Number of Scots playing in Scottish Premiership in decline

Stuart Armstrong of Celtic, one of several Scottish internationals playing for the Glasgow club, during a derby match against Rangers in 2017. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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The percentage of players in Scotland’s top football league who were born in the country has dropped sharply since the turn of the century, research has found.

Scots made up 54 per cent of players in the Scottish Premiership in 2017, down from 59 per cent in 2000 and 96 per cent in 1960. The changes mirror a growing internationalisation of professional football leagues across Europe, analysis by the New York Times found.

The Scottish Premiership, known as the Scottish Premier League (SPL) until 2013, is now more cosmopolitan in its make-up than at almost any point in its history.

English players now account for 17 per cent of the playing staff at the 12 Premiership clubs north of the Border, up from six per cent in 2000 and two per cent in 1960.

Northern Irishmen accounted for five per cent of Scottish Premiership players in 2017, while those from elsewhere in Europe accounted for nine per cent.

“Scotland’s teams are now stocked with players from England’s lower tiers, and cheaper imports from further afield,” the American newspaper claimed in its report. “The days of Brian Laudrup and the rest are long gone.”

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Despite several rule changes in recent decades, a player’s country of birth remains the biggest factor in influencing which international side they will represent if deemed good enough.

The Scottish national team has not qualified for a major tournament since 1998. Gordon Strachan, who coached Scotland during their two most recent failed qualification campaigns, last year bemoaned his team’s lack of physical stature and admitted it was a problem that couldn’t be easily solved.

“Genetically, we are behind,” he said after his last match in charge, a 2-2 draw against Slovenia. “The last campaign we were the second smallest, apart from Spain, so that means we had to pick a team tonight to try and combat the height and strength. Even at that we couldn’t combat their height and strength at set plays.

“Genetically, we have to work at things. Don’t know if we can get big women and men together, and see what we can do.”

The Scottish national side has always looked outside its domestic league for players - but the number of Scots turning out in the English top flight is also in long-term decline.

In 1960, Scots were by far the largest group of non-English players representing clubs in the old First Division, at 13 per cent. That figure dropped to just six per cent by 2000, by which time the new English Premier League was in its pomp, and reached just three per cent last year.

England’s top flight is now the most cosmopolitan of all leading professional leagues, with around 60 per cent of players in the 2017-18 season representing nationalities outside England or Wales.

The data shows a spike in players from elsewhere in Europe arriving in both the Scottish and English top divisions following a landmark European court ruling in 1995 which made it easier for players to move around the continent.

The judgement became known as the “Bosman ruling” after Jean-Marc Bosman, a Belgian professional who launched a legal challenge against RFC Liège over its refusal to sell him to a French club.

In 2008, FIFA proposed a so-called “6+5 rule,” which would have required teams to start at least six domestic players in league matches, with the aim of restoring the national identity of clubs. It was rejected by the European Parliament.

A spokesman for the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) said: “As the report acknowledges, the make-up of European football has changed substantially since the introduction of the Bosman ruling. Despite that, more than half of the players in the Ladbrokes Premiership are eligible to represent the Scottish national teams, with the division having one of the highest percentage of native players among the major European leagues.”

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