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Wake-up call for the Scottish FA

Scottish football was cast into the wasteland of European football on Thursday evening.

Those in charge of the game in Scotland and its clubs have already discovered that it's not a very comfortable place to reside.

While the cream of the continent's clubs will be revelling in the glitz and glamour of the Champions League, Scotland's teams won't even be among Europe's also rans in the Europa League.

It was bad enough that Rangers, whose manager Ally McCoist (pictured) is now under serious pressure, lost to lowly Malmo in the Champions League qualifiers. But their 3-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of Slovenian side Maribor in the Europa League qualifiers simply added to the embarrassment at Ibrox.

Celtic's 3-1 loss to Swiss side Sion saw the Old Firm fall completely off the radar.

And all that came after Hearts were handed a 5-0 hammering by Tottenham a week earlier, deeming the scoreless second leg irrelevant.

Northern Ireland legend Jimmy Nicholl, who had two spells at Rangers as a player before starting his coaching career at the club, fears that it will be a long time before Scottish clubs are dining out at Europe's top table again.

"Scotland's co-efficient in Europe has gone from eighth to 28th. That tells you that there's something wrong," said Nicholl, currently assistant manager to Kenny Shiels at Kilmarnock having spent almost his entire coaching career in Scotland.

"Last year Rangers went straight into the group stages of the Champions League and it's not so long ago that Celtic and Rangers were both involved, although the runners-up in the league had to qualify. Next season Scottish teams will have to play three qualifying rounds in the Champions League and four in the Europa League.

"That's going to make things very difficult, especially when the only way to improve your European co-efficient is by doing well in Europe."

While most clubs in Scotland are getting themselves back on their feet financially, the consequences of a decade-long cash crisis are being felt.

Long gone are the days when players like Paulo Di Canio and Henrik Larsson were sending Celtic fans to Paradise, while the memories of Brian Laudrup waltzing down the wing at Ibrox and Paul Gascoigne cutting through defences are fading fast.

Quite simply the money is no longer there to attract top quality players.

And the good Scottish players head to England.

The top stars go to the Premier League and most of the other decent ones are attracted to the Championship - a league where revenues dwarf the Scottish top flight.

Rangers were hit with a £14m loss the last time they went out of Europe so early, three years ago.

Walter Smith wasn't able to sign a player such were the financial constraints at the club, but two successive outings in the Champions League group stages have helped bring them back onto more of an even keel.

The Glasgow rivals rely heavily on European cash, simply because their domestic TV revenue is paltry.

A £54m deal with Setanta was to more than double, but the collapse of the Irish-based company left the SPL teams having to accept a £13m deal from Sky Sports. In England clubs share £1bn.

"When I was at Aberdeen with Jimmy Calderwood we got into Europe twice, but the more success we had the more the budget was cut," said Nicholl.

"There's a serious shortage of cash in the Scottish game."

While the doom and gloom that has surrounded the Scottish game since Thursday night might take a while to subside, Nicholl is confident that there are answers to the problems, but they will only be found if those in charge have a desire to find them.

"If Celtic and Rangers had reached the group stages and the national team does well then everything looks like it's going well, but Celtic and Rangers going through would only have papered over the cracks," he said.

"Both of the Old Firm have reached European finals in recent times - Rangers only three years ago. To go from that to being out of Europe before August is out just shouldn't be happening.

"This has to be a reality check, a wake-up call if you like. The SPL is a decent product, but are we going to be happy with just that?"

Nicholl continued: "The people that run Scottish football will have woken up yesterday morning and looked at Shamrock Rovers in the group stages of the Europa League and maybe thought that summer football might be the way to go.

"Summer football in the League of Ireland has raised the standard of play, their teams are doing well in Europe and the knock-on effect is their co-efficient getting stronger."

Belfast Telegraph


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