Martin O’Neill knows what it takes to bridge a substantial chasm.

The Irishman oversaw a 36-point swing in his first season at Celtic following an ignominious title loss of 21 points in 2000. And as Steven Gerrard looks to put a spoke in Celtic’s wheel as they chase an historic tenth successive title this term, O’Neill believes that it will take substantial investment in the transfer market to bring in the required quality to match Neil Lennon’s side.

Lennon suggested last week that had situations been reversed and he had nothing to show for two seasons in the Celtic dug-out, he’d find himself out of a job. And while Gerrard may be unusual in that the perception remains that he is the right man at Rangers despite the trophy cabinet remaining empty, O’Neill was clear about what he needs to do.

The question remains whether there are the required finances to bring parity between the squads but without adding to the quality current available to Gerrard then O’Neill expects Celtic’s domestic dominance will prevail. 

“I think Steven Gerrard was in a difficult position when he took over at the football club,” said O’Neill. “He had a pretty big task on his hands given what the gap was between the teams. He is an up-and-coming manager and I think he deserves to have a wee bit of time yet.  This season coming up will be huge for him but he will be totally aware of that and totally aware of the 10 and what it means.

“Rangers need to get stronger as a football team. Steven needs better players to come in. I don’t know him as a young manager. As a player he was extraordinary. A really, really great player. But he will know what the test is that is coming up.

“There isn’t a Rangers fan who won’t be reminding him every five minutes about Celtic winning a tenth title.  And I do think Celtic are at their best with a strong Rangers. I think that goes without saying.

“You are never genuinely going to have Aberdeen or Hearts or Motherwell vying for the title over the course of a full season.  I honestly believe that Celtic need competition to be at their very best.

“If you want to get those big performances in Europe then it helps when you are being domestically challenged to be at the peak of your game when you are going into games in the Champions League or the Europa League.”

If the opening months of the season suggested there would be a challenge for the title, it evaporated in the aftermath of the winter break. Celtic were quick to manipulate Rangers’ lethargy and there is a feeling that Gerrard’s Europa League campaign inured him to more probing criticism.

But by the time the Coronavirus had put the season on hold in March immediately prior to the third Old Firm game of the season, Celtic were 13 points clear.

“There was maybe a bit of over-exuberance there,” said O’Neill with regard to Gerrard’s celebrations after that 2-1 December victory at Celtic Park following Rangers’ first win in the East End 2010. “It is three points and it is an important three points.  But it was the turn of the season when Celtic became stronger, mentally as much as anything.”

And while Rangers will regard this season’s League Cup as the one that got away after a dominant showing at Hampden against Celtic, O’Neill believes the win was huge psychologically for Lennon. Fraser Forster repeatedly repelled Rangers in a formidable show which also included a save from an Aldredo Morelos penalty before Christopher Jullien clinched the trophy for Celtic.

“Personally, I thought that League Cup win this season was huge for Neil,” said O’Neill. “It was a big moment.

“Celtic didn’t play brilliantly but the most important thing is you leave Hampden with that Cup and you get off that bus at Celtic Park and have it to show around to the fans that are gathered there to greet you.

“Then you can leave it and focus on the rest of the season. They were second best for long periods of that game but it shows something about you as a team and the character within your team that you go on and win it anyway.

“The mentality and ability to come through it even if you haven’t played as well as you can in the game definitely says something about you. Then you can push it to the side and get on with the season again.”

Notable for O’Neill this term, too, has been the calmer version of Lennon in the dug-out. Time appears to have mellowed the 48-year-old who has stayed on an even keel since taking over from Brendan Rodgers in February last year.

“Just watching from a distance it does seem that he has matured a bit,” said O’Neill.

“He retains that great will to win and that passion which is a defining part of his character and make-up but he seems, the second time around at Celtic, to be a bit more mature.

O’Neill and Lennon go way back after O’Neill signed him for Leicester from Crewe in 1996.

But despite their enduring friendship, O’Neill is not inclined to dispense too much advice.

“Overall he has done a wonderful job and he doesn’t need advice from me,” said O’Neill. “He just has to go and get ten in a row.

“When he was asked back for the job a second time he would have had things to consider.

“He couldn’t have turned it down. Like everything else, you do have questions about whether you would have the same impact and what not.”

He will, however, be keen on reunion in the coming months.

“He has proved himself to be an iconic figure at Celtic. It would be terrific to see them do well in the Champions League and maybe Neil might invite me up to see a game. That would be nice.

“He did splendidly for me as a player and he has written his name into Celtic folklore.”