Next Season Is Ideal Opportunity for Hibs, Hearts Or Dons To Make A Mark In Europe

Scotland needs to have more clubs competing regularly in continental competitions
20:05, 18 Dec 2021

Hibernian will go in search of glory this Sunday when they take on Celtic in the Premier Sports Cup final.

The Edinburgh club has endured a troublesome campaign, resulting in the sudden departure of manager Jack Ross, however the Hampden showpiece provides a chance to lift the cloud of gloom that has engulfed Easter Road.

A victory at the weekend will not earn the Hibees a European berth for next season, but competing against continental opposition remains one of their primary objectives every year.

Scotland has enjoyed a significant upturn in fortunes regarding their UEFA coefficient ranking in recent campaigns - in stark contrast to the lowly position occupied five years ago. The progress made can be attributed to the consistent results churned out by the Old Firm, and both will still be involved in European competition in the New Year.

The financial meltdown Rangers encountered nine years ago impacted a wide range of areas in the Scottish game. The lack of European football at Ibrox during their trials and tribulations in the lower leagues led to a plummeting national coefficient, and it's taken time to repair the damage.

Struggles on the European scene resulted in unwelcome early-season starts and more qualification rounds. Celtic competed admirably at home and abroad in Rangers' absence, but the rest failed to fill the large void.

The last Scottish team outside Glasgow to secure a European group stage spot was Aberdeen in 2007/08. The Dons thrashed Copenhagen 4-0 and even managed a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich, but those famous nights have become a distant memory.

It is the responsibility of Celtic and Rangers, the two biggest clubs in the land, to lead the charge in European competition, however Aberdeen and the Edinburgh clubs should perform better on a more regular basis.

The new UEFA Europa Conference League, which commenced this season, aims to give more clubs from smaller countries an opportunity to sample group stage competition and reap the financial rewards. Alashkert, Flora, HJK Helsinki, NŠ Mura and Lincoln Red Imps were amongst the minnows that qualified for the inaugural group stages of the tournament.

Aberdeen, Hibs and St Johnstone, were tasked with being Scotland’s representatives, but all three came unstuck in the qualifiers, failing to earn the right to challenge the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Roma. It has been yet another disappointing campaign for the majority of Scottish sides. Aberdeen, a club with an enviable European pedigree, continues to be upended at the qualifying stage despite numerous attempts.

Scotland received an extra European berth this season due to continued ranking gains. Initially, this was a welcomed development, but an additional club not contributing to the cause weakens the all-important national coefficient.

There remains a possibility that this season’s Scottish Cup winners - or third in the league - will be assured, at least, a place in the group stages of the Conference League for 2022/23.

A third side competing in a UEFA group stage would ease the burden on the Old Firm, solidify the coefficient and inject some much-needed finance into the coffers of another club.

The winners of the Scottish Premiership receive a cheque in the region of £3.5 million. A club involved in the group stages of the Conference League is guaranteed, at a minimum, to earn a comparable amount.

Many clubs and supporters from powerful leagues hold a disparaging view of UEFA’s third-tier competition, but the finance on offer is significant to teams from smaller nations.

Scotland needs to have more clubs competing regularly in continental competitions. The additional revenue would drive the domestic game forward and improve the standard and standing of the league.

Next season is therefore the ideal opportunity for Aberdeen, Hibs or Hearts to emerge from the shadows and make a mark in Europe.

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