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Euro troubles highlight SPL concerns

There's a dark cloud hanging over Scottish football right now. It's a bit grim up north and that's before the domestic action has even started. Budgets have been slashed and squads have been severely cut as the credit crunch really starts to bite. Celtic, Aberdeen, Motherwell and Falkirk all appointed new bosses during the close season only for all three to suffer disappointing European defeats to further increase the doom and gloom.

Those results have already sparked several debates about the state of the game in Scotland with many leading figures offering their opinion on the problems.

Scottish Football Association chief Gordon Smith even suggested summer football would help clubs compete on the continent. Others claim the arrivals of the new managers worked against the clubs as they had little time to properly evaluate their squads. But new Celts gaffer Tony Mowbray, who also served the Hoops during his playing career, is convinced he knows the cause of the troubles.

On Wednesday he takes team to Russia and will try to overcome a 1-0 deficit in their Champions League qualifier following their first leg loss to Dinamo Moscow.

Mowbray, who left West Bromwich Albion to replace Gordon Strachan at Parkhead, summed up what's wrong north of the border in the wake of their Moscow mauling.

He said: "Fundamentally Scottish football is lacking the funds of some of the teams in European football. Football is usually about resources. We played a Russian team which is awash with money from a league that is awash with money, as are some of the other leagues around Europe, like in England."

Despite Mowbray's financial concerns he has at least been able to delve into the transfer market. He's had the luxury of bringing in the likes of Nancy pair Marc-Antoine Fortune and Landry N'Guemo and more recently Daniel Fox from Coventry City.

Mowbray will be aiming for a morale boosting victory over Dinamo Moscow not just to reinvigorate Scottish football but to help generate more revenue to fund further new arrivals. The Bhoys must win the tie or they will find themselves dropping into qualifying for the Europa League and that would see them lose vital cash.

The Celtic manager has been lifted by the fact his side created several chances against Dinamo and will be looking for some sort of return from Fortune who missed several glaring opportunities.

The pressure will be on Mowbray to deliver silverware in his first season especially after Rangers clinched the SPL league championship crown in the last campaign. The start to Mark McGhee's Aberdeen managerial career could hardly be any worse.

Not only has he already suffered several setbacks in the transfer market but his first competitive match at the helm in the Europa League qualifier ended in a heavy defeat at Pittodrie, so the pressure is already on.

McGhee, who left Motherwell to succeed Jimmy Calderwood, was forced to accept defeat to Plymouth Argyle in the race for Benin international defender Reda Johnson. Scottish clubs are already beginning to loathe Plymouth as boss Paul Sturrock has regularly plundered the SPL for its best young talent.

Cardiff City gaffer Dave Jones is another boss who has come to view Scotland as a value for money market. That trait is likely to continue with more English clubs monitoring the situation north of the border.

If the best youngsters are continually picked off it's going to make it even tougher for the Scottish clubs to make it in Europe. Maybe McGhee will view his first Aberdeen signing as something of a transfer coup. He landed goalkeeper Stuart Nelson from Norwich City despite interest from other English clubs.

But it was Aberdeen's defensive frailties that will have set the alarming bells ringing in McGhee's mind. The Dons slumped to an embarrassing 5-1 home defeat to Czech Republic side Sigma Olomouc in their Europa League qualification match.

By his own admission McGhee, part of Sir Alex Fergsuon's legendary Aberdeen side, said he has gone from "legend to idiot" after his first competitive 90 minutes in charge. If he didn't know it before he's now acutely aware of the size of the task he faces in the Granite City and he's already vowed to strengthen his squad.

But he'll be forced to operate on a tight budget so will have to be very creative in the transfer market. The crushing home leg result means the tie is all but over although McGhee will be looking to restore some pride in Thursday night's return match in the Czech Republic.

It was also something of a baptism of fire for Jim Gannon who has replaced McGhee as Motherwell manager. He suffered a shock opening 1-0 loss at home to Welsh minnows Llanelli in their pursuit of Europa League football.

Gannon's troops did recover in the away leg to progress before dismantling Albanian side Flamurtari 8-2 on aggregate. That set up their third European tie but they stumbled to a 3-0 defeat in Romania to Steaua Bucharest last week. The Steelmen play host to Steaua on Thursday night with Gannon all but admitting that all that's at stake is the chance for Motherwell to improve on their match sharpness.

Gannon has been given some funds to work with in the transfer market and the former Stockport County boss has been using his knowledge of the English leagues to strengthen his squad.

Goalkeeper John Ruddy has moved to Fir Park on loan while Gannon has also swooped for Giles Coke from Northampton Town and Steve Jennings from Tranmere Rovers. While both Aberdeen and Motherwell need minor miracles to prolong their European adventures Falkirk's is already over.

The Bairns promoted Eddie May to the position of manager during the close season as a replacement for John Hughes who moved on to become Hibs boss. Falkirk made a bright start under May winning their first ever European match 1-0 at home to Vaduz.

But the tie ended in misery for the new manager following a 2-0 away defeat in Liechtenstein. There's no doubt every Scottish club faces new challenges this season in the wake of the financial difficulties.

It'll certainly make interesting viewing to see how the clubs rise to those new challenges and which ones can actually survive the storm.

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