rid of the current structure and go back to less, but larger leagues. Giving teams the comfort zone of not worrying about relegation. Less games against Celtic and Rangers might hurt with attendances. I honestly don't know how many people turn up to see Hibs play Motherwell, but in time this will be addresed if the offering on the pitch improves.

    Teach the kids how to pass the ball, build up their strength so they are not brushed off the ball and give them time.

    Don't get me wrong I want Celtic to win the league every year from now until hell freezes over, but I'd rather we did it in a country with a challenging and powerful league we could all be proud of.

    Hail Hail

  • Comment number 29.


    You have deliberately missed my point.

    Success in the SPL for OF managers playing teams with minimal resources (Inverness CT,St Johnstone ....4 times per season) is no measure of success.Anyone of the SPL managers could win the league if they managed an OF team.

    Would Lennon or Smith win the SPL if they managed ANY other team outside the OF?.The answer is no.

    Try beating Braga or Utrecht in Europe,or maybe that is to difficult for the OF teams who are ranked 31st and 53rd in Europe.

  • Comment number 30.

    No tom I just showed that this like the vast majority of your repetitive points are just built on dry sand.

    Anyone can win a title with the OF? Really? Long list of people who couldn't win a title with the OF: Tony Mowbray? John Barnes?

  • Comment number 31.

    Hi Jim.

    To answer your question. No.


    Love you.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi Jim,

    For fear of straying from the original point - what's your favourite food and TV programme?

    Also, describe how kittens make you feel in 3 words.


  • Comment number 33.


    Paul le Guen - fantastic manager.

    SPL FAIL. 'nuff said.

  • Comment number 34.

    I suppose the true test would be to see what ex-Old Firm managers have achieved outwith Glasgow.

    Souness - Won FA Cup (Liverpool), Turkish Cup (Galatasaray), League Cup (Blackburn)

    Smith - Nothing of note. Success with Scotland.

    McLeish - 2nd in Scottish Leage (Motherwell), Won Scottish League 1 (Hibs), Success with Scotland, League Cup (Birmingham)

    Advocaat - Quarter Finals W/C (Holland), KNVB Cup, Eredivisie (PSV), Semi Final Euro 2004 (Holland), Russian Premier League, Russian Super Cup, UEFA Cup, Super Cup (Zenit St Petersbourg)

    Le Guen - 3 x French League 1, 3 x Champions Trophy (Lyon), League Cup (PSG)

    Tommy Burns - Won Scottish League 1 (Kilmarnock)

    Wim Jansen - 2 x Dutch Cup, Semi Finals Cup Winners Cup (Feyenoord)

    Jo Venglos - 2 x Czechoslovakian League Winners (Slovan Bratislava), 3rd Place Euro Championships, Quarter Finals W/C (Czechoslovakia)

    Kenny Dalglish - 3 x English League Title, 2 x FA Cup (Liverpool), English League Title (Blackburn)

    Martin O'Neill - 2 x League Cup (Leicester)

    Worth noting from this list that the most successful, Dalglish was only an interim manager at Celtic. Advocaat was already a big name when he arrived at Rangers, so no surprise to see him continue to have success with Zenit, albeit backed by huge sums of money.

    I'd say the biggest achievement of the ex-Old Firm managers is Alex McLeish's recent Leauge Cup victory with Birmingham.

  • Comment number 35.

    I'd say the biggest achievement of the ex-Old Firm managers is Alex McLeish's recent Leauge Cup victory with Birmingham.

    Even though Martin O'Neil won two League Cups at Leicester (a smaller club?) and reached another League Cup final?? You also need to look at where Aston Villa were before O'Neil took over - and look also at where they are now.

    Celtic were dreadfully unlucky to have met Porto in their UEFA Cup final. Managed by one of the best managers in recent history and up against a side that went on to lift the Champions League trophy the following year, they still took the tie to extra time and at no point did they ever look a class below Porto. No, for me, Martin O'Neil is the highest achiever out of the ex-Old Firm managers.


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