We’re just days away from the start of the world’s greatest sporting tournament. The glamour, the glory, the colour, the drama, the fierce competition, the blood, sweat, tears, highs and lows.
And Rangers have been knocked out of Europe before it’s even started.
Yes, the SPL season kicks off on Saturday, and it should prove to be an interesting season.
The first question has to be the effect on Rangers of being knocked out of the Champions’ League. Last season’s UEFA Cup runners-up were humiliated by the Lithuanian champions in the qualifying rounds, and there are huge financial consequences for their unexpected defeat, which leaves them without any European football before the season has started.
I reckon, however, that this will do Rangers well in the long run – if Celtic put up a good show in the Champions’ League, Rangers’ league performances should have an edge in the latter half of the season. So while Celtic perhaps are the better side on paper, Rangers’ lighter fixture schedule could give them an advantage.
Hearts should be interesting this season. After a ridiculously long time looking for a permanent manager, the incompetent club have surprised many by appointing someone with some credibility, experience and, above all, independence. He’s even got away with criticising Romanov’s past decisions, which is perhaps an indicator that the team will train and play according to the manager’s intentions only. Now perhaps a squad that technically is very good will actually start delivering.
Not that I’d back them for third quite yet – my money would be on Dundee United for that, who were unlucky not to be third last year and who have dabbled cleverly in the transfer market this summer. Meanwhile, I doubt Aberdeen will do anything particularly interesting this season – their squad is unimproved and it will not be long, I suspect, before their manager’s frustration at his mediocre squad leads to his departure.
At the bottom, I expect newbies Hamilton, St Mirren and Niculae-less ICT to battle against relegation.
Of course, the big news is the mighty Ross County’s return to division 1. It looks like a good season in that division, which is always one of the more competitive in the league. I can’t see Ross County finishing in the top half, but I doubt they’ll go down again.
Roll on Saturday.