The Sick Man of Europe

By , Posted on 29th February 2012 - Posted in: Football News, News

Glasgow Rangers are in administration. It’s a seismic shock for sure but to anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the game north of the border it’s merely the predictable wreck of a runaway train. In short, Rangers have lived beyond their means for well over a decade. Caught in an unsustainable arms race with neighbours Celtic they simply didn’t know when to stop.

In 2000 Rangers chairman David Murray boasted that ‘for every five pounds Celtic spend we will spend ten’. It’s the sort of thing fans want to hear but the problem was that while economic reality kicked in for Celtic a long time ago Rangers remained hooked on the dream. Expenditure at Parkhead was cut and the quality of the playing staff reduced accordingly but at Ibrox they ploughed on, forever striving to reach a goal that had long since moved beyond their grasp.

In the mid 1980s, with Graeme Souness yanking the club into the modern era, Rangers were probably Britain’s biggest and richest club, playing to full houses in a huge, modern stadium. They regularly qualified for the European Cup and its ‘love child’ the Champions League. In the 1992-93 inaugural season of the CL, they memorably knocked out English champions Leeds United before being eliminated at a latter group stage, one game away from the final, despite remaining unbeaten in the whole campaign. Exotic signings such as Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne followed as Rangers went on a nine-title winning streak, consolidating the hold they had over rivals Celtic.

But the bigger goal was to conquer the continent and when Celtic finally revived their domestic fortunes both clubs turned their attentions to attaining wider European success. They both invested heavily in team building. It was a case of speculating to accumulate with the money available from a successful run in the Champions League providing the potential to generate further vast incomes.

But the advent of the English Premier League helped pull the rug from under Scottish football. While television rights went astronomical down south Scotland’s league, and with it the fortunes of its two biggest clubs, went into decline for two reasons. Firstly Rangers and Celtic could no longer attract the best players. Gazza and Laudrup at Rangers and Henrik Larsson at Celtic were the last of their ilk. The money was now in England. But secondly, and perhaps more tellingly the disparity between the Old Firm and the rest of Scottish football had become so stretched that they were now playing in a joke of a league, devoid of any meaningless competition. How can you hope to compete with Barcelona one week when you’re sharpening your game against Falkirk the week before? Appearances in the latter stages of the Champions League became fewer. They’ve now actually vanished.

Rangers and Celtic had hoovered up so much domestic resource and talent no other side was able to mount anything like a serious challenge for honours. In their desire to match England’s top sides and maintain a presence in Europe they’d undercut the structure that underpinned them domestically and consequently the Scottish Premier League had become no more than a farce. The league is dead, absent of drama and quality. Other Scottish teams faring in the Europa Cup never even get past the preliminary stages now so poor are their players.

The Glasgow teams stand isolated, way ahead of the rest of their domestic opponents, but unable to cling onto the coat tails of the European elite they so longed to be part of. They are now neither one thing nor the other. Celtic saw the writing on the wall and have long since cut their losses but Rangers have continued throwing good money after bad, so much so that events have reached their inevitable, sorry state.

Few supporters outwith the Old Firm are shedding any tears because the game in Scotland is gripped in this unbalanced, uncomfortable torpor. The two bloated giants loom over thirty-eight other clubs in the professional set up but resources remain channeled almost exclusively towards the Old Firm. Hamilton, a town with a population of 48,000+, and a progressive youth policy that saw the emergence of exciting talents like James McCarthy and James McArthur (now playing in England’s Premiership at Wigan), recently spent three years in the SPL and could achieve no more than attendances of 2,000 – 3,000 for home games. Why? Because in the last twenty years or so most football supporters in Scotland’s central belt have aligned themselves to one of the two big boys, such is their total dominance of the scene. There seems little point in supporting anyone else if you want to see your side winning things.

And what now? Well, Celtic will win the league and Rangers will almost certainly come out of administration. Things will simply continue as before. If that’s the case then Scotland’s domestic league will remain the Sick Man of Europe and Celtic and Rangers will stay stuck fast in a mess of their own making.

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