CELTIC may have been the outstanding side in the Premiership once again during the 2019/20 season.

What, though, is the greatest top flight XI in modern times? Who is the most dependable keeper, cultured centre half, dominant midfielder, skilful winger and deadliest striker to have played since the old 18-team First Division was scrapped in 1975? No two fans are likely to agree.

But Herald and Times Sport writers have put their heads together during lockdown and come up with the five players they believe have been the eminent exponents of their craft in their position in the past 45 years - and selected one for the starting line-up.

Craig Brown, the former Scotland, Motherwell and Aberdeen manager, and Archie Knox, the ex- Aberdeen, Rangers and Scotland assistant, have coached many of those in contention for a place and have also offered their expert opinions.

Our decisions have been based on three criteria, ability, longevity and success, and will be revealed on these pages over the coming fortnight. Let the arguments commence!


Glasgow Times:

Name: Sir Alex Ferguson.

Clubs: Aberdeen (1978 to 1986).

Titles: Three (1980, 1984 and 1985).

Scotland’s greatest ever manager.

Before Alex Ferguson succeeded Billy McNeill as manager at Aberdeen in 1978 they had only won five trophies – Division One once, the League Cup twice and the Scottish Cup twice – in their 75 year history.

Since he departed to take over at Manchester United some 34 years ago in 1986 the Pittodrie club have lifted just four pieces of silverware – the League Cup three times and the Scottish Cup once.

But in the eight glorious years that “Fergie” was in the north-east the Dons claimed no fewer than 10 major honours – more than they managed in the period prior to his arrival and the time after he left combined.

Can Walter Smith say he is responsible for the majority of the success that Rangers have enjoyed since they were formed in his two spells at Ibrox? Did Brendan Rodgers land three quarters of Celtic’s titles during his time at Parkhead?

Those are, of course, flippant questions. All the same, they put in perspective just how successful Sir Alex was at Aberdeen. After a difficult debut season, he made them the dominant team in Scotland and a major force in the European game.

He certainly inherited an outstanding squad from McNeill when he took over. Stuart Kennedy, Jim Leighton, Alex McLeish, John McMaster, Willie Miller, Doug Rougvie and Gordon Strachan were already there. They would all be involved in their European Cup Winners’ Cup run in the 1982/83 season.

But Ferguson signed well and brought through gifted youngsters and, with his relentless drive, burning ambition, strict discipline, motivational skills and tactical excellence, moulded them all into a formidable unit that performed with fire and flair.

The 2-1 triumph over Real Madrid in Gothenburg in 1983 was the highlight of his tenure. That was followed up with a Super Cup victory over European Cup winners Hamburg. Aberdeen are the only Scottish club to claim two European trophies.   

The Glaswegian is the most successful British manager of all-time and was the automatic choice to take charge of the Greatest Premier XI.


Glasgow Times:

Name: Andy Goram

Clubs: Hibernian (1987 to 1991), Rangers (1991 to 1998) and Motherwell (1998 to 2001)

Titles: Five (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997).

The Goalie. The nickname given to Goram by his Hibs team mates during his time at Easter Road suggested that he was without equal. For a long time, during the Nine-In-A-Row era at Ibrox in the 1990s especially, he had no peer. The Bury-born player, who qualified to play for Scotland through his parents, is arguably the best keeper this country has ever had.

At 5ft 11in, Goram was small for his position. But he was courageous, technically exceptional, possessed an uncanny positional sense, had lightning-quick reflexes and was a brilliant shot stopper.

He was, too, a man for the big occasion. His save from a Pierre van Hooijdonk shot in an Old Firm game against Celtic at Ibrox in 1995 is talked about to this day. But it was just one of many. On his day, he was capable of producing the impossible.

The 1992/93 season was arguably the best of his career. He helped Rangers go 44 games undefeated at home and abroad and get to within a game of reaching the Champions League final. He was named both SFWA and PFA Scotland Player of the Year at the end of that treble-winning campaign.

Goram’s frequent indiscretions off the park – he enjoyed a night out, had an eventful personal life and frequently featured in the tabloid for his escapades - simply added to his legend.

“He was phenomenal,” said Knox. “He had amazing instincts. He had a sixth sense about where the ball was going to go.”

“Goram could be unbeatable,” said Brown. “The ball became twice the size when somebody shot at him.”


Glasgow Times:

Name: Danny McGrain.

Clubs: Celtic (1967 to 1987).

Titles: Nine (1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1986).

Scotland’s greatest ever right back. The boy from Finnieston was a member of the so-called Quality Street Gang that emerged at Parkhead in the late 1960s and which included George Connelly, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Lou Macari. He made his debut aged 20 in 1970, spent 17 years in the first team, won 17 major honours and made 62 appearances for his country.

