Football Features

From the UCL’s oldest Brit to Dybala’s strike partner: Stats & stories behind Rangers’ last Scottish champions

By Ben Green

Published: 19:18, 22 May 2020

It is now nine years since Rangers last lifted the Scottish Premiership trophy.

Few would really have predicted any other outcome had the SPFL chosen not to end the season early and award Celtic the 2019/20 title. Neil Lennon’s men held a 13-point lead over their Glasgow rivals just before the coronavirus pandemic brought the campaign to a halt, after all. That makes it nine titles in a row for the Bhoys, many of which they have not had to contest with their fiercest rivals.

Before financial ruin jeopardised the club’s existence in 2012 (and sent them all the way down to what was then known as the Irn Bru Scottish Football League Third Division), the Gers were accustomed to consistent silverware and drama-fuelled title races.

Their last taste of such glory came in 2010/11, when a Walter Smith-inspired Rangers clinched the club’s 54th title, a record that still stands to this day. This, of course, was only one year before the liquidation of Rangers’ holding company. The resulting departures created ripples that would influence a diverse array of competitions, from the Premier League to the Turkish Super Lig and Italy’s Serie B.

Goalkeeper: Allan McGregor

  • Age: 38
  • Appearances for Rangers: 350
  • Current side: Rangers

The Scottish veteran was indispensable in 2010/11 with his dexterous exploits yielding 22 cleans sheets, including one against Celtic with five matches remaining. He saved a Georgios Samaras penalty during the 0-0 in April less than 10 minutes from time and the Gers went on to win the title by just the single point.

Despite his heroics on the field, McGregor has been no stranger to controversy off it. In 2009, the Edinburgh-born ‘keeper was banned from representing Scotland for his part in the so-called Boozegate scandal alongside Barry Ferguson. The duo were involved in an early-hours drinking session while on international duty with Scotland, an incident that took place just after a defeat against the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier.

Then manager George Burley dropped the pair for the following game, and they proceeded to flick V signs at photographers while on the bench, prompting the SFA Board to sanction a lifetime ban. However, following the appointment of Craig Levein, McGregor was reintroduced to the international fold and went on to win the Scottish Sports Writers International Player of the Year award for 2010/11, just two years after ‘Boozegate’.

His last appearance for Scotland came in a crucial 3-2 win over Israel in the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, where his match-winning save from Tomer Hemed secured his country a Euro 2020 play-off place and a Nations League promotion. Steven Gerrard branded the save “world class”.

It’s safe to say McGregor’s 19-year career has been fraught with many Jekyll and Hyde moments; from beating Loris Karius to the Besiktas wooden spoon when he was named the club’s worst ‘keeper in last 20 years, to reaching the FA Cup final with Hull City. 

He’s now back with Rangers. But despite all those years of experience, even he can’t seem to shy away from blowing hot and cold on the pitch. Described as “gold dust” by Gerrard upon re-signing in 2018, the former Liverpool man changed his tune after this bizarre red card incident against Hibernian last season…

Right-back: Steven Whittaker

  • Age: 35
  • Appearances for Rangers: 196
  • Current side: Hibernian

The buccaneering defender was the perfect tonic for Alan Hutton’s departure to Tottenham in 2008, switching from an unorthodox left-back role in his maiden campaign to his habitual right-back berth soon after, where his surging runs, timely challenges and ruthless penalties helped Rangers to plenty of trophies.

But, like McGregor and many others, Whittaker spent just one more season with Rangers after their 2011 triumph, opting to try his luck further afield rather than the Scottish third tier. He relocated to Carrow Road in 2012, but a combination of injury problems, an inconsistent dugout and Norwich yo-yoing between the Premier League and the Championship meant his playing time was restricted.

It was helter-skelter time for Whittaker, who suffered two relegations, earned one promotion and made an assist in the 2015 play-off final. He once even received his marching orders in the form of a notebook rather than a red card from Jonathan Moss.

The incident was all the more comical for the manner in which Whittaker picked up two yellows in the space of just four minutes. The first he got for blocking Matt Targett from taking a throw-in; the second was for tugging at Dusan Tadic’s shirt.

Centre-back: David Weir

  • Age: 50
  • Appearances for Rangers: 214
  • Current side: Brighton (youth advisory role)

The word veteran is often bandied about loosely, but in 2010/11 Weir was the true textbook definition of an experienced centre-back, guiding the Gers to his third Scottish championship and doing so at the age of 41.

That same season he became the second-oldest outfield player ever to compete in the Championship League. According to transfermarkt.co.uk, he was one day shy of the record set by former AC Milan defender Alessandro Costacurta. He reached that milestone in some fashion, keeping a clean sheet at Old Trafford in a commendable 0-0 draw against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

When he reunited with Walter Smith at the wrong end of 30 in 2007, Rangers fans could be forgiven for having some doubts. But the former Everton defender went on to feature over 200 times for the Glasgow club, winning eight trophies and even scooping the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year Award in 2010 (the oldest player to do so).

