This is a guest article by Daniel Archibald, about the immediate future for Celtic. You can follow Daniel @daarchibald.
For years, this season has been built up as a bit of a main event fight in Scotland, Ten in a Row vs what they say is ’55’. It’s a fight we look to have lost. But in the never ending saga of Scottish football, when one chapter ends, another begins.
A Look at the Coefficient
Much has already been made of the fact that this years league winners will only face two Champions league qualifying rounds next season. That’s opposed to the four rounds Celtic have become accustomed to, with second place getting a spot in notoriously difficult league route qualifiers.
And despite Celtic’s best efforts to the contrary, this season our coefficient has risen again. Some media outlets have incorrectly reported that next season’s league winner will be guaranteed an automatic Champions League spot. That isn’t official, but it’s certainly possible.
Scotland currently sits 11th in UEFA’s coefficient table [Kassiesa]. For the moment, there’s no need to look upwards. To close the gap between us and Austria, currently in 10th place, would likely require Rangers to win this season’s Europa League.
Similarly, looking downwards, the same would be required from the likes of Red Star Belgrade or Young Boys for us to risk losing 11th place to anyone other than Ukraine. They sit in 12th, and are still represented this season by Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, who play Club Brugge and Maccabi Tel Aviv respectively in the Europa League round of 32.
Put simply, for Scotland to hold 11th place, Rangers would need to keep pace with the points that these two sides can collect between them. That’s certainly possible, but probably unlikely.
When the dust settles, here’s what we’ll know for sure. The 21-22 league winner will go immediately into the Champions League Playoff round. That means they’ll begin just one tie away from the group stage, and will be guaranteed at least a Europa League spot.
If Rangers can keep Scotland in 11th place in the rankings, the same applies, but with a twist. Unless next seasons Champions League winner fails to qualify for the competition via their domestic league (which hasn’t happened since 2012), that becomes an automatic group stage place [Kassiesa].
For Celtic, UEFA giveth, UEFA taketh away
The nature of the coefficient is such that this window in which the group stages are within touching distance for Celtic and Rangers will likely not be open for long. From next season, Scotland will have five representatives in Europe as opposed to four. Any points earned by Celtic and Rangers are diluted more than they are currently.
Also, the prospect of entering the qualifiers at as late a stage as possible is welcome to individual clubs. That said, the truth is these early rounds are where we collect the majority of our coefficient points.
So, by not playing these games, those numbers will likely fall. That’s unless our teams can start picking up more points in the group stages and beyond.
This might well be possible thanks to the new UEFA Conference League starting next season, sitting below the Europa League. What has been oddly overlooked by most this season is that the Scottish Cup winner (or 3rd place in SPFL if either of the Old Firm win the Cup) will go into the Europa League playoff round. Hence, they’ll be guaranteed group stage European football in either the Europa or the new Conference League.
While that gives us a chance to pick up more points, it provides the same opportunity to the nations around us. So the likelihood is that Scotland will slide back down a few places in the ranking within a few years. That pushes those Champions League spots further away again. And of course, we can’t rule out UEFA restructuring again to close off their top competition even further.
Where It Leaves Us
Should Rangers win the title this season, as mentioned above, they’ll face two qualifying rounds next season. Their admittedly formidable form in Europe suggests they’ll be more than capable of navigating them.
A lot of investors at Rangers have been funnelling money into the club as yet without return. Possibly, a Champions League windfall for them wouldn’t stretch much further than balancing the books. Either way, it would certainly close the financial gap between the two sides.
If they got it again the following season, they would undoubtedly gain a financial advantage that could stretch into the years ahead.
All in all, it’s not a great time to be heading into a rebuild the size Celtic have on their hands. However, that’s where we are. I’ll leave it to others to tell you who should be in charge. Or who should be bought and sold. What changes Celtic need to make this summer.
All I’ll say is this: we need to get it right. If we don’t, we could find ourselves very quickly falling very far behind.