The old saying goes that there are only two things in life that are certain; death and taxes. However, if you follow Celtic Football Club you can add a third item to that list, the knowledge that the club will very rarely invest and improve from a position of strength.
A list of managers including Jock Stein, Wim Jansen, Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon have all experienced the frustration of successive boards at Celtic Park refusing to release the purse strings just enough to take the club to the next level; be it reinforcing an ageing side that had just reached a European final, or one in need freshening up to ensure domestic dominance is maintained whilst regaining a degree of credibility on the European front.
And now, after winning two successive domestic trebles for the first time in history, it looks as though Brendan Rodgers is about to become the latest Celtic manager to endure the frustrations of the club failing to adequately invest in the playing squad from a position of unrivalled strength; therefore allowing rival clubs to inch closer to breaking Celtic’s stranglehold on the domestic game, while also having a negative impact on the clubs fortunes in European competition.
FEAR OF GROWTH
For whatever reason, there seems to be a deep-rooted and ingrained resistance on behalf the Celtic board to fully commit to growing the club to its fullest potential by investing in the playing squad when in a position of strength.
Supporters of Peter Lawwell and the current regime – I count myself as a mild sympathiser to their desire to balance the books – can argue that financial prudence is key to the long-term stability of the club. This is undoubtedly true, but the same can be said for taking a little risk and investing in the team to ensure that, say, Champions League football is secured instead of relying on the same players to perform miracles year after year.
According to the respected football website, Celtic has actually made a profit in their transfer dealings over the past decade of around €9.5 million[i], suggesting that there is room for a little extra investment in the squad if the desire is there. Add into the mix the results of the interim financial report released at the end of December 2017 which announced that the club had £30.9 million net cash at bank[ii] and it is not hard to understand the calls from both fans and manager for the club to spend on players.
The consistent reluctance to do so can be baffling at times. It suggests a small-time mentality or that Lawwell and Co. were taught as children that money and success are dirty things, things to be endured and not to be enjoyed when in fact, the opposite is true. You need only to look at how the truly big clubs embrace the concept of continued investment and improvement of on-field talent in order to remain at the top in comparison to Celtic’s approach.
Take Liverpool, for example. They made it to the Champions League final last season and duly spent in the region of £145 million on new players in the summer. Juventus, who have won seven consecutive Serie A titles, also spent over £130 million on new acquisitions this the summer. Two clubs who are at the top, and determined to stay there.
While I am clearly not suggesting that Celtic spends the same sums of money as those two, that would be plain ridiculous, it would be / would have been refreshing to see a net investment of £10-£15million[iii] made in the first-team squad this summer, and preferably in time for new signings to take part in Champions League Qualifiers.
Such an investment would have been a clear sign of intent that the board values the clubs progress and was willing to take the steps necessary to ensure that Champions League football remained at Celtic Park for the coming year. It would also have blown all domestic competition out of the water for the foreseeable future.
However, that final point may be the very reason why the Celtic board refuses to invest and grow from a position of strength; cementing Celtic’s domestic dominance may further devalue the Scottish game and result in sponsors and broadcasters abandoning it. Thus leading to Celtic stagnating in a League they cannot get out of.
Perhaps Celtic is deliberately failing to reach its true potential for the greater good of Scottish football and keeping some semblance of competition alive. On the other hand, maybe not.
Regardless of what is ultimately holding Celtic back from reaching its fullest potential, the current transfer window and opportunity to strengthen has been pretty much a disaster.
Of the four signings realised so far, two were loan deals from last season which were converted into permanent signings; one is another loan signing, and one is the re-signing of a player who was allowed to leave the club a year ago. Hardly great strides forward.
Furthermore, none of the above signings play in any of the positions identified as most in need of strengthening, i.e. right-back, centre back, or box-to-box central midfield.
So, who is to blame for not getting these positions filled?
I’ll start with the obvious one; the failed courting of John McGinn. McGinn was identified last season by Brendan Rodgers as a player he would like to add to his squad, probably with the knowledge that Stuart Armstrong was for the off in the summer and a replacement would be required. Rodgers is off the hook on this one as he has identified the target.
After publicly courting McGinn, Celtic finally started the bidding with Peter Lawwell low balling Hibs in the hope that they turn all gooey-eyed at the first sighting of dollar signs. They, Rod Petrie in particular, do not. After a succession of marginally improved offers and laughed out, Hibs finally get pissed off, listen to other offers and cut a deal with Aston Villa causing Celtic to lose out on a player who would have crawled over broken glass to sign on at Parkhead. Why? Because, in this case, Peter Lawwell refused to meet the market value for a player his manager believed to be good enough to play a major role in the team this season.
Of course, there is a premium involved in any transfer involving Celtic, but if you believe the player is good enough to play for the best team in the country, surely his price tag should match. It seems like Lawwell thought otherwise about John McGinn[iv].
But Lawwell is not solely to blame for Celtic’s lack of recruitment this summer as the transfer committee of Rodgers, Davies, Lee Congerton, and a host of other coaches and scouts whose opinions will be considered when looking to sign a player, are all equally to blame for not identifying and helping to secure targets for the previously identified problem areas; problem areas that have been well known for some time.
However, given their recent track record from January – Musonda, Hendry, Compper (in fairness his run of injuries has been extremely unfortunate) – it may be that there is a lack of trust in the signing targets identified or that a more intensive due diligence is carried out before proceeding with any offers, naturally slowing down the signing process.
Either way, with just a few days left before the window closes, there is still a great need for new blood to be brought in to re-energise the double treble winners.
What’s your thought’s on the transfer window so far?
Will Celtic make any more signings, and if yes, how many?
Get in touch and share your views.
[i] This does not include all loan fees paid over this time, nor does it include sell-on fees received by the club. The transfer data on the site is generally very accurate and would that suggest that at worst Celtic have broken even in transfer deals over the past 10 years, once all the unknown loan fees are accounted for.
[iii] £10-15 million excluding Odsonne Edouard as his fee was paid for through the sale of Stuart Armstrong and the sell-on received for Virgil Van Dijk.
[iv] In the interest of fairness, it’s only right to concede that Lawwell’s approach to transfer dealings has paid off spectacularly well on a number of occasions for Celtic, this sadly was not one of them.
(Follow him @ KevMcCluskie blog)