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John McGlynn <-auth Roddy Forsyth auth-> Alan Muir
18 of 025 Callum Paterson 28 ;Arvydas Novikovas 30 ;Callum Paterson 61L SPL A

British league remains distant dream for Scottish elite in hope of improving European prospects

The discussions which have begun in certain European leagues about the possibility of merging top divisions across national borders are unlikely to be productive for Scotland – at least in the near future – although the matter will arise at a strategy meeting in Glasgow on Wednesday involving the Scottish football authorities and Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen, who are all members of the European Club Association.

Roddy Forsyth

The genesis of the idea is Michel Platini’s contemplation of a European football landscape that the president of Uefa feels is in danger of becoming predictable and boring.

The Champions League final, for example, is a fiefdom of four of the Big Five countries – England, Germany, Italy and Spain – and the last time a final featured a contender from outside that quartet was in 2004, when Jose Mourinho’s Porto beat Monaco.

It has been conjectured within Uefa that one way of creating rival power bases is to permit leagues in geographical proximity to merge, at least at their top level.

So, for example, the Scandinavian countries – including perhaps also Finland and the Baltic states – could combine, as could Belgium and Holland, although the TV models in those two countries differ radically from each other.

Another combination might extend to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. However, there are also countries where the frontiers exist only with much larger neighbours who are already among the European elite and who have no obviously similar partners at hand.

Scotland and Portugal – who are represented in the same Champions League group with Celtic and Benfica – are the exceptions.

“When we’re talking to Uefa or in the ECA and this comes up, they say, ‘Well, you’re next to England’ and that’s that,” Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, told this correspondent.

“I think you can argue a case that the bigger Scottish clubs in general would be better off in a British League but that’s not going anywhere for the time being.

“All the same, we have to consider any proposal that might empower the bigger clubs in smaller leagues who simply haven’t got the financial muscle to compete with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, the Manchester clubs or Chelsea.

"Yet many of these clubs – like Celtic – won the European Cup when there was more of a level playing field across Europe.”

Whatever pleasure Celtic fans may savour about Rangers’ spectacular deprivation of status in the wake of the financial calamity at Ibrox, the Parkhead hierarchy is entirely aware that the collapse of the Hoops’ arch-foes has also weakened their own hand in certain respects.

It was accepted among their European peers that the Glasgow pair had a combined tradition and reputation worth heeding but, although Rangers are still ECA members by virtue of their second-place finish in the SPL last season – the rules do not distinguish between the club and continuity of its owners – they will drop out next year.

In the meantime, the loss that dare not speak its name in the east end of Glasgow – well, hardly dare – was evident enough on Saturday.

Dundee, who were hoisted into the SPL to replace Rangers in this season’s fixture list, were the visitors on the weekend that would have featured the first Old Firm derby of the season, had the old order prevailed.

At half-time, Telegraph Sport asked the affable season ticket holders in front of the press box if they would rather have been watching a game against Rangers.

Without exception, the answer was yes, with one Hoops diehard going so far as to say that he hoped league reconstruction would accelerate the process of Rangers’ return.

The gist of their concern was that if, on the one hand, Neil Lennon’s players continued to look as though they were engaged in a training session – as they did for periods on Saturday – then the fans would be short-changed.

If, on the other hand, Celtic were to exert themselves to the maximum against the likes of the Dens Park side, the league trophy would be retained and stowed away long before the campaign’s end.

Telegraph Sport's survey, of course, was tiny and ad-hoc and, while it would be intriguing to know what result a rigorously conducted poll of the Hoops faithful might reveal, it is also certain that some would insist that the presence or absence of Rangers is irrelevant to their afternoon’s enjoyment.

Still, the early exodus to the car park was the consequence of a comfortable win that saw Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama score on each side of the interval, with Celtic also able to afford a penalty kick miss – Scott Brown’s attempt was saved by Rab Douglas – and a Hooper effort that rebounded from a post.

“We are not exactly box office but we came to try and compete. The crowd was down quite a bit in numbers but I still thought Celtic were comfortable passing the ball,” said Douglas, who was in goal when Martin O’Neill’s Hoops side lost to Porto in the 2003 Uefa Cup final in Seville.

“They didn’t force it and kept popping it about until an opening came - Celtic will always be able to create chances.”

And once he was satisfied that his players had moved into the comfort zone, Lennon took the opportunity to allow Efe Ambrose, Dylan McGeouch and Tony Watt to stretch their limbs, having given Lassad Nouioui his first start.

McGeouch, glad to be back afters suffering a nasty facial injury in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid, said: Obviously, there’s no Rangers and everybody expected a clean sweep and us to win every game but it’s not the case.”

The capacity to permit fringe players and newcomers to ease their way into SPL action is one advantage the manager is likely to exploit regularly this season and a few should see action in Tuesday night’s visit by Raith Rovers in the Scottish Communities League Cup.

Taken from

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