Stephen McIlkenny: Why the runners-up to Celtic do matter

Aberdeen and Rangers are leading the battle for second place. Picture: SNS
Aberdeen and Rangers are leading the battle for second place. Picture: SNS
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This week, as Rangers fans moved back to purchasing Kingsmill, there was another talking point that largely went unnoticed in Scottish football. Scotland’s Uefa coefficient slipped from 23rd to 25th meaning that the Scottish Cup winners as well as the league’s second and third-placed clubs will kick off their European campaigns at the end of June.

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This news regarding the coefficient led to a conversation on Clyde Superscoreboard which stated that the battle for second place in the SPFL table no longer matters. According to some in the media, because the team that finished third would play the same qualifiers as second it no longer mattered. As a result, it was stated that Rangers should instead now look to ‘rebuild’ and ‘refocus’ rather than worry about what was once dubbed across the tabloids as ‘The Battle for Second Place’.

When did an extra European qualifier become the sole motivation for a league place? I understand if it’s a Champions League place against a Europa League place, but a single qualifier… really?

If second place, and the prestige of finishing runner ups to the champions, is no longer important to Scottish football fans, then quite frankly the league deserves to become an anonymous entity.

This year, teams in the top flight are set to receive a record payout in prize money. The winners of the league will obtain £2.8 million with the runners up earning around £2 million and third place getting under £1.75 million. That’s a little over a quarter of a million pounds. That is a player’s wages. That’s a new signing. That’s not to be sniffed at. When did we decide that a £250,000 was irrelevant?

Aside from the extra cash, second place should matter to any football fan. I want my team to do well no matter what. If my team are 12th I want them to be 11th, if my team are 3rd, I want to push for 2nd. It’s the nature of the game and the natural instinct of any supporter.

The second place ‘doesn’t matter’ angle is classic distraction strategy. It’s appeasement, pure and simple.

One of the arguments for this ‘irrelevant second place’ bandwagon is that it’s Rangers first season in the Scottish Premiership and that they should be focused after the departure of their manager. Their budget disagrees.

Those overly keen to point to the wages of Moussa Dembele and the money being spent at Celtic are falling on their own sword. When Rangers were in Division 3 they had the second highest budget in Scottish football. This hasn’t changed. Philippe Senderos is reportedly getting paid per week more than some of the starters at Aberdeen.

It may seem easy to stick the boot in given the ongoing Mark Warburton saga, but it’s time Rangers stopped hiding behind the ‘Celtic have more money that us’ excuses and get their house in order.

Aberdeen, Hearts and others have done a fantastic job at building a club with a sensible transfer policy, smart signings and good management. If Rangers were to use their resources in a similarly efficient manner, they may not be challenging Celtic, but there would be no need for excuses from members of the media, because they’d already have the runners-up spot wrapped up. Furthermore, to belittle the sides pushing Rangers all the way for second place is doing them a gross disservice.

If there is genuinely a Rangers fan who, in their heart of hearts, doesn’t think that second place is important I will eat my hat. But not a magic one.

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