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Bridging financial gap by means of concept leagues would benefit a lot of teams in Europe

THE problem of being big fish in a small pond is not one that affects Celtic and Rangers exclusively.

Bobby Petta, left, and Arthur Numan at yesterday's launch
Bobby Petta, left, and Arthur Numan at yesterday's launch

In small- to medium-sized countries all across the continent, there are clubs who dominate their domestic scene but struggle to make a lasting impact in European competition, unable to match the superior resources available to clubs from the larger markets such as England, Germany and Spain.

Charles Green's recent plea, serious or not, for Rangers to be allowed to pursue the option of playing outside of Scotland has again raised the subject of cross-border leagues. A North Atlantic League, or some sort of similar creation, would help bridge the financial gap between the bigger clubs based in smaller countries and the genuine heavyweights who dominate the Champions League scene.

Arthur Numan, the former Rangers defender now living back in the Netherlands, revealed there is an appetite for such a concept in his homeland, too. Ajax, the sole Dutch representatives in this season's Champions League, put up a decent show in a difficult group but had to settle for third. The likes of PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord are clubs of a similar pedigree and stature who could do with a leg up when it comes to bringing in the sort of money that would allow them to become serious players in the European game again.

Michael van Praag, the former Ajax chairman, was among the first to suggest the formation of a pan-European league some time ago and Numan revealed it was once again a hot topic back home.

"When I came to Rangers in 1998 that there were already talk about this type of league – also about Rangers and Celtic moving to England," said Numan. "Now we hear it again. Michael van Praag, who used to be the Ajax chairman, mentioned it a couple of months ago as a way to make things interesting for the top teams in Holland.

"I think it would be a very interesting league because you could have top teams from Scotland, Holland, Belgium and maybe other nations like Denmark. There would be a question about the difficulty and expense of supporters travelling to away matches, but it would great for fans in Scotland to see their team playing against the likes of Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Anderlecht. I think those would be interesting games at Ibrox or Parkhead.

"You would have to consider what effect this league would have on the teams participating in the Champions League or Europa League, but top clubs in all of these countries are trying to find a way to be able to compete more at the highest level."

It has been 28 years since a team outside of Celtic or Rangers were crowned Scottish champions and Numan felt that the removal of the biggest clubs would also help to stimulate domestic leagues all across Europe. "It would also give the teams who are not involved in this league the chance to win the domestic league – and it would be the same in Scotland," he added.

The dilution in quality of Scottish football since he stopped playing a decade ago has not gone unnoticed by Numan. "The money is not here any more and you can't attract players from abroad. It's a different league now and you see it on the park."

As Celtic look to improve their squad with their Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus, that drop in standards may impede the recruitment process, believes Bobby Petta. The former Celtic winger sees a league with no Old Firm games and no real threat to Celtic's domination and wondered just how attractive that would be to future signings.

"For Celtic, it is a struggle to attract players up here," said Petta. "Money again is an issue, especially when you consider the Barclays Premier League and the npower Championship and what they can offer to players.

"You can see the difference between Celtic playing Champions League football on a high in midweek then at the weekend when they play domestic football, the same buzz isn't there. If Rangers were back in there, it would be different."

* Arthur Numan and Bobby Petta were promoting ESPN's coverage of Scottish football, including Celtic v Steaua Bucharest this evening.

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