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Jan 20, 2011

It's all about the money

As the latest new dawn for Scottish football appears closer to the horizon, one thing has become much clearer: while we're told it's all about the greater good of the game, in fact it's all about money.

Even those passionately against plans for a ten-team top tier and a secondary league made up of 12 clubs will come to the negotiating table if the carrot of fairer television income distribution is dangled in front of them.

There's been plenty of debate and conjecture about looking after the interests of all 42 member clubs but that's just clouding over the main issue. Scottish football has become too predictable, stale and in need of an overhaul as the SPL simply doesn't generate enough income to sustain its clubs.

The aim now is to push through the changes in time for the start of the 2012-13 campaign in a bid to inject new life into the much maligned game in Scotland. However, opposition still remains from both Kilmarnock and Inverness Caley Thistle, perhaps amid fears they could lose their top-flight status if a league of ten is pushed through.

Despite the reservations of Killie and Caley, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster insists there is broad support for the proposals although he has admitted there is still work to be done before a ten-team vote is formally ratified.

Not only has he still to completely convince some of the pessimistic Premier League clubs, Doncaster also faces a fight to really sell the idea to the media and the fans who ultimately fund the professional game.

But for one established Scottish football commentator, the new reforms aren't nearly radical enough. Derek Whyte might now enjoy a sunshine life in Dubai but he keeps more than just a watchful eye on his former stomping ground. The former Celtic, Middlesbrough, Aberdeen and Scotland defender is now a respected TV pundit in the Gulf and regularly reports on the latest SPL matches.

"I welcome the calls for a change in the Scottish Premier League because it is badly needed but there needs to be a complete overhaul of the system," Whyte says. "While a smaller, more compact top flight might breed a more competitive league, it won't cure all the problems throughout the game.

"It's got to be about time now for the smaller clubs who are clustered closely together to merge before they disappear forever. I'm not just singling out the Angus region in the north east of Scotland because there are other areas with several clubs in close proximity to each other.

"But in the Angus area you have Brechin, Forfar, Arbroath and Montrose all within a few miles of each other. Brechin and Forfar are both in the Second Division while Arbroath and Montrose are both Third Division clubs so surely there's got to be scope for them to merge otherwise they won't all survive.

"I know there's a lot of tradition on the line but sometimes you have to consider what's best for the greater long-term good. There's even a valid argument for the two clubs in Dundee joining forces although even just suggesting that will cause a real uproar.

"But both clubs don't exactly have huge attendances and Dundee would benefit from being a one-team city. Some people might suggest Hearts and Hibs do the same but they have bigger regular crowds and a broader catchment area to support them."

Whyte, who ended his playing days at Partick Thistle in 2004, moved to Dubai to pursue a career as a sports pundit five years ago. It's a role he relishes, especially as he can keep abreast of the latest developments in the SPL from the comfort of an air-conditioned studio gantry.

And while the 42-year-old doesn't reckon a move to a ten-team top flight in Scotland will break the Old Firm's future stranglehold on the game, he is convinced there is a major twist to come in this season's title race.

He added: "I wasn't surprised to see Kenny Miller being linked with so many different clubs because he's matured so much as a player this season. It looks as though he's going to net himself a lucrative deal with Bursaspor in Turkey and good luck to him.

"Kenny scored in the first game of the season against Kilmarnock then followed that up with a hat-trick against one of his former clubs Hibs at Easter Road. He's really taken on the goalscoring mantle since Kris Boyd left for Middlesbrough and seems to relish the extra pressure of being expected to score goals.

"The fact he was going to be out of contract at the end of the season and in scoring form was always going to trigger a level of interest in him. His departure will certainly strengthen Celtic's title chances because Rangers will miss Kenny's goals although Nikica Jelavic could fill that gap."

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