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Football: pounds 12mswoopscannot hide fact that Caat'sbeing bought and sold by canny O'Neill; DAVIDLEGGAT says there's only one Old Firm winner in the battle of the bosses MART'S FOUR TOPS DICK'S DRABFOUR.

DICK ADVOCAAT may think he has upped the ante in the battle for the domination of Glasgow, if not Europe, with the pounds 12m buy of Tore Andre Flo. But when the Old Firm bosses go head-to-head in the buying stakes it is Celtic's Martin O'Neill who is way out in front. Which is why the odds are heavily stacked in favour of Neil Lennon being a success when he finally settles his future and dons the Hoops - and at what should be considered as a bargain price in Scotland these days of around pounds 4m.

And it is also why it's O'Neill's born-again and bargain basement buy Bhoys seriously threaten today to win a League game at Ibrox for the first time in six years.

It is a triumph which would not only take Celtic to a mind boggling 18 points clear of their great Glasgow rivals, but also see the championship chase officially turned into a procession.

Talk about it being all over by Christmas! This season the League is in great danger of being done and dusted before the festive season. In fact, should Celtic win today then follow it up with another triumph against Hibs at Easter Road on Wednesday, they will streak 21 points clear of Rangers.

That would mean it is all over bar the shouting before ST ANDREW'S DAY!

Even a win for Rangers, unlikely as it is, would surely do no more thandelay the inevitable, at least until a respectably later stage of the campaign. However, there are few who have watched both teams in action this season who do not believe Celtic will emerge victorious this afternoon. And forget all that nonsense about the form book being thrown out of the window when the Old Firm clash.

In the last two seasons only Celtic's 5-1 win at Parkhead in November1998 was a triumph against the pre- match odds. Now those odds heavily favour Celtic - and they do so because of the astute use O'Neill has made of limited funds. That is especially so when compared with the way Advocaat has splashed chairman David Murray's cash in the 30 months since he took over at Ibrox.

Sure, there have been some success stories.

The pounds 4.5m paid to his old club PSV Eindhoven for Arthur Numan was money well spent. As was the pounds 5.25m it cost to prise Giovanni Van Bronckhorst away from Feyenoord. Surely, too, the pounds 2m to Wolfsburg for Claudio Reyna was a sound investment, as was the pounds 4m for Michael Mols, despite the injury hell the striker has had to battle through.

But for every Numan there has been a Gabriel Amato, a pounds 4m buy from Real Mallorca who was a mis- hit front man from the start. And for every Van Bronckhorst there has been a Stephane Guivarc'h, a pounds 4m buy from Newcastle who was in and out of Ibrox in the blink of an eye - and looked as unhappy a player as I've ever seen. Balance, too, the thrift of the Reyna signing with the pounds 2.5m it cost to land Daniel Prodan, injured from his first day at Ibrox and yet to play. Against the plus factor of getting Mols must also be weighed thepounds 4.5m spent on Fernando Ricksen in the summer. The jury has remained out on Ronald de Boer and Bert Konterman, a dual investment of pounds 8m ... though a final damning verdict could well be delivered today. With Lorenzo Amoruso, Dutchman Konterman forms the least impressive central defensive partnership I have seen at Ibrox for the last 35 years.

Yet Advocaat chose Kontermanahead of Joos Valgaeren, allowing O'Neill to land the Belgian as the rock on which his whole new look Celtic has been built. The defender cost pounds 2.4m and, if Rio Ferdinand is an pounds 18m man, then Valgaeren is worth his weight in gold.

Then there's Alan Thompson, at pounds 2.2m as astute a buy as has been made in Britain this year. Up front O'Neill spent half of what Rangers paid for Flo on Chris Sutton, whose partnership with Henrik Larsson gets even better by the week. After a season getting to know each other better the pair will surely help Celtic make their mark in Europe next year. In his purchase of Sutton, O'Neill displayed team building skills of the highest order - buying a player not just for his own considerable qualities but also for the way he could link with Larsson.

To add to that trio, O'Neill scooped up Didier Agathe for justpounds 50,000 and is being moulded into a successful part of the Celtic squad. Another success, at a cost of little more than a week's wages for Ibrox new boy Flo.

It makes you think - it should certainly make David Murray think as cash is shipped out of the Ibrox coffers by the lorry load. When you compare Konterman with Valgaeren, and Thompson withDe Boer - not to mention balancing what Sutton has given Celtic, as opposed to Ricksen's contribution across the city - then it is easy to see why O'Neill's managerial prowess, as much as his coaching skills, has outstripped anything Advocaat has had to offer since the two came into conflict.

What O'Neill has done is identify the positions that needed filling and, within the context of a blend, fillthem. At the same time Advocaat has seemingly persued his own agenda of twisting his chairman's arm for mega money to buy a new striker, when all along that has not been the glaring deficiency in his side.

Before this weekend's matches the 31 goals netted by Rangers in 15 games compares with anything in the SPL outside of Celtic's 42. However, the 20 conceded in 15 outings is actually one more than newly promoted Dunfermline after 16 games, and six more than the 14 goals Celtic have lost in 16 contests.

Those stark statistics tell the tale of where Rangers have had their biggest problem - their defence in general and the centre of it in particular. Yet Advocaat consistently refused to admit to the soft centre that has caused the Follow-Follow Boys so much misery in the SPL and Champions League this season.

It was the Rangers problem area quickly identified by O'Neill and wickedly exposed by Celtic at Parkhead on that 6-2 demolition derby day back in August. And it is the weak spot which I expect O'Neill to go for and expose with ruthless effeciency again this afternoon.

Rangers' interest in Manchester United's Ronny Johnsen, a fine player when free of injury, is a move in the right direction. But, once again, it's a case of hoping the big bucks buys will mask the fact Advocaat has acted too late. Rangers' defensive problems should have been assessed and addressed long before they were dumped from the ChampionsLeague - and lost so much title ground to Celtic.

For too long Advocaat refused to admit what his team's biggest problem is, let alone put it right. That's why O'Neill will, as far as thetransfer market is concerned, not only continue to beat him - the smooth talking Ulsterman will actually be able to buy and sell his Dutch counterpart. And have change back!
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2000
Words:1210
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