One Scottish football season ended when the national team played in America on May 27 and the new one will officially begin this evening in the unlikely venue of Eskisehir, a city a couple of hundred miles south-east of Istanbul in western Asia.
St Johnstone will have a hard enough job dealing with the club which finished fifth in last season's Turkish Super Lig, Eskisehirspor, but at least they won't be weighed down by unrealistic expectations in the first leg of their Europa League second qualifying round tie.
The Perth club will fly the flag for a country which has become numb to the likelihood of its teams being skittled out of Europe around this time of year. Teams strive for months to qualify only to be routinely dumped out of it before the schools are back. Last year, Scotland lost one of its European qualifiers in July and two more in August. In 2011 it was a similar story: four out of five blown away in August. In 2010, one out in July and three in August.
With the exception of one or both of the Old Firm clubs, Scotland's representatives invariably get elbowed out of the way around a month to six weeks before the two big UEFA competitions begin in earnest. The earliest exit so far was by Dundee United last season, when they fell out of the Europa League on July 21.
It will be to St Johnstone's enormous credit if they defy the odds and survive against such a strong Turkish opponent over tonight's opening game and next Thursday's second leg, but it would seem more likely that they will prolong the demoralising annual erosion of Scotland's UEFA co-efficient.
The almost uninterrupted sequence of disadvantageous results brings more than just immediate disappointment or occasional embarrassment. The pitiful accumulation of co-efficient points in recent season is inevitably reflected in fewer places for Scottish teams. The SPL will have only one representative in the Champions League in 2013-14, having done too little to hold on to its current second qualification place.
The overall picture recently has been awful. Not counting the pair of 3-0 wins awarded to Celtic because Sion fielded ineligible players last season, Scottish teams have played 68 European matches over the past three campaigns and won only 15. Celtic and Rangers have effectively accumulated most of the co-efficient points on their own in that period, with both of them surviving until Christmas in 2009, Rangers progressing until March in 2010-11, and then Celtic competing in the Europa League group stage until December last season.
Scotland's teams managed to collect only 11 co-efficient points last season, fewer than 24 other nations, including Georgia and Belarus, and Celtic accounted for seven of those. The previous season there were 18 co-efficient points of which Rangers earned 12. In 2009-10 the Old Firm shared 12 of the 16 points collected on Scotland's behalf.
The long-term signs are ominous: Scotland has only two teams regularly bringing home co-efficient points and for the next three seasons at least one of them will not be in Europe at all. Rangers' exclusion will undoubtedly make things easier for non-Old Firm clubs to aspire to a place in the Europa League, but it will take a spectacular and unimaginable reversal of recent form for them to last more than a couple of rounds once they get there. Hearts' UEFA Cup group campaign in 2004-05 and Aberdeen's run to the last 32 of the same competition in 2007-08 were all the more admirable for being the only two occasions in the last 20 years when any Scottish team (other than Celtic or Rangers) played more than three opponents in a European campaign.
St Johnstone begin against a not entirely unfamiliar opponent – Eskisehirspor's name is known here because Kris Boyd joined them last July, lasting only five months – but the general trend has been for early starts against unknown minnows, survival for a round or occasionally two, and then elimination against any recognisable opponent. The fun has been reduced to anticipation of the draws and the hope for a glamour match, so that at least the bitter pill of failure is sweetened by a couple of occasions to remember.
Motherwell join Celtic in tomorrow's Champions League third qualifying round draw knowing that two opponents stand between them and the land of milk and honey which is the group stage itself. They will, at least, have the consolation of dropping into the Europa League if they fall at the first Champions League hurdle. Both they and Celtic are guaranteed four European ties this season. Dundee United will learn their Europa League third qualifying round opponents tomorrow too, while Hearts enter that competition at the play-off round (the draw for which is made on August 10).
Wins and progress for any of these clubs will be invigorating for the Scottish season as a whole, given how distracted it has been by the exhausting Rangers saga, but St Johnstone will have best wishes rather than pressure accompanying them in Turkey tonight. Their last European tie was a stirring 3-3 draw at home to Monaco. The Old Firm apart, Scotland's teams have produced too few moments to match it in the 13 years since.
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