Monday, March 06, 2017

Scottish Football: European Speculation

With the final four set for the Scottish Cup, it's time for me to offer my second annual preview of who might represent Scotland in Europe.

To recap, the goal is to get good results and see the UEFA coefficient rise to the point where Scottish teams are treated better. This year's coefficient drops to 25th, which puts the Scottish Cup winner in the Europa League first round. Next year, it will probably be 23rd, which puts the Cup winner in the second round. If APOEL Nicosia continues their Europa League success, Scotland could drop to 24th, but that still would mean a second round entry. The upcoming season (2017/8) affects the matches in 2019 and beyond.

So let's look at the contenders.

Celtic

Chances of playing in Europe: 100%
Path to Europe: They are going to win the Scottish Premiership. They have won all but one match this season. In the amazingly unlikely event that they lost all further matches, there is no way Aberdeen wins enough to catch them. And they are favorites to win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Very. They are the only Scottish side structured to make some noise in the Champions League.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Brendan Rogers knows what he's doing, and he hasn't had enough success at Celtic to move on to an English club yet.

Aberdeen


Chances of playing in Europe: 95%
Path to Europe: They are currently sitting second in the Premiership. Rangers might catch them, but third would be good enough. As long as Hibs doesn't win the Cup, even being caught by Rangers and Hearts would still leave them in Europe. And they could still win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Quite. Over the past five years, the three best European performances not belonging to Celtic are the past three years of Aberdeen results.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Derek McInnes knows what he's doing. He could get lured away by a bigger club, but I heard a commentator say he probably wants to get through to the Europa League group stages first. Hopefully this is the year for that.

Rangers


Chances of playing in Europe: 75%
Path to Europe: They are sitting third in the Premiership. As with Aberdeen, second, third, or probably fourth would get them through. They've looked uneven lately, so this isn't a lock, but Hearts hasn't looked great either. And they could win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Mostly happy. They have the second-biggest budget in Scotland, so they should be able to make some noise. On the other hand, the last few years they have improved from very messed up to somewhat messed up as an organization. If they can get their act together, they should contend for the group stages.
Managerial dysfunction level: At least medium. Their last manager either left or was fired (they are still arguing that) while looking to jump to an English side. The are (so we hear) closing in on a Portuguese manager who sounds promising, but is mostly an unknown quantity. There's a lot of risk here.

Hearts


Chances of playing in Europe: 65%
Path to Europe: If they can maintain or improve their fourth-place standing, they're in as long as their arch-rivals Hibs don't retain the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not too unhappy. They did OK last year under their previous manager. They're one of the biggest five clubs in Scotland, so they have the resources to put together a decent side.
Managerial dysfunction level: Medium-high. After Robbie Neilson moved to England, they appointed the young and inexperienced Ian Cathro and the results have not been there. Optimism says he needs time to find his footing and get the club playing the way he wants. Pessimism says he's in over his head. The club has been smartly focused on getting the finances and stadium set for the future, but that doesn't help the short-term results.

St. Johnstone


Chances of playing in Europe: 30%
Path to Europe: Overtake Hearts and/or Rangers for one of the top-four spots.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not very. They put together a string of four appearances which was broken last year. Of Scotland's 18.925 coefficient, that run contributed 1.35. I groan when I think about them showing up again, as they don't have the resources of the other clubs.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. It takes skills to keep St. Johnstone so high over the years, and Tommy Wright has them. As long as he doesn't get lured away, they are going to be dangerous domestically.

Hibernian


Chances of playing in Europe: 10%
Path to Europe: Repeat as Cup winners, in hopefully their last season in the second tier.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Happy. Despite the fact that they're in the second tier, they have a first-tier manager with European experience. They will very likely be promoted, so they'll have a first-tier budget, especially as one of the five biggest Scottish clubs.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Neil Lennon had great success at Celtic, and is still licking his wounds from his time in England, so he should be there at least another couple of years.

The Field


Chance of playing in Europe: 25%
Path to Europe: Stumbles by Rangers, Hearts and St. Johnstone could bring Partick, Dundee or someone else into contention.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not. Smaller clubs have a record of dragging down Scotland's UEFA coefficient.
Managerial dysfunction level: Variable.
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