As the rich get richer winger Jonny Hayes accepts it is becoming increasingly difficult for clubs like Aberdeen to secure European success.
For Hayes, the gap between the big guns and the others has stretched into a chasm and is growing ever wider each season.
However, facing Portuguese giants Sporting does not daunt the Reds’ playmaker.
Instead it is a challenge he relishes as Aberdeen bid to upset the odds to reach the Europa League play-offs for the first time under Derek McInnes.
Aberdeen landed the toughest tie possible when drawn to face the 2018 Europa League quarter-finalists away tomorrow.
Hayes said: “The gap between the elite sides and everybody else is there for everyone to see.
“There is an issue within football where the rich get richer.
“It is tough and we know to progress in Europe we will have to go up against top-quality sides.
“However, I have always been one to relish that challenge to put yourself up against the best.
“Whatever club you play for or in whatever league, if you get the chance to prove yourself against – on paper – better teams, then it is a challenge you should look forward to.”
Aberdeen are competing at the third qualifying round stage of the Europa League for the sixth time under McInnes, but have yet to progress beyond that stage.
Hayes, in his second spell at the club, said: “Aberdeen have been unfortunate not to progress further than they have.
“There have been some cracking players at the club in the time I have been here.
“Over the years, to get to the group stages, it seems to get tougher and tougher.
“However, as a professional footballer you want to test yourself and look forward to those challenges.”
In Hayes’ first spell under McInnes, the Reds produced some memorable away results against the odds to progress in Europe.
They ended Rijeka’s 18-month home unbeaten run when triumphing 3-0 in Croatia in 2015.
A year earlier, they dumped Dutch side Groningen 2-1 away from home following a goal-less draw at Pittodrie.
For another landmark Euro win on the road, Hayes insists they must stick to McInnes’ gameplan.
Hayes, 33, said: “There have been a couple of years where we got the toughest team possible in the draws but have bypassed that with our performance, such as Groningen and Rijeka.
“When you are away from home in Europe, tactically you have to be astute, strong in possession and, whatever the manager’s gameplan is, you have to stick to it.”
Aberdeen will face Sporting on the back of a disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Motherwell.
The Reds were chasing a seventh straight win for the first time since September 2015, but that form came to a grinding halt.
Having conceded just two goals in the seven games beforehand, the Reds lost three in the opening 23 minutes against the Steelmen.
Aberdeen aim to immediately bounce back from the Well shocker and Hayes is confident they will be fully prepared and clued up on the opponents.
He said: “As soon as the draw is made the scouts and people are constantly looking at videos.
“The level of detail on our opponents is second to none and that can only help us.
“You have to show faith in the manager and his team and what they have worked on.
“They are the ones who do all the background stuff.
“You need to have faith in the analysis and scouts because everyone is pulling in the same direction.
“We just turn up and get told what to do – it is a simple job.”