After retiring in 2012, Weir has cut his teeth in management with Sheffield United. But he has since moved into coaching and worked at Brentford, Rangers and Nottingham Forest under Mark Warburton. He is now on the books at Brighton, managing young players who are loaned out to foreign clubs.

Centre-back: Madjid Bougherra

  • Age: 37
  • Appearances for Rangers: 113
  • Current side: Retired

Weir’s central partner in the heart of defence was the Algerian Madjid Bougherra, who left Rangers that same summer after rejecting a contract extension. He joined Qatari side Lekhwiya in 2012 before moving on to Al-Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and then Aris in Greece, where he retired in 2016.

Bougherra is another whose stint at Ibrox will remembered for more than just his defensive exploits. He enjoyed some memorable games, particularly in Europe, where he scored a solo goal on his Champions League debut against Stuttgart and delivered a man-of-the-match performance in the aforementioned draw with Man Utd.

He was also awarded the PFA Scotland Goal of the Season accolade for his effort in a 7-1 demolition of Dundee United in December 2009. And of course he left a mark in an Old Firm game, picking up a fine from the SFA for manhandling referee Callum Murray.

More recently he has moved into management, his last position being Fujairah, though he still has good memories of Glasgow. Recently he labelled himself and Kris Boyd the “fatty boys” during their time together at the club.

Bougherra told the This Is Ibrox podcast: “[Kris Boyd] can score many goals and we can eat a burger together. Me and him were the fatty boys when we were there.”

Left-back: Sasa Papac

  • Age: 40
  • Appearances for Rangers: 227
  • Current side: Retired

The Bosnian left-back was an inspired signing from Austria Vienna in 2006, playing six years at Ibrox before a groin injury forced him to retire early in 2012.

Originally picked up by Paul le Guen as a centre-back, Papac was reinvented as a full-back under Smith and immediately impressed, playing a key role in the club’s run to the 2008 UEFA Cup final.

He was never spectacular, nor did he ever produce anything too eye-catching, but the Bosnian was a tenacious workhorse and has earned cult hero status among the Rangers faithful.

Central midfield: Steven Davis

  • Age: 35
  • Appearances for Rangers: 260
  • Current side: Rangers

The energetic midfielder was Rangers’ talisman in 2010/11. He too left the club in 2012, joining Southampton and forming a formidable reputation under Mauricio Pochettino. He enjoyed six full seasons as a regular for the Saints, helping the club to the League Cup final in 2017, before returning to Rangers permanently last summer.

The Northern Irishman was a revelation during his first stint at the club, playing a key role in their run to the 2008 UEFA Cup final as well as clinching the 2010 PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year and even taking on the captain’s armband.

Through representing Northern Ireland, he took a record that once belonged to David Beckham. Davis has amassed 117 appearances, making him the most-capped midfielder among the Home Nations. He is two off Pat Jennings outright appearances record for Northern Ireland and nine international games from usurping Peter Shilton as Britain’s most-capped international footballer.

Even now he is a regular for Gerrard’s Gers and has even talked up the possibility of managing the club one day.

Central midfield: Maurice Edu

  • Age: 34
  • Appearances for Rangers: 122
  • Current side: Retired

Edu was a relative unknown when he joined from Toronto FC in 2008, but the combative American soon became the heartbeat of Rangers’ midfield. He enjoyed four years in Glasgow before a phone call with Jurgen Klinsmann convinced Tony Pulis to sign him for Stoke City secured in 2012. Unfortunately, he was unable to make any sort of an impact for the Potters and after just two seasons and one appearance, he ventured across the Atlantic to the States, joining Philadelphia Union and then Bethlehem Steel before bowing out in 2017.

Right wing: Steven Naismith

  • Age: 33
  • Appearances for Rangers: 140
  • Current side: Hearts

Naismith’s explosive showings in Scotland caught the attention of Everton, who signed him in 2012, where he went on to muster 123 appearances and impressed the Goodison Park faithful with his incisive wing-play. He is also one of just 31 players to have scored a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League. A stint with Norwich followed before he later joined Hearts, where his side have since suffered relegation on account of the season finishing early.

In the title-winning season Naismith enjoyed his most productive campaign in a Rangers shirt, netting 11 league goals, which promptly earned him both the club’s Players’ Player of the Year and the supporters’ Player of the Year awards.

Left-wing: Kyle Lafferty

  • Age: 32
  • Appearances for Rangers: 164
  • Current side: Sunderland

After leaving Rangers, Lafferty famously went on to partner Paulo Dybala at Palermo. He also made just one appearance for Norwich in the Premier League in 2015/16 before returning to Rangers via Hearts in 2018. But, after only one season and five goals, Lafferty has since departed Glasgow again, joining Sunderland in League One.

