Is the presence of Celtic and Rangers in the Champions League good for Scotland?

Celtic captain Scott Brown (right) tackles PSG's Edinson Cavani
Celtic will play in the Champions League group stage next season for the first time since 2017

The famous Champions League anthem will echo around Celtic Park and Ibrox this season for the first time since 2007.

Celtic and Rangers are back at the top of European football and with that comes money, the chance to compete with the best in the world and the prestige of the Scottish game.

However, with the Glasgow giants already operating on a different financial planet to other clubs in the country, this huge windfall comes with challenges to the competitive balance of the domestic competition.

Here, BBC Scotland examines whether having two clubs in the group stage will really help the Scottish game as a whole.

A widening chasm

The revenue gap between the old company and the rest is obvious, but worth pointing out. For the 2020-21 season – the latest set of results available for the full year – Celtic have spent just over £50m of their £60m in wage income, with Rangers only not far behind with £47million in personnel costs.

Last year, the third highest wage bill in the country was Aberdeen, which was more than five times lower at £9million, more than double that of Livingston or Ross County.

Champions League revenue – which includes participation payments, coefficient money and television money – will only increase income for the old business.

“You’re not far off £20-25million before a ball is kicked,” says football finance expert Kieran Maguire of the University of Liverpool. “And that’s ignoring the impact on entry revenue, sponsors, bonuses, so it’s very lucrative.

“When Celtic were in the Champions League in 2018, their revenues topped £100m in total for the first time ever. Not taking part, in some years after that, had a noticeable impact on their finances. “

In football, higher wage outlay is usually correlated with success, and when Celtic returned to the Champions League in 2016-17 after a three-year absence and backed them up the following season, it gave them a flattering moment. -shape to win four domestic hat-tricks on the twirl.

It was only thanks to director loans, fantastic consistency in the Europa League and Celtic’s failure to reach Europe’s elite competition since 2018 that Rangers managed to close the gap in revenue and salaries, which helped them win the 2020-21 league title.

It shows what Champions League money can do to sway the competition between Glasgow’s rivals, let alone the rest of the clubs with a fraction of their resources.

Not bad at all for the rest

Celtic and Rangers head to the Champions League, having had long runs in the Europa League, however, that’s not bad news for the chasing pack.

The better Scotland’s coefficient ranking, the more places are open for other teams to play in European competition and the less likely they are to have to go through multiple qualifying rounds.

Heart of Midlothian, for example, are guaranteed to have at least group stage football in the Europa Conference League and only entered the Europa League in the play-off round due to Scotland’s rising scoreline .

“Last time we were in Europe we had to win four games in a row to try to get into the Europa League,” Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson said after Rangers reached the final of the Europa League. Europa League last season.

“Getting European football is attractive for players arriving from our perspective and it also pushes up Scottish football stock. With Rangers’ coefficient going so far, every other team will get a payment.”

The bonuses Neilson refers to are UEFA’s so-called ‘solidarity payments’, which go to Premiership teams that don’t make Europe. These are due to reach around £15million and will be shared between the other top-flight clubs over four years from 2024.

It’s much-needed and welcome money, but it wouldn’t do much to offset the riches Celtic and Rangers are making from the Champions League.

“We’re talking hundreds of thousands or maybe a million or two million at best in terms of solidarity payments,” says Maguire. “That’s compared to the minimum of £30m that Celtic and Rangers could get from Champions League participation.

“These clubs already have a significant financial advantage over the rest of the Scottish Premiership, so there are significant financial gaps, which will be magnified by participation in the Champions League.”

So will this benefit Scottish football?

It depends on what you want from the game. If the essence of Scottish football is to have a competitive domestic league, which could be won by more than two teams (Aberdeen were the last non-Old Firm club to win the league in 1985 ), then either of Glasgow’s big teams in the Champions League is more bad news.

If you accept the reality of modern football and the financial disparities that exist anyway, but still want at least a title run, then it’s better for Celtic and Rangers to come in so one doesn’t become financially too far ahead of the other.

And away from finances, there are other benefits. Some young Scottish players – given the opportunity – will play at the highest level, which should help the national team and boost Scotland’s reputation.

With this, and more European locations, fans of other clubs can enjoy more continental football and potentially attract better players and receive more money for their own talent.

These advantages are not insignificant and could make a difference in the quality of the league, if not in its competitiveness at the top.

But the reality is that consistent Champions League qualification for Rangers and Celtic will make underdog exploits such as St Johnstone’s double win two seasons ago less likely. Especially since the gap is probably as wide as it has ever been.

Both Old Firm sides have completed league campaigns unbeaten for the past six seasons, a feat not previously achieved in Scotland since 1899, when a season lasted just 18 games.

Dundee United are the only team other than Celtic to beat Rangers in the Premiership in two terms, despite it being 36 games since Celtic lost in the league.

So while a rising tide can lift all ships, it makes little difference if two of those ships are already miles ahead.

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