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Scottish football at risk of losing their grip on European dreams

The seemingly cyclical nature of Scottish efforts in the Champions League and Europa League have tarnished Scottish football in recent history, and for many embody a crisis for Scottish Football. Due to UEFA’s seeding system the SPL currently only offers one team Champions League qualification and predictably Celtic have taken that spot for the last four years despite having very little to offer the competition.

The question this raises is: does Scottish football’s European plight embody a larger problem with the SPL? Or, considering Scotland’s size relative to the nations whose clubs tend to vie for the Champions and Europa League trophies, has Scotland done relatively well?

In the 1966/67 season, Celtic triumphed in the old-style European Cup, but the boys in green have fared far less well in taking on the competition in its modern guise. 2012 saw them claim their first win in the Champions’ League group stages, overcoming relatively small fries Spartak Moscow 3-2. Performances peaked in the same year as Celtic managed a shock 2-1 win over Barcelona and qualified for the knock out stages of the tournament. The party ended swiftly though, as Juventus out-classed Celtic entirely, winning 5-0 on aggregate. Rangers, before their financial collapse, had a similar record of European Cup glory transforming into underwhelming, underpowered Champions League efforts supplemented by some Europa League success.

While qualification for the Champions League knockout stages might seem above and beyond expectation for SPL teams, new changes could further distance Scottish teams from the pinnacle of European football. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, head of the European Club Association suggested that a split from UEFA and the establishment of a new, smaller, elite tournament might be in the works. Twenty teams was the proposed size and if that eventually became the case there’s little to no chance of inclusion for Scottish teams. A review is underway, and the ECA and UEFA will be discussing the issue come the end of the year. While a full split is unlikely, changes to the structure of the Champion,s League could well take place and there is a slight risk those changes could cost Scotland their place in the competition.

One suggestion argues that the proposed changes are simply being used as leverage for the bigger, more influential leagues (Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga, Serie A etc.) to angle for more security within the competition. This security would take the form of more Champions League places to be distributed in those larger leagues.

A good run in the Champions League can be massively profitable, any team lucky enough to win the competition nets around £100m in the process through advertising, television rights and ticket sales. Simply qualifying for the group stage is worth around £15m and this financial incentive is what drives leagues to push for Champions League security.

The threat that Scotland’s transformation from notable footballing nation to Europa League minnow could soon be finalised is a potent one. The loss of Champions League funding and the loss of prestige would be immensely hard for the SPL to recover from and for many, given Scotland’s historic contributions to football, (think Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and the European Cup glory days of Celtic and Rangers,) depriving Scotland of a shot at European success would be harsh. Holland are in a similar position as smaller nations’ Champions League places are threatened, but putting more international prestige in the hands of the bigger footballing nations will only widen the already growing gap. At one time Rangers, Celtic, Ajax and PSV were household names because of their European adventures.

While that’s no longer the case, making Champions League qualification more difficult for these teams will only reinforce their position as fallen powers, when surely recovery should be encouraged. As the standard of Scottish football slips, an incentive has to be in place for improvements to be made.

Image courtesy of Brian Hardagon

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