THE summer of 2018 won’t be held with much fondness for Scottish football fans. After the disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup, the tournament in Russia turned out to be one of the best for decades.
There was also the hard-to-ignore (unwarranted) jubilation from south of the border. Then the story broke about Adam Rooney’s move to the fifth tier of English football, and a whole new, or tired and old, can of worms was opened.
There are many reasons Rooney, who netted 88 times in his 197 appearances for Aberdeen, made the controversial move to Salford. He could have stayed in Scotland, probably at a team in the mid-to-lower reaches of the league, but claims he wanted a new challenge, and the offer from the north west of England intrigued him, wanting to become part of the club’s history.
There has been a lot of hyperbole surrounding the move on how it is indicative of the decline in Scottish football. On the surface, it doesn’t look great for the nation’s image, but let’s put it in perspective. Adam Rooney isn’t some hot shot striker that has been setting the SPL alight. He is a 30-year-old looking at one final contract. The media attention surrounding the Vanarama League club is massively out of proportion with their status, but that would be attractive to someone in the last years of his career. He is suddenly a big fish in a small pond. Some people need that; perhaps only for a way to keep motivated.
So, does this story have any impact on the Hoops? Yes. Scottish football, and especially Celtic’s place in it, is nearing a crossroads. It was not that long ago that the two leagues (the SPL and EPL) were on a similar footing. Even the most rose-tinted Scottish observer cannot claim that today. But parallels can be drawn with other aspects of life.
Go back a couple of decades, and the types and formats of poker and stud games were all on a level playing field. Since then, the massive resurgence in the game — a resurgence largely spurred on by the internet and online gaming — has meant Texas Hold ‘em is now way out ahead as the best-known and most popular form of poker today.
That is not to say that other versions are no longer enjoyed or are no longer relevant; it’s the format that is enjoying its moment in the sun, and people, brands and marketing companies are climbing onboard the simplest bandwagon on which to hitch a ride. Fast forward another couple of decades, and it will more than likely not be the case. How many people nowadays spend their pocket money playing Pac-Man?
There are decisions that do need to be made, however. In my opinion, they boil down to two stark choices. The first one is that Celtic continue with the aim of trying to become a force in the Champions League, buying the best players they can afford from around the globe to incrementally improve their standing in European’s premier competition, and using the wealth gleaned to invest, so on and so forth.
The other option is to step back from that ambition, at least in the sense of it being the be-all and end-all of our raison d’etre. Go back to basics, finding, developing and blooding fresh Scottish talent, being the blueprint for the nation’s favourite sport, doing what the SFA continuously seem incapable of doing.
It is a dangerous way to go because it is mid to long-term in its ambitions, and today’s football fan thinks only in the short-term. But ultimately, it would be a whole lot more satisfying, and who’s to say, no less successful in years to come?