We’ve all heard the argument before. It’s aired almost on a weekly basis, normally around…
It works in other countries, they say. In Spain, for instance, Barcelona and Real Madrid have B sides that play in the country’s senior league set up. It’s the same in Portugal and the Netherlands. Several European nations, nations with much better track records in producing young talent, have gone down this route. So why shouldn’t Scotland?
The debate over the introduction of Colt teams to the Scottish league system has raged for a long time, but the discussion now appears to be coming to a head. As per Gordon Waddell’s report in today’s Sunday Mail, a plan to introduce Celtic and Rangers Colt teams to the SPFL could be in place as early as next season.
Waddell reports that representatives from all 10 Scottish League Two met with Chris McCart and Craig Mulholland (the development heads at Celtic and Rangers respectively) last week, with a two-year pilot scheme discussed. The plan would require the green light of every 42 SPFL club, but Waddell claims seven of the 10 clubs directly affected are open to the move.
This would be a watershed moment for the Scottish game. This would be the implementation of one of the most controversial aspects of Project Brave (although whether this proposal is actually part of Project Brave isn’t entirely clear). Without being too hyperbolic, it could change the spirit and character of the sport in this country. It would say something about where the priorities of those in charge of Scottish football lie.
What is notable about these plans are how only Celtic and Rangers are involved. It has been discussed previously that the Scottish Premiership’s top six, including the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian, could provide Colt teams, but now that suggestion has been distilled down to just two teams.
Scottish football is already weighted in favour of The Big Two (yes, this writer is aware of the irony of that statement, coming from someone who once launched a Kickstarter for a Celtic and Rangers-focused site) as it is. Do we really need to give them another advantage? Will these Colt teams really benefit Scottish football as a whole, or just Celtic and Rangers?
This writer is a fan of a lower league team. A team in the very lowest league, in fact – where Celtic and Rangers’ Colt teams would slot into the pyramid. It’s a misconception that there is a great desire at basement level for these plans to come to fruition. There is an overwhelming negative consensus among fans of lower league clubs. They don’t want Celtic and Rangers Colt teams down there.
Of course, some will argue that, such is the nature of the SPFL, smaller clubs hold too much sway over our national game. Anything that is raised for the development of Scottish football has to pass through the likes of Berwick Rangers, Elgin City and Peterhead, who have very different priorities to those in the top flight.
The idea is that Colt teams would expose young players to the demands and rigours of competitive football. It is widely agreed that Scottish prospects are being denied a testing ground for their talent at a young age, with the impact of the scrapping of the reserve league at the end of the 2008-09 season still felt.
But while Celtic and Rangers Colt teams at League Two would be, by definition, competitive, the true edge of their competitiveness would be dulled. It’s most likely that, like in other countries with similar schemes, Colt teams would be restricted from winning promotion, and protected from suffering relegation.
Take those motivations away and what will these young players be playing for? To impress coaches? To further their development? Is that not what they already aim to do at U20 level? Rangers have already pulled out of the U20 league set up and seem to have achieved some success in the time since that decision was taken. Do they really need a Colt side?
What’s more, the introduction of Celtic and Rangers Colt teams could impact on the competitiveness of League Two as a whole. Two shell clubs, who could be forced to play all their fixtures away from home, in the division would warp things. When people claim these plans would benefit Scottish football, what they mean is that it would benefit those at the top of Scottish football. Elsewhere, the impact would be negative.
This is the next step from introducing Trojan horses to the Challenge Cup. This is a movement that has been a long time in the making. There is no logic driving this concept. Instead, it all comes down to ideology. A flawed one, at that.