THERE is a theory that former Rangers players are forever reluctant to objectively critique their old club. Willie Henderson blows that notion out of the water. A pained look crosses the 72 year-old’s face when asked to assess the current state of the Ibrox side. As candid in his views as he was brave as a player, Henderson tells it straight as he inspects the distance between Celtic and Rangers and compares it to scaling Mount Everest. With Rangers in a fight just to finish second, the former winger feels it is like the early 1980s all over again.

“I think we’ve a long way to go,” he says of Rangers’ prospects of becoming genuine title challengers once more. “But it’s quite difficult because there hasn’t been as much investment as there might have been. As long as Celtic are playing in the Champions League then their funds are going to grow all the time. It’s going to be a wee while before we can get there. Man for man, Celtic is the better team so it’s going to be difficult for a while.

“Rangers are not going to win the league and that’s a case of saying things you never thought you would say. But you need to be realistic at this stage. To get second, I think would be great. Ann Budge at Hearts has put a good plan in place there and they are progressing well. Aberdeen have got to another final. It will be tight for getting to second place.

“How tough will it be for Rangers to get back to the top? How high is Mount Everest? Very hard. I think what people tend to forget is that the doors were nearly shut at the club. Probably a lot closer to being shut forever than people realise. So I can understand the people running the club at the moment wanting to make sure that the proper business plan is in place to make sure that never happens again. That’s really important.

“The other side of it is Scottish football in general isn’t in a good place. And I think it’s quite difficult for business people to want to come in and pay millions of pounds into a business like Rangers in an environment that it’s in right now. That doesn’t help Scottish football either. Until the investor – if there’s one out there – wants to come along and put a lot of money into Rangers then there’s going to be slow progress.”

Henderson can’t see anyone stopping Celtic this season, including Rangers in the three remaining league games between the teams.

“The way things are now? No. That would be very difficult. Things happen in games but if you’re being realistic about it then it’s going to be hard for Rangers to beat Celtic at the moment. The way I see it there’s a lot to be sorted out. I think Rangers are going to be up there in the top four scenario. But if you are going to look at them as possibly winning the league, then I don’t see it.”

That is a view likely shared within Ibrox but not one they can ever publicly admit as they continue to train their sights on the title in line with supporter demand.

“The club is where it needs to be now but being second in this league is still not good enough for these fans,” said defender Rob Kiernan. “The expectation’s there to go and win that league and that’s something that’s always at the back of your head. You don’t ever get away from that. We work every day to try and match it.

“Once you’re back in the top fight, the expectation’s there. There’s not really six months to get used to this league or get back to how we were playing last season. We understand that and we have to do everything we can to turn it round and get results week-in, week-out. It’s taking a bit of time to get back to where the club was. It’s a transition period, definitely.”

Manager Mark Warburton revealed he and the players have taken inspiration from other former Rangers managers.

“I spoke to Walter Smith the other night, and John Greig too,” he said. “I’m seeing Walter for dinner. John’s a font of knowledge and experience. The good thing about people of that quality and character is they come to you. John is there before every game talking to the players. He's not there casually, he's sensibly slipping in words of wisdom and that helps these boys. John's around having a cup of coffee, dropping a few words in to James Tavernier, Lee Wallace or Danny Wilson. Why wouldn't you listen to someone like John?

“He's got a wealth of experience. It might just be one word of advice but it's nice to have someone like that around. Walter's the same, he's always at the games. He comes into my office for a chat. Not before the game but after it. It's great to hear his opinion to see what he thinks.”

- Willie Henderson is appearing on stage with John Greig and Denis Law at the SECC Clyde Auditorium on January 7. Tickets and info from