He overcame being diagnosed with diabetes and suffering a fractured jaw and became a true world class talent. At his peak in the 1970s many knowledgeable judges reckoned he was the best player in his position on the planet. He was fast, physical, intelligent and technically exceptional. An affable individual off the park, he was renowned as a ferocious tackler on it. 

If there was a weakness in his formidable armoury it was up front. He scored just nine times in 681 appearances for Celtic. But it is impossible to be critical.  

“Danny was a world-class player at his peak, at right or left back,” said Brown. “He was a modern day full-back. The traditional full-back was a defensive warrior. But as time moved on they became an attacking player. Danny could have played today easily.” 


Glasgow Times:

Name: Maurice Malpas

Clubs: Dundee United (1979 to 2000).

Titles: One (1983).

The ultimate one club man. The Dunfermline-born defender combined studying for an electrical engineering degree with his football career in his early years at Dundee United. But that didn’t hold him back.

He helped the Tannadice club to win the Premier Division for the first and only time in 1983, missing only two matches all season, and then made his Scotland debut in 1984. He is the last part part-time player to represent the national team.

That honour came shortly after he helped Jim McLean’s side reach the semi-final of the European Cup. He would go on to make another 54 appearances for his country and play at Mexico ’86, Italia ’90 and Euro ’92.

He continued to excel on Tayside after going full-time and helped United reach the UEFA Cup final in 1987. He captained United to their first Scottish Cup triumph in 1994. He retired as a player in 2000 after playing 19 seasons in the top flight and making 830 first team appearances and was rewarded with a second testimonial match.

“Maurice wasn’t, like Willie Miller, the quickest,” said Knox. “But he read the game so well. They say forwards have a couple of yards in their head. Maurice was the same. He always knew where the ball was.”

“Maurice was quality,” said Brown. “He was calm and assured and his distribution was excellent. He won titles and played in European finals for a provincial team.”


Glasgow Times:

Name: Alex McLeish.

Clubs: Aberdeen (1978 to 1994) and Motherwell (1994 to 1995).

Titles: Three (1980, 1984 and 1985).

Archie Knox worked with Richard Gough at Rangers for many years and Alex McLeish at Aberdeen before that. He was unable to pick one ahead of the other. “It is very hard to separate Gough and McLeish,” he said. “Having worked with them both, it is impossible to single out one.”

There are so many similarities between them. McLeish was also a fearless competitor and fine footballer for both club and country for many years in the 1980s and 1990s and enjoyed extraordinary success as well. He won no fewer than 12 trophies during his time at Aberdeen and was capped by Scotland on 77 occasions.

But the boy from Barrhead just edges it because he did so with a provincial outfit, albeit one managed by Alex Ferguson and full of talented individuals. He also savoured success in continental competition. He won the European Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup with the Pittodrie club in 1983.

The identity of the other central defender in the starting line-up may also have swung it in his favour.


Glasgow Times:

Name: Willie Miller.

Clubs: Aberdeen (1973 to 1990).

Titles: Three (1980, 1984 and 1985).

Sir Alex Ferguson once described Willie Miller, who was his captain throughout his trophy-laden spell at Aberdeen, as “the best penalty box defender in the world” and Craig Brown and Archie Knox don’t disagree.

“Picking Miller for the Greatest Premier XI is a no-brainer,” said Brown, who worked with him in the Scotland set-up. “Willie was just masterly. And he refereed games as well!”

“He was an unbelievable tackler,” said Knox, who was Ferguson’s assistant for much of his time at Pittodrie. “He was such a clever player. He was never tricked.”

Miller had spent years in the Aberdeen first team, had established himself as their skipper and had lifted the League Cup before Ferguson arrived as manager in 1978.

But under his fellow Glaswegian he took his career, and the north-east club, to an entirely new level.

They won three Premier Division titles, four Scottish Cups, two League Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the European Super Cup during the next eight years.

Miller formed a telepathic partnership with Alex McLeish in the heart of the Dons rearguard during that glorious era and played alongside him with his country too.

The centre half made over 40 appearances in 14 consecutive seasons and played a total of 797 games, an Aberdeen record, and won 65 caps, a Scotland record for a defender at the time, before retiring through injury in 1990.

At 5ft 10in, Miller, who was named PFA Scotland and SFWA Player of the Year in 1984, was small for his position and he also lacked a yard of pace. But he more than made up for that with his reading of the game, bravery, technical excellence and leadership.

Will we ever see his likes again?


Glasgow Times:

Name: Scott Brown.

Clubs: Hibernian (2002 to 2007), Celtic (2007 to present day).

