Scottish football routinely devours itself over certain issues on an almost daily basis.
On Wednesday it was the significance of the Nations League and whether Scotland could actually qualify for a major tournament. One day prior to that, news that Michael O’Neill had rejected the post of Scotland manager sent the country in to a whirlwind of self doubt and internal investigation.
Yet just before that, following a report in the Sunday Mail on Sunday, the entirety of Scottish football was debating the news of Celtic and Rangers Colt teams being introduced in to the lower divisions of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).
The concept has been floating around Scottish football for some time, but it was Gordon Waddell’s exclusive that suggested such plans could go ahead as early as next season.
With representatives from all ten League Two clubs meeting with Celtic and Rangers to consider a two-year pilot scheme. Waddell believes at least seven of those clubs are encouraged by the idea.
Predictably, the usual debates once again rose to the top of the discussion points on talk radio and the back pages of the Scottish press: Does this destroy the integrity of Scottish football’s league system? Will it benefit the young players in question? Or is this just another ploy for Celtic and Rangers to bully the rest of the SPFL in to doing their bidding?
All three questions raise debates worth having and in almost every case there’s no right answer. Nobody knows if Colt teams would ruin the competition in League Two. We won’t know if it actually benefits youth players until long after the proposed two-year pilot. And, obviously, guessing the real intentions of Celtic and Rangers is exactly that: A guessing game.
However, one of the spin-off points that hasn’t been given the same attention from the media is whether or not both sides of the Old Firm intend to use Colt teams for an entirely different purpose.
Rather than simply suggest a system for their youth players to play competitive games, this could be the first step in both Celtic and Rangers establishing second teams in the Scottish football pyramid before they take their first teams elsewhere.
The concept of Colt clubs – and the fear of them enabling Celtic and Rangers to leave Scottish football – go as far back as 2013 (if not longer), when the formation of the new SPFL (four leagues, with the Scottish Premiership replacing the SPL) considering the idea of Old Firm Colt teams joining the lower leagues upon its foundation.
David Longmuir, former chief executive of the SFL, asked the clubs to consider the concept at the time, basing his suggestions on his confidence that Celtic and Rangers leaving the league body without some form of entity taking their place would lead to “significant drops in commercial, marketing and media investment.” Both clubs stayed put and remain committed to the SPFL, but this new proposal could dig up old ambitions with a new twist.
The initial suggestion would be for Celtic and Rangers to join the English Football League and work their way up to a position in the Premier League, where they would undoubtedly see themselves belonging. However, in recent years a more intriguing option has come from the continent.
Peter Lawwell, Celtic’s chief executive, currently sits on the executive board of the European Club Association (ECA) and has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the formation of any potential European or Atlantic league down the line.
Only 18 months ago the Celtic chief bluntly admitted the appeal of such a system and stated that major changes to European football were afoot. “There will be change,” said Lawwell at Celtic’s AGM in October 2016.
“Whether that’s to the Champions League, a European League, an expanded European League, an Atlantic League. We’re in a good seat to be an influence.”
As such, the Colt teams in the lower divisions of Scottish football could, in theory, be upgraded to national representatives of both Celtic and Rangers, while their first team took part in either an English or European league. Which is why some fear this proposed two-year pilot scheme may be a covert move to ensure exactly that.
At the end of the day, most Scottish football fans may take great delight in the famous duopoly parting ways with the rest of the division. With Celtic and Rangers gone, the rest of the Premiership could rumble on in a more competitive, albeit poorer and less internationally enticing, capacity.
A win-win for the Glasgow giants and the rest of the country’s beloved sport? We await to see.