The Northern Irishman has represented 11 clubs across his career, but has only won silverware at Rangers and Palermo, with the forward clinching the Serie B trophy with the latter in 2014. Despite his 11 goals helping the club to promotion that year – in a side that also included Abel Hernandez and Andrea Belotti – as well as winning the Fans’ Player of the Season, he was sold. Why? The reasons given by Palermo’s owner were quite something.

“Lafferty is sold as a result of a precise request from my coach Beppe Iachini,” Maurizio Zamparini, Palermo’s owner, told Radio 24 in 2014.

“He is an out-of-control womaniser, an Irishman without rules. He is someone who disappears for a week and goes on the hunt for women in Milan.”

In response, Lafferty told the press during Euro 2016: “He tried to sign me in January again, so there’s your answer about what he said previously.” Perhaps most remarkable of all was his laissez faire outlook on being called an “out-of-control womaniser”.

“I think the president had to cover his own back but I haven’t held it against him,” Lafferty added. “I know what he’s like. The guy is crazy but he’s got a heart of gold.”

Striker: Nikica Jelavic

  • Age: 34
  • Appearances for Rangers: 56
  • Current side: Guizhou Zhicheng

Despite making just 23 appearances in 2010/11, Jelavic netted 16 goals and finished the club’s second-highest scorer. In total he bagged 36 goals in 56 games at Rangers, before joining Naismith on Merseyside and then on to Hull and West Ham. The Croat proved less successful in the Premier League and eventually sought pastures new, moving to the Far East in 2016.

Striker: Kenny Miller

  • Age: 40
  • Appearances for Rangers: 265
  • Current side: Newcastle Jets (assistant coach)

During his heyday Miller was the definition of clinical, winning the 2010/11 Scottish Premier League Golden Boot with 21 goals, and doing so having made just 18 appearances. The former Scotland international left that summer for Bursaspor, and went on to feature for Cardiff in the Championship, Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS and then returned to Rangers in 2014. He officially hung up his boots last summer after a swansong at Partick Thistle.

Miller is just one of a handful of brave players to represent both Rangers and Celtic, signing for the latter in 2006 and ultimately becoming the third player since World War II to have played for both sides of the Old Firm at the time.

Notable subs:

Vladimir Weiss

  • Age: 30
  • Appearances for Rangers: 35
  • Current side: Slovan Bratislava

To rub salt in the wounds of Celtic fans in 2010/11, Weiss rejected the club in favour of Rangers and went on to play a key part in the club’s title run. On loan from Manchester City, the tricky winger has consistently threatened to emerge as a top-class player in his career, but for one reason or another, things just haven’t worked out for the now 30-year-old at the peak of football. Since leaving the Etihad, he has turned out for Pescara, Olympiacos, Lekhwiya, Al-Gharafa and now Slovan Bratislava.

John Fleck

  • Age: 28
  • Appearances for Rangers: 58
  • Current side: Sheffield United

Big things were expected of Fleck when he first burst onto the scene, and he perhaps would have gone on to become a Rangers legend if the club didn’t drop down the divisions. He was clearly too good to play in the Scottish third tier and joined Coventry in 2012, where his reputation skyrocketed in League One. Sheff Utd secured his services in 2016 and he has been the catalyst in their ascent up the football ladder.

During his time at Bramall Lane the Scot has won the Sheffield United Player of the Year award twice and has been indispensable to the club’s Premier League charge under Chris Wilder this season, with the Blades currently seventh in the table. No player has scored more league goals (5) than Fleck for them this season so far.

El Hadji Diouf 

  • Age: 39
  • Appearances for Rangers: 22
  • Current side: Retired

The mercurial forward spent the second half of 2010/11 on loan at Ibrox from Blackburn and brought the requisite aggression to drive Rangers over the line in their domestic double campaign. After Scotland, the former Liverpool man featured for Doncaster, Leeds and Malaysian side Sabah before calling time on his playing career in 2015.

David Healy

  • Age: 40
  • Appearances for Rangers: 24
  • Current side: Linfield (manager)

The Manchester United graduate joined Diouf through the door in January, but featured just eight times, scoring once. Two seasons would follow, one at Rangers and one at Bury for Healy, before the curtain came down and he moved in management, where he currently takes charge of Linfield in Northern Ireland.

It’s worth mentioning his international record, too. Not only is he Northern Ireland’s all-time top-scorer (36 goals), but Healy also shares the record for most goals scored with a single European Championship qualifying campaign with Poland and Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski (13).

James Beattie

  • Age: 42
  • Appearances for Rangers: 10
  • Current side: Birmingham City (first-team coach)

Beattie joined Rangers in 2010 after falling down the pecking order at Stoke. He was expected to feature heavily but a combination of injury and a loss of form restricted him to just seven appearances. He eventually left for Sheff Utd, before joining Accrington Stanley and then moving into management. He was at the Stanley helm for 58 games before leaving in 2014, and he now coaches for Birmingham.