Can Scottish football compete with European elites?

It’s that time of the year again when football fans eagerly await news of the latest transfers their club is making in the transfer window. As clubs in Europe are making transactions of over £100 million per window these days, it’s normal practice to see those types of figures bandied about.

For the bigger clubs in Europe those signings are made to help them achieve success in European competitions like the Champions League or the Europa League.

This season, only Celtic made it through the qualifying rounds as the only Scottish team in European competition. Despite dropping out of the Champions League before Christmas, Brendan Rodgers’ side will take part in the Europa League next month – where they will face Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg.

In their Champions League group, Celtic faced two of the richest clubs worldwide: Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. They lost all matches against those sides. The total value of Celtic’s team was tiny compared to the German and French teams – a far cry from the days when Scottish clubs competed in high level matches with Europe’s best. In the current climate, that is not likely to happen again.

Olivier Ntcham was Celtic’s big money buy last summer. Credit: Getty Sport

Neil Patey, a football finance expert, believes that the millions of pounds in broadcast revenue sets the larger leagues apart from that of Scotland’s top flight. He said:

In reality, small leagues, Scotland and Celtic as an example, will never be competitive financially with a team in the upper echelons of the English, Spanish, German, Italian leagues. Aside wealthy owners, those leagues command more money from media rights.

You’re going to get somewhere between £140 million to £200 million every year through media rights. The winners of the Scottish Premiership get about £2.5 million so you are never going to be on an equal footing and there will always be that disparity between big and small leagues.

Celtic are still miles ahead of the rest of the country financially. They spent £4.5 million on midfielder Olivier Ntcham last summer and are likely to receive a multi-million pound offer for their striker Moussa Dembele this month. Edinburgh clubs Hibernian and Hearts struggle to reach seven figures to pay for any players.

Former SFA chief executive, Gordon Smith, thinks that Scotland’s finances will only get better if money is invested into the clubs differently. He said:

[Clubs] might have a buyer who can flaunt the rules a wee bit like some people do, basically coming in as a sponsor like you see in England with Etihad, for example. They can get around it because the owners get to put money in in different ways so that’s the only way Scottish teams can compete.

Gordon Smith (left) believes the Scottish clubs need wealthy owners to compete. Credit: Getty Images

UEFA’s financial fair play rule also keeps tabs on how clubs operate financially. The rule requires teams to financially breakeven with their revenue and expenditure. For the leagues and clubs who benefit from hefty television income that means more money is able to be spent within the rules.

Financial fair play expert, Ed Thompson, says that it is those rules which make it hard for smaller leagues to compete now. He stated:

In Scotland, and smaller countries, the amount of money that TV companies can afford to pay is less. If you look at big clubs in small countries, they have absolutely fallen off a cliff as far as UEFA competition is concerned.

Historically, top clubs in Holland, Belgium, Romania and Scotland – like Ajax, Steaua Bucharest, Anderlecht, Celtic and Rangers – who would have done well in Europe and won competitions, because they are in small countries where TV revenues are lower, financial fair play rules mean they are unable to compete.

Scottish clubs can keep trying. However, football and money are a married couple in the modern day and until Scottish football is rolling in it, pushing custard up a hill with a fork looks much easier.

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