Anthony Stokes has claimed that the SPFL Premiership will be stronger when Rangers eventually secure promotion to the top flight, writes Michael Grant.
The Celtic striker accepted that some of his own club's supporters would never agree with him but said that, in his view, Scottish football is weaker without the Ibrox club challenging for the Premiership title.
Debate has raged about the health of Scottish football since Rangers were made to start again in the fourth tier after liquidation in 2012, the so-called "armageddon" scenario for all other clubs. Although there have been financial disadvantages for some top flight clubs, Rangers' weakness has ventilated the cup competitions and allowed clubs to win them or reach finals. The earliest Rangers can play in the top flight will be in season 2015/16, if they secure promotion from the Championship in a year's time.
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As far as Stokes was concerned, Celtic would benefit from a greater level of competition with their great rivals in the same division. "Some fans may disagree but it will be good for the whole of Scottish football," he said. "It can only benefit the game when they do get back up. But, for the time being, it's a good chance for the other teams to try and compete. We want as much competition as possible. We want to push ourselves to improve; if that means other teams improving or Rangers coming back into the league, so be it."
Meanwhile Stokes says he will not take it for granted that Celtic will have anyone on the shortlist for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award. There was controversy last year when no Celtic players featured on the four-man shortlist issued by the players' union despite the club having won the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, beaten Barcelona en route to the Champions League last 16 and being on the way to adding the Scottish Cup.
Niall McGinn, Michael Higdon, Andrew Shinnie and Leigh Griffiths did make the shortlist and at the time Neil Lennon said the exclusion of his players was "abysmal" and had belittled his team's campaign. None of the players on the list was good enough to get into his team, he said, although he signed Griffiths nine months later.
The shortlist for this season's SPFL Premiership award will be announced tomorrow and Celtic's Kris Commons and Virgil van Dijk are runaway favourites to contest both the PFA Scotland award and the Scottish Football Writers' Association prize, although Stokes said that, after what happened last season, he could not be sure that they would be even on the shortlist.
"We [Celtic players] are going to be biased but, seeing how well we have done domestically this season, I'd be very surprised if we didn't get a couple in [this year's shortlist]. You saw last season, though, that you just never know."
It was suggested that, a year ago, Celtic had a number of candidates but no individual above all the others, which may have led to votes for their players being shared around to the detriment of all of them. "I don't know if I'd buy that suggestion or not," said Stokes. "If it's true, it's true. If it isn't, it isn't. I don't have a clue, so I'm not going to comment.
"Players work hard through a season and it is nice to get the recognition from your peers in the league. It's not vital. At the end of the day it's about us winning trophies, but it's a nice touch and something a lot of players would hope to be involved in. Virgil has been outstanding this year but I'd probably give it to Kris, just for his goals and influence in games."
Higdon won the PFA Scotland award last season for his exceptional season with Motherwell - players are not allowed to vote for anyone from their own club - while Griffiths lifted the main writers' honour.