WHEN does a book begin? When you catch a glimpse of its cover? When you lift it off the shelf? When you read the blurb on the back? When you count how many stars it has been awarded by an esteemed title like The Herald? The contents page, the acknowledgements, the foreword, prologue, epitaph? The words “Chapter One”, or is it when you’ve taken in that first sentence: “Once Upon a Time…”?

Last night, there were still four Scottish clubs (Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and, in theory, at least, Hibernian) trying to wangle their way into European competition from the position of having played, between them, 10 qualifying matches for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League to date, with four more to come within the next week.

Glasgow Times: Abdallah Sima celebrates after scoring for Rangers in the Champions League play-off first leg against PSVAbdallah Sima celebrates after scoring for Rangers in the Champions League play-off first leg against PSV (Image: PA)

So, has European football commenced for this quartet? Clearly these ties are major milestones at this early stage of the season whose outcomes both in terms of prestige – with players signed on the securement of group-stage football in this competition or that – and finances – with the riches of the Champions League dwarfing its younger sibling the Europa League, which itself offers a multiplication of figures for the likes of Aberdeen who are guaranteed a place in one or the other.

READ MORE: Michael Beale makes Rangers Premiership fixture call after PSV help

So, when Michael Beale called for Scottish football to consider a calendar switch to give our European representatives a helping hand on the continent in years to come following a roller-coaster 2-2 draw with PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday night, it was easy to sympathise with the Englishman.

Of course, we want our representatives to succeed in Europe and bolster the national game, and every supporter in the land should hope Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts succeed at their respective final hurdles. The Eredivisie obviously values this progress for its Dutch clubs, affording PSV the weekend off domestic duty so that Peter Bosz could focus his charges’ energies on overcoming Rangers over the two legs to make it into the pot for the Champions League draw at the end of this month – their ability to swing back from a goal down on two occasions in Govan perhaps proof positive of the merits of this approach.

Glasgow Times: PSV Eindhoven manager Peter BoszPSV Eindhoven manager Peter Bosz (Image: PA)

But there was a kind of Kafkaesque fog that drifted in when Beale warbled this well-worn Scottish lament. When did qualification begin? Yes, I know, Rangers kicked off this season’s campaign in their 3-2 aggregate win over Servette in the third qualifying round a few weeks ago. But what about their city rivals, Celtic? How did they “qualify” for the group stage of Europe’s elite competition? That’s right, by coming out on top in a 38-game season. In Kafka’s final novel The Castle, the protagonist, K., is constantly frustrated by his inability to gain access to the eponymous institution; his activities in trying to gain access, however, are emblematic of the castle’s baffling structures, hierarchies, connections, rights pertaining to place, circumstance, the times the individual is born into. I’m sure supporters of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs can relate when it comes to UEFA.

Glasgow Times: Hibernian were thrashed 5-0 by Aston Villa in their Europa Conference League play-off first legHibernian were thrashed 5-0 by Aston Villa in their Europa Conference League play-off first leg (Image: PA)

For Rangers, second place in the Premiership in 2023 meant two qualifying rounds at the start of their season to reach the palace foyer of Champions League football. Celtic, meanwhile, have earned the right to play on that stage. The knock-on effect, you could argue, is that the Parkhead club have an opportunity to hammer home their advantage in the league with their clear midweek schedule in August. But wasn’t that the added incentive to ensure Premiership success?

READ MORE: Carter-Vickers and Nawrocki ruled out for Rangers vs Celtic

These conditions in fact make the prize of the Scottish top-flight an even more coveted commodity. In a division often derided as a two-horse race, the carrot of the VIP lane Brendan Rodgers is currently enjoying on his return to Parkhead can only make the determination to secure the title even more robust (as if lording it over your rivals wasn’t enough of an incentive). For this reason, it makes less sense for the SPFL to make European qualification easier by tampering with their own domain.

It is a condition reflected in the hugely entertaining recent battles for third place, which in the current climate guarantees group-stage involvement in some form. Last season, the clash between Aberdeen and Hearts went down to the final week, adding a layer of intrigue to the conclusion of the top-six campaign when Celtic had run away with the league flag before the division’s dichotomy.

Some will point to Scotland’s co-efficient, and how our clubs’ success in continental competition will only help our game in the long run, but in many ways the Kafkaesque machinations of the co-efficient system – a league table built on previous years’ performances by a convaluted combination of our clubs and national team – illustrate the point: When does one qualification campaign begin and when does it end? Has it already begun? Does it ever end?

Kafka, meanwhile, died while writing The Castle and the novel, fittingly, ends mid-sentence. For Rangers and the other Scottish clubs banging on the door of European competitions, the next chapter is always being written.

If they do make it in, the battle to return has already begun with the Premiership season under way. Winning the title this season again guarantees a seat at the top table for the revamped Champions League next term. But there are plenty of prizes for finishing second, third, fourth and even fifth after reaching the top six. It’s good for the competition, and that's why they shouldn't change it.