Frankfurt win, Rangers lose, but they both played their part in the rebirth of Europa

RANGERS, almost inevitably, lost to Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties, reinforcing the widely-held belief that Germans are good at spot kicks. But they went so close to achieving the startlingly fine achievement of winning a major European prize, something no Scottish side has managed since 1983 when Aberdeen won the now defunct European Cup-Winners’ Cup.

There was a time when Scottish teams were highly respected in Europe, largely thanks to the exploits of Celtic and Rangers in the 1960s and early 1970s. Celtic’s 1967 European Cup victory now looks like an astonishing feat, but in that era, Jock Stein’s team was every bit as good – if not better – than anything coming out of England. In truth, Celtic should have won the competition in 1970, but they didn’t realise Feyenoord were Ajax’s bastard cousins in Rotterdam.

Rangers have been through some rough times and Celtic fans will waste no time in reminding them of their financial mismanagement in the aftermath of the Europa League final. But penalties is no way to win – or lose – a final, especially after such a protracted journey to Seville. Rangers played eight teams on route to Spain, including another pair of German sides (Dortmund and Leipzig). To have this journey decided by penalties seems unfair on any team.

Rangers missed just one penalty and it happened to be from the boot of former Arsenal player Aaron Ramsey. Now, of course, everyone is passing opinion on his disappointing spell with Rangers, but let’s face it, anyone can miss a penalty.

Rangers may have lost the Scottish Premier to their Glasgow rivals, but 2021-22 has still been another memorable year. They were only four points behind Celtic and lost three games in the league, two to the green and white side of the city. Now they face Hearts in the Scottish Cup final, so they have to raise their spirits quickly.

The final in Seville ends a really fascinating Europa League campaign, one that has certainly improved public perception of the competition. The creation of the Conference League has actually strengthened the Europa and has revived memories of the UEFA Cup in its heyday, with big names like Barcelona, Sevilla, Porto, Napoli, West Ham United and Rangers. The excitement created by some of the teams has underlined the importance of the Europa, the next step would be to make Thursday nights an appropriate night, perhaps by shifting league games scheduled for the Sundays that follow matchdays in Europe.

Certainly, the atmosphere at some games has been outstanding, even if Frankfurt’s fans at the final – equipped with white outfits and caps – looked like hordes of pharma or dairy workers on an evening out.

Frankfurt clearly enjoyed their victory, from their joyous supporters to their hysterical players, who even invaded their manager’s press conference. It may even liven up the normally sedate finanzplatz that is the city on the Main. Rangers, understandably, were devastated, and rightly so, because they gave everything. They should go home with a smile on their face, for they played their part in the resurrection of the Europa League. 

We need to get away from the mantra that it’s “Champions League or nothing” that has helped to devalue so many competitions across Europe. In the past, qualifying for Europe provided a little bit of gilding on a season for clubs near the top part of the league table. The over-expansion of the Champions League did a lot of damage, but it was a self-inflicted problem. OK, give more European football to the people, but go for quality over quantity. It has still got to be properly addressed in the Champions League, but UEFA started this process with the inauguration of the Conference League and they may just have got it right. The latter stages of this season’s Europa League suggested there was a slightly different attitude emerging.

Dundee United look forward rather than backwards

IT HAS been a long time since Dundee United were referred to as part of the “new firm”, but the club’s management are confident the hurdles of the pandemic may soon be consigned to the past. The Tangerines’ finances took a hit in 2020-21, but the club managed to limit their losses to £ 2.5 million for the campaign. 

Dundee United aim to be a top six Premiership club and qualify for European football. In 2021-22, they are currently in a Conference League position and are still in the Scottish Cup, their objectives look realistic at the moment.

The club’s turnover in 2020-21 was down by around 2.5% to £ 3.8 million, while their deficit was an improvement on 2019-20 when they lost £ 3 million. Like all other Scottish clubs, the lack of matchday income decimated turnover, but Dundee United fared better than some – Hearts saw their revenues drop by 38%, Aberdeen 22% and Celtic 13%.

With revenues dropping, the wage bill became more of a drain on the club’s finances. In 2020-21, the wage bill was up by 7% to £ 4.9 million and this represented 132% of income. In 2019-20, the wage to income ratio was 120%. Ideally, the club would like to see the ratio closer to 80%, still high but much more manageable.

Scottish football benefitted from the government’s relief measures and Dundee United secured £ 2.8 million from the debt facility which has a zero interest rate and is repayable over 21 years. The club estimates it has lost around £ 4.2 million from the pandemic.

In addition, the club’s owner and chairman, Mark Ogren, a US-based businessman, has made interest free loans of over £ 9 million to the club since taking over in 2018. He is committed to the club in the medium to long term and is aware that success on the field is the best way to get a return on his investment. 

Covid has got in the way of his plans and his claim the club is “going places”, and he has received some criticism from a section of the fanbase. However, Dundee United won the Championship in 2020 and returned to the Premiership.

The club expects to return to profit in 2022 partly due to income from transfers involving Lawrence Shankland (who was sold to Beerschot for £ 1 million) and youth product Kerr Smith (£ 800,000 to Aston Villa, rising to £ 2 million), and also a return to normal income streams. 

There is also considerable upside to match attendances. In 2019-20, they averaged 8,500 at Tannadice, but the 2021-22 gates are around 6,500. There is potential at Dundee United, although the gap between the “old firm” and the rest of Scottish football is enormous and growing all the time.

The fans have played a major role in assisting the club during the pandemic, with most of the 3,000 season ticket holders waiving their refunds and the Supporters Foundation donating £ 100,000 towards the development of the academy site at Gussie Park. 

Dundee United could end 2021-22 in a better financial state and bound for European football, that would certainly be a case of going places, to quote the club owner.