x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Toil and trouble for Scottish clubs

If Rangers and Celtic cannot turn things around in Thursday's second legs, they will miss out on the Europa League group stages and it will result in a season without significant European football for Scotland.

Rangers, the Scottish Premier League champions, lost 2-1 to Maribor in Slovenia in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier.
Rangers, the Scottish Premier League champions, lost 2-1 to Maribor in Slovenia in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier.

A headline that reads "Scottish football in crisis" is not going to make any reader rush to the next paragraph.

Same would go for "Summer will be hot in UAE" or "Bill Gates pays off mortgage".

It is so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning at all.

But there is another way to describe the game in Scotland at the moment, after three more poor performances by the country's supposed best teams in the Europa League this week.

On Wednesday night, the Scottish Premier League (SPL) champions Rangers - who call themselves the "most successful club in the world" based on domestic trophies - lost 2-1 to the might of Maribor from Slovenia.

Celtic, apparently much improved under manager Neil Lennon, could only draw 0-0 at home to Switzerland's Sion.

Both Glasgow teams could still win their ties, but it would come as little surprise if they both failed.

"It's a poor, poor result for us, but I still believe we'll go through," Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, told the BBC. "We effectively got what we deserved."

Celtic were just as bad at home to Sion. "We showed them too much respect in the first-half," said Lennon, the Celtic manager.

And then we come to Hearts, who could not believe their luck when drawn against Tottenham Hotspur in the qualifier.

Of course, the Premier League giants were expected to win, but this was a chance for Scotland's third best team to show their worth.

In truth, the 5-0 win for Spurs could have been much heavier.

If Rangers and Celtic cannot turn things around in Thursday's second legs, they will miss out on the Europa League group stages and it will result in a season without significant European football for Scotland.

In both footballing and financial terms, that is a near disaster.

The group stages of Europe's second tier competition guarantee a club €1 million (Dh5.3m) with bonuses for wins and draws that could add another €840,000.

Rangers, who are in debt, have already missed out on the chance to qualify for Europe's elite competition, the Champions League, which is far more lucrative (just reaching the group stages is worth at least €7.2m, not including win bonuses and gate receipts). They lost to Swedish side Malmo before they even got to the final qualifying round.

To sum up, Scotland's three biggest clubs are on the brink of leaving the country without a single representative when the Champions League and Europa League move to the group stages. This has not happened since the format of European football being solely knockout was changed in 1992.

In a time when the SPL is in desperate need of money and excitement, both are in short supply, and it is not going to get any better if not a single team can get past European qualifiers any more.

Dundee United did not even get to this stage, losing to Slask Wroclaw of Poland in the previous round.

The top two finishers in the league used to earn the chance to qualify for the Champions League, but consistent poor performances have seen Scotland slip down Uefa's rankings so that now only the champions earn that right. Judging by this season, Scotland is unlikely to regain its status any time soon.

Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, said yesterday morning that his country's national sport was in dire straits.

On his Twitter site, he said: "Time for our game to catch up. We need a better product, hence our new Performance Strategy, but most of all we need investment."

But there does not appear to be anybody willing to invest the sort of funds needed to get Scottish football out of its current slump.

ncameron@thenational.ae