Titles: Ten (2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020).

This will be, for some, a controversial selection. The boy from Hill of Beath would not profess to be anywhere near as technically gifted as many of those in contention for a starting spot. But he is a far better player than his many critics give him credit for. And he is one of the most decorated players in the history of the Scottish game. Last month’s Premiership win took his haul of medals to 22.

His detractors say his passing is poor, he lacks discipline and doesn’t score enough goals. But he has a multitude of strengths. He reads the game brilliantly, has a remarkable engine and leads by example. He has, too, an antagonistic streak in him and is loathed by opposition supporters. But they would, as the old saying goes, love it if he played for their team.   

The £4.4m fee that Celtic paid Hibs for him in 2007 was a record between two Scottish clubs and raised eyebrows at the time. But it has proved to be money very well spent. He has been a constant during their nine consecutive title wins and three straight trebles. “I worked with Paul McStay who was a classy player, but Scott Brown is an absolute inspiration,” said Craig Brown.

Billy McNeill is and always will be Celtic’s greatest ever captain. Scott Brown is not far behind.


Glasgow Times:

Name: Paul Gascoigne

Clubs: Rangers (1995 to 1998)

Titles: Two (1996 and 1997).

His time in Scotland was all too brief and he only won the Premier League on two occasions because of the shortness of his stay. But Paul Gascoigne makes it into the Greatest Premier XI on his ability alone. He was the most naturally gifted British footballer of his generation, possibly ever. The Scottish game was lucky to, albeit fleetingly, have him involved.

Walter Smith signed the England internationalist from Lazio in a club record £4.4m fee in 1995. He didn’t disappoint. “Gazza” was immense in his debut campaign. He scored 19 goals in 42 games, including a hat-trick in the win over Aberdeen at Ibrox that clinched the title, won the Scottish Cup and was named both PFA Scotland and SFWA Player of the Year.

His off-field issues – he was seldom off the front pages due to some infraction or other – surfaced in his second season, but he still netted 17 times in 34 matches as Rangers completed Nine-In-A-Row and lifted the League Cup.

How do you begin to describe Gascoigne the player? He was powerful and brave, he was an immense dribbler who ghosted past players, he possessed unique vision and delighted crowds, he scored superb goals and supplied chances for those around him. On top of all that he was, as England manager Bobby Robson famously remarked, “daft as a brush”.

Archie Knox was Smith’s assistant during his time in Govan. “Gascoigne was phenomenal,” he said. “He was only at Rangers for a short period of time. But he could create something out of nothing and did so on numerous occasions.”

Gascoigne was offloaded to Middlesbrough in March 1998 as his powers began to wane. But the memory of the player he was here lives on. 


Glasgow Times:

Name: Brian Laudrup.

Clubs: Rangers (1994 to 1998).

Titles: Three (1995, 1996 and 1997).

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark is a melancholy and embittered character.

Brian Laudrup, who Rangers supporters often refer to by the name of bard’s most famous creation, brought only joy and happiness at Ibrox. 

Jim Baxter is considered by many to be the Glasgow club’s most gifted player ever. But Laudrup must run him very close. He was nothing short of a genius. 

Walter Smith’s side had won six Scottish titles in succession when Laudrup arrived in a £2.3m transfer from Fiorentina in 1994. But the new signing took them to a new level in the following three seasons and helped them complete Nine-In-A-Row. It was fitting that he scored the goal, a header against Dundee United at Tannadice, that clinched that achievement. 

So how come Laudrup was so good? The ball stuck to his feet. He had incredible pace and could glide past opposing players. But he could also cut open a defence with a pass. He set up as many goals for his team mates as he created.

In the 1996 Scottish Cup final Gordon Durie scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Hearts. But that match will forever be known as “the Laudrup final”. He set up all three of the striker’s goals and netted a brace himself

He became only the third player after John Greig and Sandy Jardine to win the SFWA Footballer of the Year award twice in 1997. But he did it in the space of just three seasons. 

Archie Knox was Smith’s assistant during the winger’s time in Scotland. “In that Chick Young interview with Walter he said Brian couldn’t play at the highest level in Europe,” said Knox. “He deserved to get that mike rammed up his a***!”


Glasgow Times:

Name: Davie Cooper.

Clubs: Rangers (1977 to 1989) and Motherwell (1989 to 1993).

Titles: Three (1978, 1987 and 1989).

Picking the top five left-sided midfielders for the Greatest Premier XI was a tricky business. Leaving Jorg Albertz, Shaun Maloney and Neil McCann out has doubtless mystified many readers. But selecting one man for the starting line-up was a no brainer. It had to be Davie Cooper.

