Sunday, 21 August 2011

Brave Hearts Can't Beat The English

Tottenham’s 5-0 thumping of Hearts last week illustrated a definite bridge in quality between a Europa League finish in the SPL and the EPL.

However, just how big is the gap in class between the two leagues and why?

John Hartson today wrote how he believed Stoke would win the Scottish Premier League should they join. If you said that to a fan of the Old Firm, they’d claim you were mental. But in reality, it’s not too strong a statement to make.

What would happen if Celtic and Rangers joined the EPL like they’ve been trying for years? Realistically, it’d be hard to see them in the top half of the table with the squad of players each have. If Samaras wasn’t good enough for Manchester City when they were a bottom half side, he certainly isn’t going to be in a team pushing for the Champions League spots now.

Kris Boyd has currently scored more goals than any other player in the history of the Scottish Premier League with 164. He scored just 6 during his stint with Middlesborough, who were playing in only the second tier of English football. It’s hard to find players who’ve scored bags of goals in England and made the transition to Scotland because it hasn’t really happened.

However, the real question here is why is there such a gulf between English and Scottish football? For many years Celtic and Rangers competed at the highest level of European football, Celtic winning the equivalent of the Champions League in 1967 and Rangers the European Cup Winners Cup in 1972. For them to today win the Champions League seems unimaginable.

There really are two major factors which link into each other fairly well. The first major factor is that there simply aren’t enough fans to support Scottish football the way English football is. One statistic that sums the problem up fairly well is that the population of Scotland is the same as that of London’s, just one of many major cities in England.

Should Sheffield Wednesday, a League One side, be playing in the top tier of Scottish football, they’d have the third highest attendance in all the leagues, averaging a huge seven thousand larger attendance than Hearts, who do currently have the third biggest attendance in Scottish football.

This in turn leads to the more explainable factor that the just isn’t the money to finance a really quality side. Comparing the champions of each league demonstrates the proof really is in the pudding.

Rangers last year produced a turnover of £56 million, which sounds a lot, until you look at Manchester United’s, which was a whooping £286 million, more than five times the amount of Rangers’.

Today, a lot of revenue is based on television rights, and because of the amount of fans the country boasts, the money goes down depending on who might watch the game. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Manchester United’s revenue from TV rights dwarfs Rangers by generating over 27 times more money annually.

Of course, money isn’t everything. Teams in England have done well without throwing around vast sums of money around. But to be able to compete at the highest level, it’d be foolish to ignore the fact that financial support plays a pivotal part is sustainable success.

Is there any way of closing the gap? Well, no, not really. Unless extreme measures of bringing in caps on squad’s wages are brought in, the gulf will widen between the English and Scottish game, and the best Scottish clubs can do to ensure longevity is to focus on their academy’s and realising that producing quality youth players will go a long way in playing the part of team’s existence and success.

Many poorer teams in Scotland have acknowledged this, like Stirling Albion, who have a job simply competing with teams in and around the third tier of Scottish football. The average age of their squad this year is just 23 years.