As undoubtedly the two biggest teams in Scottish football, Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers have dominated the SPL for almost three decades.
Recently, they have both also enjoyed success in the Uefa Cup – reaching the final of the competition in 2003 and 2008 respectively. But once again this season, they have both failed to transfer their domestic form onto European football’s biggest stage – the Champions League. Celtic failed to qualify for the group stages and are currently in the Europa League, whilst Rangers’ hopes of progress were critically damaged by a 4-1 defeat to unknown Romanian side Unirea Urziceni.
Their continued failings on the Champions League front casts serious doubt upon the two Glasgow giants’ wish to join the Premier League, thus competing with Manchester United and Chelsea on a regular basis. Even Walter Smith, Rangers’ manager, doubts their ability to compete against Europe’s best. “We’ve had a steadiness in terms of domestic results,” he told BBC Sport after the embarrassing defeat at Ibrox. “But whether we are at a stage where we can hope to compete with the top European clubs, or even the ones below that level, at the present moment is up for debate. “If we get ourselves together, and with a little bit of luck in games, sometimes we can punch above our weight.”
The question, however, which must be asked is whether it is good enough for clubs of the stature of Rangers and Celtic to be simply ‘punching above their weight’ in Europe. These are two clubs, remember, that have shared 94 Scottish titles between them, when no other team has won more than four. Their domestic pedigree, as such, cannot be doubted. So why have either side not made a huge impact upon the Champions League?
One possible answer, and a topic becoming increasingly common in the modern footballing world, is money. The Scottish Premier League’s highest-placed team (i.e. either Celtic or Rangers) earns around fifteen times less than the English Premier League’s lowest in terms of commercial revenue and although big-money sponsorship deals with companies such as Carling, Umbro and Nike undoubtedly boost the Ibrox and Celtic Park coffers considerably, there is a definite shortfall.
Money, it must be said, can only go so far. Rangers’ squad against Urziceni still cost a combined fee in excess of £20million – compared to £1.3m for the visitors.
In a roundabout way, the domestic success of the two sides has created an appetite, almost an expectancy, for success that they are now struggling to fulfil. Players such as Celtic’s Willo Flood and Kenny Miller of Rangers may be of sufficient quality to mount a challenge for the Scottish Premier League, but the Champions League is another level. Players such as Miller, Madjid Bouggherra and Kyle Lafferty made names for themselves in the English Football League before moving north of the border – and expecting a seamless transition from Championship to Champions League will see both teams continuing to struggle for years to come.
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