Rob Maclean's five hopes for the new Scottish football season

Celtic defender Kieran Tierney
Defender Kieran Tierney enjoyed Premiership title success with Celtic last season

BBC commentator Rob Maclean begins a series of weekly articles by stating his wish list for Scottish football for this season.

A title race worthy of the name

A serious title contest in the Premiership would be good and I think we might get it.

Credit to Aberdeen for being next best to Celtic for the last two seasons but they have gone down in the end by a combined total of 32 points.

The Dons have added to their already strong attacking options and will again be capable of beating any top-flight team on their day.

Hearts need further progress after two successful seasons if they are to repeat their top-three finish.

Rangers are a threat to everyone, including Celtic. If they sort their suspect defence, Mark Warburton's team can get themselves into title contention.

Craving credibility

Joey Barton and Nico Kranjcar
Rangers will be looking to Joey Barton and Nico Kranjcar to boost their title chances

Poor performances on the European front and the inevitability of Celtic becoming champions in the last few seasons have done nothing for our international profile.

The return of Rangers with VIP signings Nico Kranjcar and Joey Barton on board must already be having an impact in the marketing department of the Scottish Professional Football League and, sooner or later, the Ibrox team will play a part in helping our top league regain its competitive edge.

Some Celtic fans aren't interested in having Rangers, or any other team, breathing down their neck but it's what Brendan Rodgers & co need to push them on to a higher level.

A world away

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
Gordon Strachan's difficult task is to guide Scotland to the 2018 World Cup finals

I'm dreaming of Scotland qualifying for the next World Cup. But my head is telling my heart to prepare for another disappointment.

The success of Wales, Iceland and the two Irish teams at this summer's European Championship only added to our pain at missing out.

Reaching Russia 2018 looks much tougher. England will surely win our Group F, which kicks off in September - they're much better at qualifying than playing in the actual tournament finals.

This leaves Scotland and four others - Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta - scrapping for runners-up spot. I'm not my usual optimistic self. I hope I'm proved wrong.

In search of new talent

Aberdeen captain Ryan Jack
Ryan Jack is a product of Aberdeen's youth academy

Let's step up the search for young talent, in schools and youth clubs, in the football academies and by scouring the lower leagues.

A few more like Kieran Tierney would be good. He battered down the door to the Celtic first team at the age of 18, and then forced himself into the Scotland squad.

Rangers' Barrie McKay, Jamie Walker at Hearts and Aberdeen's Ryan Jack are other examples of youth development at clubs working well. There are just too few players of that sort of quality breaking through.

Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings were at Cowdenbeath three seasons ago before being reunited at Dundee. Both are on an upward curve, with Hemmings being signed by Oxford United and Dundee hoping they can retain Stewart's striking talents.

Andy Robertson went from Queen's Park to English Premier League side Hull - via Dundee United - inside two years. There must be more gems to be found if we look hard enough.

The invisible ref

Referee Willie Collum
Willie Collum was the referee for France's win over Albania and Turkey's victory over Czech Republic at Euro 2016

I'm hoping for fewer "Collum" inches on refereeing in match reports this season.

Not just mentions of high-profile Willie Collum but referee references in general. Match officials are at their best when they're virtually invisible.

Euro 2016 was a good example of that. A strong referee gets a grip of the game early on, then disappears into the background until he needs to make his presence felt.

Prancing, posturing and needless card-flashing are sure-fire signs of a weak official who's lost control of his match.

I know a lot of Scots whistlers blame bad publicity on a media vendetta against them.

But the truth is reporters and commentators would prefer to concentrate coverage on the football rather than highlighting refereeing inconsistencies and downright dodgy decisions.

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