WITH Rangers being eliminated from the Europa League at the hands of Austria Vienna last Thursday night, Celtic will be Scottish football’s sole representative in European football in the new year. Some fans probably enjoyed watching their rivals get knocked out of Europe but the fact is that Scottish football will likely suffer in the short term as a result.

Scotland’s UEFA coefficient determines how many Champions League and Europa League spaces are available for Scottish teams each season and improving it would result in fewer qualifiers for European competition as well as having more teams in Europe. Prior to this season, only Celtic have made any sort of impression in Europe and as a result we’ve seen Scotland slide down UEFA’s rankings.

Fast-forward to this season though and there’s plenty to be optimistic about. Celtic may not have qualified for the Champions League but the Scottish champions have somewhat redeemed themselves after making it out of a tricky Europa League group. Rangers’ spirited performances in this year’s Europa League have also played a big role and we’re starting to reap the rewards of having more than one team that can make a dent in European competition.

Thanks to this season’s performances, Scotland has jumped from 25th place in UEFA’s coefficient rankings and we’re now sitting in 20th. This is remarkable progress but we’ve still got some way to go if we want to get back to the days of having two sides competing in the Champions League each season.

In order to achieve this, Scotland would have to rise to 15th and sadly, we’re not quite there yet. Switzerland currently occupy this spot, 4.775 points ahead of Scotland. That might not sound like much, but in reality it will take us years to catch up.

Scotland gains coefficient points thusly; 0.5 points are awarded for each win, 0.25 for every draw and zilch for each defeat. Bonus points are available when significant milestones are reached; Champions League teams get four points for making it out the group and a further point for each round they advance, Europa League sides can gain a point for reaching the quarter finals, semi finals and final.

So in terms of significant improvement, Scottish football needs teams to excel in Europe’s top club competition. Obviously, this isn’t the case this the season but improvements can still be made that will bring tangible rewards in the next couple of seasons.

Both Serbia and Cyprus are within touching distance of Scotland and with neither country having any representatives left in European competition, they can’t gain any more points this season. A solitary win for Celtic in the new year would be enough for Scotland to edge ahead of Serbia and a prolonged run to the quarter finals, say, would likely be enough to overtake Cyprus too.

In the short term at least, we should have Croatia and 17th place in our sights. When a country reaches this position, then their league winners enter the Champions League at the second qualifying round. This might not sound like much, but can have a great effect on a manager’s pre-season preparations.

Having an extra couple of weeks at the start of the season to bring players’ fitness levels up, integrate new signings and work on new tactics is hugely beneficial, as any manager will tell you. Coaches can get a lot done in a fortnight and the extra training would likely lead to improvement on the pitch. Brendan Rodgers’ first match as Celtic manager comes to mind here; Celtic travelled to Gibraltar to face Lincoln Red Imps and somewhat embarrassingly left having been defeated 1-0.

Celtic turned it around in the second leg of course, but the game against Lincoln Red Imps demonstrates how important it is to have your players up-and-running for the first fixture of the season. Entering the Champions League in the second round wouldn’t be a groundbreaking improvement, but it is still an improvement. And if Scottish football wants to get back to where it once was, the process will be gradual and with incremental improvements. A strong run from Celtic in this season’s Europa League would be an excellent start.