WHEN Celtic and Rangers do battle on the pitch, everybody stops to watch.
Far fewer take notice when a tussle takes place behind the scenes.
But the scrap that is happening right now proves the return of the Old Firm is breathing new life into Scottish football.
In one corner, it’s Celtic and Brendan Rodgers.
In the other, Rangers and Frank McParland.
And the prize? Plundering Liverpool – then the rest of the Premier League – for the best of their young talent.
The Gers won first blood when they plucked teenage midfielder Jordan Rossiter from the Reds’ academy on a permanent deal.
But before Rangers’ head of recruitment – and former Liverpool academy director – McParland could even begin to enjoy the moment, along came Rodgers and the plot thickened.
The new Bhoys boss wasted no time in whipping out his own Anfield contacts book with a view to nabbing £3.5 million-rated Joe Gomez on loan
As far as one-upmanship goes, that’s a beezer – and Hoops fans will be loving it.
Gomez picked up Premier League and Europa League experience with Liverpool last year before a nasty injury ended his season.
Now he has recovered, Jurgen Klopp wants the teenager to play games at a decent level – and Celtic can provide them.
If Rodgers gets his man, it will be advantage Celtic in this first Old Firm squabble of the season.
But I reckon McParland still has a few aces stashed up his sleeve, and he’ll play them before long.
Signing Joey Barton was a huge coup for the Gers – a real statement of intent.
But Celtic pulled off one of their own by tying Brendan down as boss, and I can’t wait to see who he can attract to Parkhead.
I think at least one big-name player will arrive this summer as the Bhoys’ Board backs their big-name manager.
But in the meantime, getting stuck into the loan market is a sensible way to start.
As Rangers proved at the start of the season, there is value to be had in picking up the best of the young talent floating around the fringes of Premier League squads.
That might seem like an indication of the struggles Scottish football now faces.
But it’s reality – and the sooner we all embrace it the better.
The days of Rangers signing top English talent are gone, and Celtic can’t expect to pick up a team of internationalists on £30,000-a-week each any more.
The money simply isn’t there – but the big-club experience still is. Both clubs can benefit from being the place talented youngsters from top clubs in England come to test their nerve and develop their skills.
Ibrox and Celtic Park are pressure-cooker football grounds – the kind of places big players need to get used to.
Both will be full week-in, week-out next season.
And in terms of profile, Scottish football can benefit too.
That’s why I can’t wait to see how this summer plays out off-the-park between Scottish football’s re-united big two.
After all, that is what will dictate who wins the on-field battle next season.
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