The malaise of Scottish football

Not long ago Scotland's football clubs were competing with the best. Where are they now?

    The golden days: Rangers fans gather ahead of the Uefa Cup final against Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008 [GALLO/GETTY]

    Just a few short years ago both Glasgow football clubs, Celtic and Rangers, were on the crest of a European wave.

    Celtic were competing with the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona, while Rangers fought their way to a Uefa Cup final in Manchester.

    It seemed that European football would be a regular fixture in Scotland's second city.

    Fast forward to 2011 and things have changed, and changed dramatically.

    It is still the embryonic stages of the season but only for the intervention of European football's governing body Uefa, Scotland's representation in European competitions would be gone.

    Hearts were thumped in the first leg by Spurs, while Celtic were defeated by Swiss side FC Sion.

    However, Sion used players in both legs that were deemed ineligible, and Celtic were reinstated, but not before being criticised for their lacklustre displays in both home and away legs.

    For Rangers it was a double whammy. Beaten by Swedish side Malmo in the Champions League, they fell into the Europa League safety net, only to be beaten by FC Maribor of Slovenia.

    How has it come to this state?

    Reckless spending

    Graham Speirs is a Scottish football writer with British newspaper The Times and says that the problems started a decade ago.

    "Ten years ago money was being spent recklessly and Rangers especially are paying for it now with massive debts.

    "Under Dick Advocaat as manager and David Murray as chairman, they were buying players for huge sums. Tore Andre Flo was a prime example, he was bought for $18 million at the time. Players were routinely bought for five to six million dollars. It was crazy money.

    "It wasn't just Rangers, Celtic were paying big at the time, spending five or six million for players like Neil Lennon and Chris Sutton. So both sides were paying big money.

    "Generally, you expect that a team will be better ten years later than ten years earlier, but both Rangers and Celtic have worse sides now than they did then. There hasn't been progress."

    "There was a time when playing for one of the two Glasgow teams was a big draw, but money and the global notoriety of the English Premier League has left Scottish clubs peering over Hadrian's Wall in envy at the riches that surround the English game."

    There was a time when playing for one of the two Glasgow teams was a big draw, but the money and the global notoriety of the English Premier League has left Scottish clubs peering over Hadrian's Wall in envy at the riches that surround the English game.

    From the Celtic and Rangers teams that played in the Europa League final and Champions League last sixteen just a few years ago, quite a few moved to England, but to championship level clubs, not even Premier League.

    Income is a huge difference too.

    The two Glasgow clubs rely on a huge worldwide fan base and big home gates, but in comparison to lower Premier League teams, their income is still a pittance.

    Hearts played Spurs in the Europa League. Hearts' turnover is $13 million. Spurs' is $190 million.

    The collapse of some TV companies hasn't helped the case, as Speirs explains.

    "The collapse of TV companies has hit the Scottish game hard. Setanta were promising teams - especially the Old Firm - big money, but that disappeared.

    "Now it is at the stage where Dundee United sell their star striker David Goodwillie to Blackburn for 4 million dollars, and Peter Houston (Dundee United manager) doesn't even see that money as it goes to pay off debt. You sell your best player and can't replace him, so the team is automatically weakened."

    Golden era

    In days gone by, Scottish football was held in high esteem, with Celtic, Rangers and also Aberdeen and Dundee United winning European titles.

    Scotland produced great players and managers and that can be seen in the Premier League today, with seven current managers hailing from north of the border.

    According to Speirs, social change has meant that the new breed of Scottish player is different.

    "Social deprivation bred a certain type of player in Scotland. That social deprivation isn't there anymore so the players being brought through now just aren't as good as the ones before them."

    So, is Scottish football in terminal decline, doomed to be an also-ran of the European game?

    Or can it someday regain the stature it once had?

    The Scottish Football Association are doing their bit, with a new initiative called Scotland United: A 2020 vision.

    It is a long term strategy to get more Scottish kids playing football, more coaches with the aim of getting Scotland qualifying for tournaments again.

    It has also implemented a rule that there must be at least three home-grown under-21s on the bench of any Scottish Premier League team, to encourage youth development.

    It remains to be seen whether the initiative will work, and if it does it will take a few years, meaning that Scottish clubs could have a few lean years ahead in European competitions.

    Niall McDonald is a freelance sports journalist who has worked in broadcasting for the BBC, Sky and Al Jazeera, and in print for Irish newspapers. He has also set up his own video channel, Orchard TV, covering Irish sport.

    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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