Gascoigne, Laudrup, Thern, McCall, Steven... these were but a few of the top class names I could call upon whenever I loaded up a game of Championship Manager 96/97 and selected my favourite team to play with, Rangers. Its not that Celtic didn't have appeal. Larsson, Lennon, McStay and Lambert were also strong performers and either club, if well managed, would bring me Champions League victory eventually. I would look forward to watching them both on Eurogoals or in the Champions League if they were on TV.
Today, they, and the league they play in are derided by pundits and fans alike. A quick peak at their squads reveal decent ex-championship performers in the likes of Lafferty and Hooper coupled with internationals from Algeria, Israel and Bosnia. The best Scottish talent has long gone South of the border where Craig Gordon, Barry Ferguson and Darren Fletcher ply their trade. Even the young talent is leaving early with Danny Wilson being poached by Liverpool and Shaun Maloney's brief sojourn in the Midlands showing the Old Firm's inability to keep their assets.
Partly this decline must be seen as a by-product of the lack of money available in the SPL where 1st and 2nd receive circa £3m each come pared with £20m+ in the Premier League. Celtic and Rangers real debt is around the £32m mark which has curtailed their ability to attract as well as afford top class talent. Furthermore, it implies that all first team players are effectively up for sale at all time and at affordable prices. Expensive and unsuccessful signings, like the £12m Rangers dished out for Tore Andre Flo, have hardly helped matters. It has to be said that the SPL is one of the least competitive league in Europe, and players' unwillingness to ply their trade in such a league is understandable. This problem has been identified by the head honchos at both clubs and their attempt to join the EPL were doomed to failure.
While these problems seem to spell doom and gloom in the foreseeable future for the Glasgow giants there are positives as well as options. Celtic Park and Ibrox boast a full 60'000 an 51'000 filled seats, respectively, in most home games as well as a windfall of £5m through the sale of season tickets every year. As things stand the SPL has two Champions League berths which de facto guarantees Rangers and Celtic some form of access every year which gives it an important financial boost as well as allowing players a taste of the big time, which is one of the greatest draws for players moving to either club.
With such a platform these clubs should be looking to follow the example of Portuguese clubs like Benfica and Porto who snap up young, promising talent across Europe and the Americas. Ramires and Cissokho are examples of players who have performed exceptionally well in the League. The jump to one of Europe's 'big clubs' increased their value and they were sold on for a healthy profit. There needs to be an acceptance in Glasgow, that the Old Firm have to shift their emphasis towards being a springboard to Europe's giants, rather than a giant themselves.
In truth, it has been a while since I have played with either Rangers or Celtic in the new Football Manager editions so maybe I will try this philosophy out for myself.