The former Clydebank player made an immediate impact after joining Rangers in a £100,000 transfer aged 21 in 1978. He played in 57 of the Ibrox club’s 58 games as they won the Premier Division, League Cup and Scottish Cup. The next term they retained both cups. 

But the following years were difficult for Rangers. There was a lack of investment in the squad and Aberdeen, Celtic and Dundee United dominated. Cooper was very much a light in the darkness in those desperate days. He certainly had slumps in form, spells when he looked disinterested. He was dubbed the Moody Blue. When he fancied it, though, he was irresistible. 

He had extraordinary close control, a wand of a left foot and both set up and scored goals. His outrageous individual effort in the Drybrough Cup final win over Celtic in 1979 was later voted Rangers’ greatest goal. But there were many more.

He was revitalised when Graeme Souness took over as manager in 1986 and won two more Scottish titles in 1987 and 1989 before moving on to Motherwell.

 Cooper only won 22 caps for Scotland, but he excelled at international level. “I worked with Davie at Mexico ’86,” said former manager Craig Brown. “When he came on against Uruguay in the vital last game he was excellent. If he had been on from the beginning we might have gone through.”

Dutch great Rudd Gullit played against Super Cooper, who tragically passed away aged just 39 in 1995, when he was at Feyenoord and was taken aback. He named him alongside Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff in his all-time XI. He deserves his place, then, in our own dream team. 


Glasgow Times:

Name: Henrik Larsson.

Clubs: Celtic (1997 to 2004).

Titles: Four (1998, 2001, 2002 and 2004).

The King of Kings. Not even Rangers fans would dispute that former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson deserves his place up front in our dream team. The Swede is unquestionably the best player to grace the Scottish top flight this century.

Larsson’s unhappy spell at Feyenoord in the Netherlands ended in the summer of 1997 when they accepted a £650,000 bid from Celtic. The deal worked out well for both club and player. In the next seven years he would win four Scottish titles, two League Cups and two Scottish Cups and help his side reach the UEFA Cup final.

He would score 242 goals in 315 games in the process. Only Jimmy McGrory (468) and Bobby Lennox (273) have been on target more for the Glasgow club in their 132 year history.

As a player, Larsson had everything. He was fast, clever, graceful, brave, strong, tenacious and technically excellent. He was outstanding in the air even though he only stood 5ft 9in tall and good with the ball at his feet. Most of all, he was a lethal finisher, capable of netting from both inside and outside the box.

Larsson, too, flourished on the big stage. He is Celtic’s all-time leading marksman in Europe with 34 goals to his name. He scored on no fewer than 15 occasions in Old Firm games against Rangers.

The 2003 UEFA Cup final in Seville ended in defeat to Porto. But he showed his class that night. He beat Vitor Baia with two sublime second-half headers to force the match into extra-time. He would make up for the disappointment by winning the Champions League with Barcelona three years later.

Larsson was one of just four non-Lisbon Lions - the others were Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Paul McStay - and the only foreign player to be voted into the Greatest Celtic Team by supporters in 2002.

Henrik Larsson was certainly the first name down on our team sheet.


Glasgow Times:

Name: Ally McCoist.

Clubs: Rangers (1983 to 1998) and Kilmarnock (1998 to 2001).

Titles: Ten (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997).

Last, but by no means least, Super Ally.

Where exactly do you start with Alistair Murdoch McCoist? Best to let the stats do the talking.

For a start, McCoist is, with 355 goals in 581 appearances, Rangers’ all-time record goalscorer. He has netted more times in the league (251) and Europe (21) than any other Ibrox player as well.

He claimed 28 hat-tricks for the club he had supported as a boy growing up in East Kilbride. He plundered five hat-tricks in a single season twice. 

He became the first Scottish footballer to win the European Gold Shoe, given to the player who is the leading marksman in league football during a season, in 1992 after hitting the target 34 times. He promptly retained the award the following year after matching that tally.

He won 10 Scottish titles in his 15 years in Govan and was one of only three players – the others were Ian Ferguson and Richard Gough – to feature in every one of their Nine-In-A-Row campaigns.

Oh, and he scored 27 times against Celtic, more than any other individual in the post-war era.

On top of all that, he was half-decent for Scotland too. He netted 19 times in 61 appearances for his country and featured at Italia ’90, Euro ’92 and Euro ’96.

Is there really any need to go on? 

“Why was McCoist so good?” said former Scotland manager Craig Brown. “He was an instinctive scorer. Ally was brilliant and brave one-touch finisher. When the ball came in to him he put it in the back of the net with one touch. He was good with both feet, had a decent shot, was very good in the air. He was brave and strong. He had every attribute you could want in a striker.”