What happened last season? It isn’t really worth remembering, but it’s so long ago, maybe you can’t?
Dundee United were knocked of the Europa League 2nd Qualifying round, by Polish Śląsk Wrocław. Hearts never had a chance against a Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League Qualifying Play-off, after being destroyed 5-0 in the first leg with Spurs rarely getting out of second gear.
Celtic were knocked out of the same competition at the same stage, by Sion, only to be allowed in through the backdoor due to Sion’s unregistered player fiasco. To be fair Celtic performed better than expected at the group stage, with Atlético Madrid, Udinese and Stade Rennais for company, but unfortunately could not advance any further.
Rangers were the most disappointing, after being humbled Malmö FF in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying round, they were thrown a lifeline and parachuted in to the Europa League Play-off round, alongside Hearts and Celtic. Another embarrassing exit to NK Maribor, ended the Scottish champions European adventure for the season.
Even though Celtic did go on to perform admirably against much stronger opposition, had they not been allowed to sneak through the back door due to Sion’s administrative incompetence, every Scottish representative would have been out before September.
Has the SPL now become a ‘diddy’ league?
If it hasn’t, what constitutes as a ‘diddy’ league?
The Belarusian Vysheyshaya Liga? The Romanian Liga I Bergenbier? The Cypriot Laiki Bank League (or the Πρωτάθλημα Λαϊκής Τράπεζας in Greek!)?
Each of these leagues were represented in the Group Stages of this season’s Champions League, with Cypriot’s APOEL incredibly advancing to the Quarter-final stage after topping their group, ahead of Zenit, Porto and Shakhtar. Sadly though for APOEL, this is where the journey was ended by the far superior Real Madrid.
It was the furthest a Cypriot side has ever made it in the Champions League and I am sure it will be remembered for decades to come.
Will we see it again? I certainly hope so. It keeps the competition alive to see the unexpected ‘minnows’ making it so far. It is ‘minnows’ that all Scottish teams are now, with regards to European competition.
How many Scottish football fans have heard of APOEL before this season? And yet, supporters of Rangers and Celtic would say that they are incredibly well known throughout the world, let alone Europe.
We know the financial situation at Ibrox, but at the start of the season, the squad had been assembled at a cost of a staggering £27million, with a wage bill of approximately £20million. Yet they couldn’t get past teams from ‘diddy’ leagues and qualify for either European competition.
Celtic’s squad hasn’t cost quite as much, but the wage bill is over £30million a year, due to the sheer size of the squad.
Let’s take a brief look at what the APOEL team consists of.
The first team comprises of five or six Cypriot regular internationals, supplemented by numerous dual nationality South Americans and mediterraneans. Their most expensive player, Brazilian Aílton, cost just £800,000 from F.C. København.
Cypriot internationals playing in Cyprus, supplemented by exciting prospects from well scouted foreign markets.
APOEL is a sports club, with basketball and athletics alongside football. So the Cypriot internationals I speak of, all came through the youth system.
Do you think APOEL have a wage bill in excess of £20million pounds? Not a chance. Their total operating costs for last season didn’t exceed £8million. So we can probably assume half of that was for wages.
The top two, live week by week, throwing money at expensive foreign imports and being forced to hand out £20/25,000 a week to their best British players, just to stop them heading south. Let them head south, sell them for millions and sign an already identified replacement from the SPL or SFL for hundreds of thousands.
The other ten can’t fill their grounds, not even when the big two come to town, so much so that it would be a complete disaster if they lost the pittance they receive in TV money! So much is the desperation for cash, that when one of the top two do come looking for a player, they price them out of the market and the Scottish lad goes to England.
Scottish football is still getting worse and you can’t just blame the world economy.
There aren’t enough youth products getting in to first teams. That needs fixing. The under 21 rule, didn’t work, something else has to change.
The whole country needs to go back to basics, so that young Scottish talent progresses up through the divisions to play for Rangers or Celtic, before going to England, not cutting them out. A long with that, the pyramid system needs to be arranged, below the SFL. Every division is so stale, due to the same old teams, playing in the same old leagues.
Perhaps supporters of the other SPL clubs won’t appreciate that above, but despite Rangers current situation, the Old Firm are always going to be the top two. So every Scottish player should set his sights on working hard to win a move to either one. With that ambition, comes the chance of playing in the Champions League and even the dream of making it as far as APOEL have just done.
The best Scottish players, playing in Scotland, supplemented by young exciting prospects from the rest of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and South America.
Celtic won the European Cup fifty-five years ago with local lads and they were incredible, the best team that Scottish football has ever seen, so far.
Will we see that level of success again? I don’t think so, but that’s not a negative statement.
Can we give a much better account of ourselves in the near and long term future? Hell yes.
Written by James Donaldson