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A perfect pick-me-up

After all the doom and gloom of the summer, Celtic landing a plum draw in the group stage of the Champions League can only be good news for everyone.

Celtic's Champions League entry has given a filip to the beleagured Scottish gamePhotograph: SNS
Celtic's Champions League entry has given a filip to the beleagured Scottish gamePhotograph: SNS

It is fantastic to have a Scottish club involved and even better that they will be playing the most glamorous, elite team in the game: Barcelona.

For anyone involved in the game – pundits, journalists, players, managers – these are the matches that lift everyone. Having big teams visit provides an economic boost, but it also generates interest in the Scottish football. And after the last few months, that is something we are badly in need of.

Hearts also did well at Anfield on Thursday against a strong Liverpool side, coming within a whisker of taking their Europa League qualifier to extra-time, which helps, too.

I was one of those who feared the worst in the aftermath of the Rangers fiasco and the way it was handled. I was with those who fretted that we might have been heading for a League of Ireland scenario and I did wonder how long it would be before we saw these heady, exciting European nights again. The draw was barely over when I heard people predicting Neil Lennon's side wouldn't even take a point.

I have to say I don't go along with that at all. Of course you'd expect Barca to romp the group, but I've played at Celtic Park in front of 60,000 screaming fans and it is not the easiest place to go and get a result.

I wouldn't say seasoned, experienced professionals will be spooked by the atmosphere on a big European night at Parkhead, but it will certainly give Celtic an edge because the place will be heaving.

If they can do something at home against Spartak Moscow – I'm sure Aiden McGeady will get a good welcome – and Benfica then you just never know. All of a sudden Celtic look like a team that have discovered how to win a European tie on the road and even a point picked up here or there could go a long way. To my mind, there's no reason why they shouldn't fancy themselves for second place.

Once you are in the sort of company they will be in, as a footballer all you want to do is go out and give it your best shot. I can't imagine Neil will allow his players to take the field with any sort of feeling of inferiority.

But given the boost that having a Scottish team in the Champions League has given our game, I'd like to see that feelgood factor taken a bit further behind the scenes.

This might be the time to think about the governing bodies merging into one unit and getting their heads together about the best way to improve the game's foundations. We want to see our teams up there competing with the best on a regular basis. The focus on our game will be positive over the coming months with plenty of interest in Celtic's matches. If Scotland can also start their World Cup qualifying campaign positively, there will be far more to be optimistic about than we feared.

ICAN't help but feel the fact Rangers have managed to snaffle a number of SPL players to bolster their squad this season – the likes of Ian Black, Kevin Kyle, Francisco Sandaza, Dean Shiels and David Templeton – is to the detriment of our top league. I can understand why players are signing for them – the financial rewards on offer remain attractive even if they are playing in the Third Division – and Rangers, of course, wanted a strong squad in place before the start of their 12-month transfer embargo

But for the SPL to progress and stay strong, we need the best players to be playing at the top. You can't blame Rangers for wanting to cherrypick some of the best talent and you can't point the finger at guys for going – they remain a big club after all – but I do worry about the cost to the top flight.

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