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By ESPN Staff

SPL's best must resist the lure of England

Across Europe there are big teams who will monopolise their domestic leagues. It would be a massive surprise to see the likes of AC Milan or Inter not in the Italian title race, Lyon in France, Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; but nowhere is the difference more pronounced than in Scotland, with Celtic and Rangers.

The Glasgow clubs have notched up 93 Scottish League titles between them in their history, and while the Championships of Europe have seen gaps close (with Sevilla, Stuttgart and AZ Alkmaar testing out the top teams last season), it does not seem that the Old Firm's stranglehold on the Scottish league will be ending anytime soon.

Indeed, such is the domination of these two clubs, that calls have been made to introduce them into the English Premier League.

An interview on Press Pass last week with Celtic manager Gordon Strachan saw the fiery Scotsman make the point himself, given that his side finished 19 points clear of Aberdeen in third place in 2006/07, and the main motivation for the move is, of course, money.

The £30million that English teams get for securing Champions League football massively surpasses the £1million that the Scottish Champions receive. Although one could argue that the attraction of the English league outranks that of its Scottish counterparts by a ratio of 30:1.

Realistically (and despite Strachan's belief that they could win the English title), both Celtic and Rangers would struggle to make the top four in the Premier League - certainly for the first couple of years.

With the financial rewards that the English game offers and with the revenue that 60,000 fans would bring in, you can see why the clubs themselves are keen to move south of the border, but they would have to significantly improve their squads if they were to challenge for honours.

To compete in one of the best leagues in the world would be a dream come true for most SPL players and for the managers, the chance to spend £20million a season would be a refreshing change, giving the clubs the chance to attract some of the world's best talent.

So far in the 2007/08 season, the highest transfer fee paid for a player has been £4.4million for Scott Brown, while the rest of the imports read like a Who's Who of mediocrity. American winger DaMarcus Beasley was not deemed good enough to sign permanently for Manchester City, Celtic's Massimo Donati couldn't make the grade at AC Milan, while Scottish midfielder Lee McCulloch is possibly the only one who could claim he's made a step-up, from Wigan Athletic.

Disappointingly, one of the best players in the league, Hearts' Craig Gordon, decided to leave Scotland for £9million in favour of a relegation fight in the English Premier League with Roy Keane's Sunderland, which says a lot.

While the English league has also lost players of the quality of Thierry Henry and possibly Arjen Robben, it will not suffer as it has managed to recruit players like Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and Roque Santa Cruz. The SPL is not so blessed and is still feeling the force of Celtic legend Henrik Larsson's decision to seek a new career path back in 2004.

Indeed, a stumbling block to any move would hinge on the desire of the English teams to accommodate them. While two would have to be dropped from the top flight, the repercussions would impact all the way down the leagues, unless the solution was simply to create two additional places to make a 22-team league.

Managers already complain about an overly packed fixture list, so would not be pleased to find an extra four to play, including the transport up to Glasgow. The big clubs would be upset at losing the potential for European qualification, while the smaller clubs would fear the loss of revenue that would come from their displacement. And this does not begin to scratch the surface of the sponsors' displeasure at having to change the name from 'English Premier League' to 'United Kingdom Premier League' or something equally diplomatic.

While it may be an attractive prospect for the clubs themselves, the problem with an Old Firm breakaway from the Scottish point of view is what it leaves behind. The attraction of seeing Motherwell take on St Mirren (with no disrespect to either side) pales in comparison and means that two teams from the lower leagues of Scotland would have to replace the departing clubs.

Not only would the Scottish league lose its most saleable assets, it would gain a couple of mediocre teams that would do nothing for the advancement of the competition. How the Scottish FA could plug the hole left would determine the fate of the league itself, and one suspects that it would not last long without its two biggest clubs.

So far, Hearts are the only team to break the monopoly since its conception in 1998, gaining second place in 2005/06 and Craig Gordon is currently the only player to have been given a top SPL award (Writers' Player of the Year) while not playing for one of the Old Firm sides.

Undoubtedly, the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian would relish the chance to claim the league title for themselves; and given the quality of the remaining teams, would most likely participate in an interestingly even-handed battle. But would it be enough to draw in the crowds?

You would think not, despite the passionate nature of the Scottish football fan. The Old Firm rivalry is what makes the Scottish league so entertaining and would surely mark the death of Scottish football if it was no longer there.

At the moment, it remains a pipe dream for Scotland's top clubs, as both national football associations, (the Scottish Football Association & The Football Association), and Europe's governing body (UEFA), have to agree to the switch first, which seems a step too far.

Remaining unlikely for the foreseeable future, the other teams in Scotland may not be in with a chance of winning the title, but at least they will still have a league to compete in.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter