Our tribulations in Europe have focussed a lot of minds, but part of the trouble is that we have a football schedule like few other parts of the world, where the heavy lifting is all done in the early part of the season, and a lot of players are dropping like flies before the campaign is over. We have an especial problem this year, but one few properly examine.
We have signed four players from Japan who are trying to fit an extended Scottish football schedule on top of having played a full campaign in their domestic leagues. Part of my concern had we gotten much further in Europe would have been their ability to cope.
We spend every summer scrambling. We spend every summer trying to get our ducks in a row. We play eight qualifying games just to find out which group stages we’re going to be in; this is ridiculous and without a doubt has contributed to our consecutive failures on the European front. We start football too early, with games of vast importance.
By the time the New Year comes around, we’re engaged in wars on various fronts, trying to win domestic competitions and juggles Europe at the same time. And I think we have prioritised from time to time and paid the price for it.
But we prioritise because we don’t really have a choice. Eight European qualifiers, plus group games, plus a full domestic card which involves a cup final before January … that’s our run up to the second transfer window, and it’s exhausting and brutal.
Over the last ten or so years, our way of doing things in the summer has been calamitous and dangerous to our preparations. The best thing that will come from winning the title this season is that our summer of uncertainty will be replaced by one of measured calm instead.
We will know what we’re dealing with. We will know the money is there. But more importantly, we will not have to play eight games in the space of two months at a time when other countries have a proper pre-season to prepare for football.
We need that badly. We need to give all these players a proper break – and especially with the Euros which makes it even harder to do. This is another reason why sacrificing Europe for domestic success is the right thing to do and why Ange was fully justified in his team selection last night. The best thing we can get right now is a settled summer.