Flower of Scotland Set to Bloom

By , Posted on 28th January 2014 - Posted in: Sports And Design

As the last sixteen of the Champions League inches near it’s difficult to know which is the most mouth watering tie. In a fascinating draw which has thrown up many talking points, perhaps the most eye catching fixture is Manchester City versus Barcelona. Last year’s champions Bayern Munich will face Arsenal and London’s other great hope Chelsea will be pitched against Turkish champions Galatasaray who feature amongst their number a certain Didier Drogba.

The other Manchester team, currently playing second fiddle to their more boisterous neighbours, will play Greek side Olympiakos. Only one Italian side has made it this far and AC Milan will face Spain’s Atletico Madrid, another side like Manchester City currently flying the flag for the less traditionally successful half of town.

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All the usual suspects then but with four teams in the last sixteen the apparent rude health of English football seems at odds with the state of things north of the border in Scotland. Celtic of course made it to the knockout stages of last season’s competition, famously defeating the mighty Barcelona at Parkhead in the group phase, but with fierce city rivals Rangers being sent to the bottom rung of the Scottish league for financial irregularity Celtic have seen their European hopes blunted. Two years of impotent domestic competition have caught up with them. It’s not possible to take on the might of Europe’s finest if domestic challenges are not sufficient to hone the players accordingly. In short, Celtic have missed their keen rivals and with Rangers’ re-admittance to the top flight at least eighteen months off it’s a sorry situation for Scottish football. In a league already bereft of real financial investment good performances in Europe can provide a cash boost to the top clubs. This in turn trickles down through the lower leagues in the guise of transfer fees paid for those players who catch the eyes of the Glasgow giants.

But there are reasons for Caledonian optimism. Though in the absence of Rangers no other side has emerged as a genuine ‘number two’ to Celtic there are signs that some clubs have been able to hold onto and nuture their more talented youngsters, many of whom in less extraordinary times, would have seen fledgling careers peter out and die at Celtic or Rangers. Dundee United are the standout example, with Ryan Gauld and John Souttar amongst others now alerting scouts from all across Europe. It’s happening at other clubs too: Chris Johnston and Rory McKenzie at Kilmarnock; Jason Naismith at Saint Mirren and Stevie May at Saint Johnstone are young players rapidly making names for themselves. If nothing else the lack of money has long since forced clubs to develop their own players. Finally Scottish football may be about to reap its reward.

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Next September’s vote on Scottish independence swiftly follows the summer Commonwealth Games which will be held in Glasgow. Depending on how those events turn out it’s not hard to imagine a tidal wave of Scottish pride that helps sweep the national team to the finals of Euro 2016, a tournament that will see the previous format alter from sixteen finalists to twenty-four.

After years in the doldrums Scottish football may well be about to emerge from a long dark winter. There have been some harsh humiliations in recent years and Scots are far too cautious these days to count any chickens but it may just be that 2014 is the year of deliverance. Their top clubs may remain absent from the last sixteen of the Champions League for a little while yet but do keep an eye on the national side. As a newly self-confident nation awakes from its slumber the Tartan Army’s fortunes are surely on the rise.

 

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