Rangers, Celtic and the Perils of a Zero-Sum Recreation

Rangers, Celtic and the Perils of a Zero-Sum Game

Scotland occupies a strange, oversized place in the football landscape. It’s a small country by most standards: about five and a half million people, about the size of Slovakia, slightly smaller than Bulgaria, half the size of Portugal.

But partly because of its historical importance to the sport – it’s the place where the passing game was invented, which inspired professionalism, produced some of the game’s most famous players, and for a considerable period of time most likely owned the best or second best national team in the world – them does not judge itself as a small country.

The fact that Scotland hadn’t competed in a major tournament since 1998 since qualifying for the postponed European Championship that summer was a source of embarrassment and unrest that in all likelihood would not really occur in Slovakia (in fairness Slovakia recently participated in major tournaments.

Also, the nature of the old company – both the size and scope of its clubs, with their huge stadiums, global fan bases, rich stories and relentless hostilities – skew the reality of Scottish football.

For Celtic and Rangers, winning is important at all times – to adorn their own reputations and contain that of their rivals. It leads to a way of thinking in which tomorrow must absolutely be sacrificed for today, because losing today is unfathomable.

This logic was brought to full fruition when the thought of 10 in a row consumed both clubs. Celtic have failed to refresh their roster for fear of the consequences of a mistake. Rangers had to invest heavily, often in players in their prime, to catch up as quickly as possible.

However, this approach is inconsistent with the most forward-looking clubs in leagues of comparable size: places like Belgium, Denmark, Austria, and to some extent even Portugal.