Scottish Premiership shutdown inevitable as clubs have no choice over World Cup 2022
Mothballing the Scottish Premiership during traditionally key months November and December is a distinctly unappealing idea.
When it is suggested in order to accommodate a controversial winter World Cup in the footballing no-so-hotbed of Qatar, there is even less appetite. However, top-flight clubs may have little option than to agree to the proposal.
The Scottish Professional Football League are consulting officials throughout the Premiership over plans for a fixture shutdown during November and December 2022, which would let international football take precedence.
An intense period of five games in 15 days would lie in wait when domestic business resumes, and the Scottish Cup final that season would be shunted into June. Lower divisions will continue playing as normal.
Clubs are yet to approve the move and naturally prefer to retain the usual schedule each year. However, FIFA’s decision to stage the World Cup in a country so warm that it becomes unbearable in summer will lead to unprecedented calendar adjustments across the globe.
The Scottish national team are in with a fighting chance of qualifying via a play-off spot and that would rob many teams in this country of influential players.
Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and Motherwell would all be affected as it stands. Craig Gordon, Jon McLaughlin, Liam Kelly, Stephen O’Donnell, Nathan Patterson, Callum McGregor, David Turnbull, Lewis Ferguson and Kevin Nisbet are currently in Steve Clarke’s squad to face Israel and the Faroe Islands.
On the fringes are others like St Johnstone’s Zander Clark, the Celtic pair James Forrest and Greg Taylor, Rangers’ Ryan Jack and Aberdeen defender Declan Gallagher.
Even if Scotland don’t manage to follow their Euro 2020 appearance with a World Cup encore, many Premiership sides will still be missing key players when the action starts in the Persian Gulf.
Rangers could find themselves without Alfredo Morelos, (Colombia), Joe Aribo, Leon Balogun and Calvin Bassey (all Nigeria), Steven Davis (Northern Ireland), Borna Barisic (Croatia), Ianis Hagi (Romania), Scott Arfield (Canada), Kemar Roofe (Jamaica) and Glen Kamara (Finland).
Celtic would potentially be denied the services of Kyogo Furuhashi (Japan), Carl Starfelt (Sweden), Nir Bitton and Liel Abada (both Israel), Giorgos Giakoumakis and Vasilis Barkas (both Greece), Albian Ajeti (Switzerland), Ismaila Soro (Ivory Coast), James McCarthy (Ireland), Tom Rogic (Australia) and Josip Juranovic (Croatia).
Other clubs would also suffer. Hearts pair Liam Boyce and Michael Smith would be wanted if Northern Ireland qualify, and Cameron Devlin is another Australian on the fringes of his national squad. Across the city at Hibs, Martin Boyle is already a key player for the Socceroos coach Graham Arnold.
Aberdeen could miss Niall McGinn (Northern Ireland) and Christain Ramirez (USA), while Dundee United may lose Ilmari Niskanen (Finland) and Trevor Carson (Northern Ireland).
Motherwell’s Juhani Ojala (Finland), St Johnstone’s David Wotherspoon (Canada) and St Mirren’s Jamie McGrath (Ireland) would also potentially find themselves enlisted to serve their respective nations.
Bearing all of the above in mind, there appears to be very little deliberating needed for Scottish Premiership chairmen and chief executives. As unwanted as it may be, a winter shutdown of Scotland’s top division seems inevitable.