MONEY talks in European football.
As much as Hearts drawing Liverpool and Motherwell facing Levante in the Europa League play-off round are two more glamour ties for our teams, I can't help thinking it is another chance for the big guns of continental football to kick us when we are down.
Liverpool might not be on a par just yet with the Tottenham Hotspur side which crushed Hearts 5-0 at Tynecastle this time last year but I watched them against Gomel during the week and they seem to be adjusting well under new manager Brendan Rodgers. La Liga side Levante will also be a huge challenge for Motherwell and I would far rather both clubs had landed ties which gave them a genuine chance of getting into the Europa League group stages.
It hasn't been a great week for most of our teams in Europe. With St Johnstone already out, Motherwell completed their 5-0 loss to Panathinaikos in Athens and Dinamo Moscow destroyed Dundee United to complete a 7-2 aggregate win. I am sure that Stuart McCall and Peter Houston will look at it and think, as much as the other teams were brilliant at times and have got all the money and all the quality, some of the players from Motherwell and Dundee United made basic mistakes that they wouldn't make in an SPL game.
Now I didn't expect United to go there and win, but I want the basic mistakes to be cut out and for our teams to keep things respectable. I know that is a big word but I think United could have been closer to them, maybe even sneaked out by a couple of goals, not five. And the same goes for Motherwell.
We need to start causing shocks. We can't just accept a pat on the back, and 7-2 and 5-0. We need to start trying to bridge the gap. So-called provincial teams in the SPL are capable of beating Rangers or Celtic so they need to start bringing that into Europe as well.
But in all likelihood, it is over to Celtic now, and honestly I don't think they could get a better opportunity than they have against Helsingborgs. It is all set up for them because it is Henrik Larsson's old club and, although it is sure to be another hard game, I fully expect them to qualify. For the sake of Scottish football they must get into the group stages because it is going to get harder and harder every year if we don't.
With Johan Mjallby, Mickael Lustig and Larsson to call on, they are well covered for inside information, they will know what it is like out there, the preparation will be done, that is a given. It would be great for Neil Lennon as an individual and his managerial career to get in there but great for Celtic and Scottish football as well.
Victor Wanyama will be missed in the first leg due to suspension. You have got to credit Neil Lennon and Celtic scouting staff for finding a guy like that young, big brute of a guy, and versatile. I know they only use him as a centre-half in emergencies, but I think he has to play midfield. He is a colossus in there, enjoys it in there. I am not so sure he is comfortable in central defence. We all know Celtic are going to stroll the SPL but if they qualify for the Champions League it gives our league some sort of credibility. Winning in Helsinki was a huge boost for Scottish football, but we need a bigger one. They will be expected to win the tie and that brings its own pressure.
EAST Fife have not got a bad wee team at second division level but the gulf in class against the new Rangers was enormous on Tuesday night. We get a third of the gate money, so that should be a couple of hundred grand. I was sitting in the stands and, although the atmosphere was electric at kick-off, I felt the fans got a wee bit flat after a while. Rangers will beat teams eight or nine nil this season, and I just don't know if that is going to interest the crowds as the season goes on. I might be totally wide of the mark, but I can't see Sky and ESPN agreeing to a five-year deal without any promises or sub-clauses about league reconstruction.