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Layun, Diaz, Romero are realistic signings

Liga MX talking points
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Is there a bright future for Scotland?

Even as the SPL takes a breather to allow George Burley a rare opportunity to tinker with the national side in Wales, there has been a collective outpouring of mournful sighs throughout Scotland that is more typically associated with the country's post-Hogmanay hangover.

According to some observers, the Old Firm's failure to negotiate a way out of their homeland means the game is a busted flush, while other football aficionados have expressed their apprehension that the SFA's representatives might never again secure qualification to the finals of a major tournament.

Now, it might be that some of these fears are justified and it certainly won't be easy for Burley's players to progress to future European Championships or World Cups. Yet, on the evidence of the SPL campaign thus far, there are plenty of reasons to be quietly confident that a new generation of young players is emerging.

The new breed seem to have less interest in the bottle or the bookies and more on bettering themselves, following in the footsteps of Darren Fletcher, who has gradually developed into one of his country's few international-class players.

Indeed, the Old Firm's Premier League rejection might provide another incentive for the Glasgow giants to invest in youth and nurture grassroots potential, instead of seeking to import expensive foreign players they can no longer afford.

In recent weeks, there has been evidence in the spritely performances of Rangers' Danny Wilson that Murray Park might finally be doing the job for which it was established: producing skilful, ambitious teenagers with the nous and professionalism to make a good impression, both at Ibrox and with Scotland.

Cynics might retort that the likes of Wilson and, to a lesser extent, John Fleck are the exceptions that prove the rule, but there are two ways of viewing the present situation. One option is that those of us who follow Scotland can seek vicarious pleasure in applauding the achievements of the Republic of Ireland, while crossing our fingers and praying that England suffer fresh heartache in their pursuit of the World Cup next summer.

Option two is to cease indulging in schadenfreude, start waking up to the fact we are living in the 21st century, cast aside outdated prejudices and come together as a nation to encourage the missionary work which is being carried out at such clubs as Motherwell, Aberdeen and Dundee United.

None of this will reap instant dividends, but there are grounds for optimism if you scratch beneath the surface. At Fir Park, for instance, Jim Gannon has assembled a youthful collective, whose maturity and skill are definitely worth a mention in despatches. Steven Saunders, Shaun Hutchinson, Ross Forbes, Tom Hateley and Jim O'Brien are just five of the players who have glittered throughout the gloom of recent months and, although Gannon appreciates that he can expect to lose several of these performers as their reputations grow, he is philosophical about the process.

Much the same applies to Mark McGhee at Aberdeen. Despite an unrealistic level of expectation given the board's ongoing reluctance to release any significant funds, individuals such as Fraser Fyvie, Peter Pawlett and Chris Maguire have demonstrated they are not daunted by following in the illustrious footsteps of a team that once beat Real Madrid in a European final.

In some respects, even mentioning that achievement is pointless now - football has moved on and it would be illogical to hope for McGhee's men to compete on a level playing field with the galacticos. But, thankfully, there is a resilience, an obvious work ethic and a willingness to put in hours on the training pitch that perhaps didn't exist a decade ago, when the SPL was packed with second-rate foreigners, who brought nothing to the party.

It wouldn't do to overstate the optimism. While it would be pleasant to report that the Old Firm are steadily growing more fallible because their SPL rivals have raised their standards, the reality is that these are probably the weakest Rangers and Celtic squads for the last 20 years, an assertion highlighted by their dismal results on the European stage.

Yet, while Scotland is no longer churning out tanner ba' players, in the mould of Jimmy Johnstone and Jim Baxter, or being targeted by English scouts with large chequebooks, there are signs that matters may improve during the next decade. Not enough, perhaps, for the Scots to look forward to reaching the World Cup finals five times in a row - as happened between 1974 and 1990 - but sufficient to leave the doom-mongers looking a little daft.

After all, these things tend to go in cycles and if gritty characters such as Pawlett, Forbes, Hateley, Fleck and their fellow Scots can maintain the promise they have shown this season, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The choice lies in accentuating the positives or wallowing in negativity. The second option might suit some Scots, but it should be rejected as speedily as the Old Firm's plans to relocate to England were scuppered by the Premier League. Because, ten years from now, that may just be the decision that finally offered salvation to Scottish football.

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