SCOTLAND’S four European representatives go into the hat tomorrow for the Champions League and Europa League qualifying rounds draw.
Celtic and Aberdeen won’t actually have to play their ties until mid-July.
But for Rangers and St Johnstone, their first competitive games of the new season will be at the end of this month.
What has happened to the close season? There pretty much has been no break for their players whatsoever.
But Pedro Caixinha, Tommy Wright and their players need to get on with it. They need to be in the right frame of mind and have the correct mentality to tackle the marathon journey they face to reach the final 48 teams.
The same goes for Aberdeen, Scotland’s other Europa League representatives.
The main focus, however, will be on Rangers and their return to the European stage after a six-year absence.
As much as there will be a high level of expectation on their shoulders from their supporters and from within, the odds are stacked against them.
Reaching the groups will be worth in the region of £7 million, but it is far from a straightforward task.
Last year only one team from the 96 in the first qualifying round made it all the way past the four qualifiers.
The year before, only two teams made it, and in 2015 every Scottish team got knocked out.
A major factor is that the teams from the Champions League qualifiers drop into the Europa League next month, and that increases the quality of opposition.
That said, Rangers must disregard the statistics. They must have the mindset they can upset the odds.
I know some people may look upon this as a double-edged sword, for Rangers in particular, in terms of the prestige and kudos for reaching the group stages, not to mention the financial gain.
Others will flip that and say if they are involved in the Europa League during September, October, November and December, they may well struggle to cope with the demands of trying to mount a competitive challenge to Celtic in the title race.
My own view is that if you work hard for 10 months of the previous season to try to get into Europe, then you have to embrace it and do what you can to get through the four rounds.
It also gives you the chance to win games, build momentum and confidence.
It will give the punters a major boost to be turning up at Ibrox in the next two or three weeks to see their team winning, and some of the new signings making an immediate impact.
Winning breeds confidence and Pedro Caixinha will be well aware of that.
But there are so many variables to all of this. And the more and more I think about this early start, the more taken aback I am with the whole thing.
Caixinha needs to hope his players gel and he finds a suitable system.
How quickly will they settle? How sharp are they? Does the squad he has just now suit the formation he wants to play long-term? Or does he have to adjust that to suit the players he has at his disposal until he gets others in?
Whatever the answers to these questions, there is no time to waste.
Credit to the Rangers board for backing the Portuguese coach with the signings of the likes of Bruno Alves and Ryan Jack.
It’s now up to Caixinha and the players to prove they can produce the goods, and they will be under the microscope from day one. There will be no hiding place.
The Rangers fans wil quite rightly be demanding an improvement on last season. They will want to be encouraged from the very first game and they will turn up in their numbers to see the team in the first home European qualifier.
The draw tomorrow will be regionalised, and I suppose they will want to play a team from a country whose league has yet to start.
A team from Northern Ireland – Coleraine and Ballymena United are in the draw – would be ideal.
What they don’t want is to be drawn against a club that is around 10 competitive games into their campaign, and have an extra sharpness about them. That would make life tricky for Rangers.
But they are a big club with a massive fan base and they need to start winning games quickly.
Many players, such as captain Lee Wallace and the experienced Kenny Miller, have said the last campaign simply wasn’t good enough. They know they need to up it and they need to get off to a flying start.
Being involved in European qualifiers might turn out to be the making of them?
Let’s hope all the Scottish clubs get a bit of luck with the draw.