There has been an interesting narrative emerging since the Celtic plc annual results for year ending 30 June, 2021 were announced. Celtic of course posted a well-publicised £11.5m loss for a pandemic impacted year. Once again, the fans came to the fore as both an increase in merchandise sales and of course season tickets showed a financial and emotional backing for a football club that few clubs can mirror. In short, the message, and one not particularly conveyed by the club themselves, is the support putting their hands in their pocket for exorbitantly priced streams for their laptop and adidas branded kits and training gear saved Celtic from a catastrophic financial event.
Since then, there has been a lot of talk of asset management and how Celtic must return to a business model, and quickly, of selling players each year – to address shareholder worries no doubt. Questions have been conveniently placed publicly as to concerns over where the next sale will come from.
Celtic’s model in recent times has been to buy young talent give first team exposure, integrate into European football, put them in the shop window and sell to the bigger leagues, predominately the English Premier League. The message that is starting to seep out of late is that Celtic have somehow to get back to that and quickly. Yet the timing of this has little to do with the recent financial results and more to do with how Celtic as a club dealt with one particular year and how a now departed 72-day CEO had perhaps veered off message.
Celtic made a decision to hold players during the attempts to reach ten-in-a-row. They retained players and they also bought ‘assets’ such as Albian Ajeti and Vasilis Barkas, using the much fabled eye-for-a-player attribute of our former manager and his DOF-come-CEO boss. Meanwhile the likes of Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard, Kris Ajer and Ryan Christie, some of whom who perhaps expected to leave last summer were either persuaded to remain or simply advised they were remaining in situ. Or maybe no bids were received in the middle of the pandemic.
It is difficult to judge the Celtic Boards thinking behind this decision. On one hand they could be lauded for retaining the talent and supplementing it for a record-breaking initiative, or alternatively in a contracting market they may have decided to hold on to assets and ride out a pandemic they perhaps didn’t expect to cut so deep and impact for so long. On that one I am tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, having done so Celtic’s season disintegrated and many of the players retained were rumoured to have shown their dissatisfaction and this impacted on dressing room harmony and results.
For many of those players ten-in-a-row was not an emotional investment and when Celtic exited the Champions League, the ultimate shop window, to Ferencvaros the appetite for a season of beat, treble, repeat was not so appealing. A Quadruple Treble is a local issue, for players not brought up on such importance it faded into insignificance especially considering for many domestic successes had long become somewhat tiresome.
And with no Champions League to showcase their talents and a Europa League group that subsequently verged on embarrassing, some players lost any confidence in the tactical nous or otherwise of their manager, the ambition of the board and performance levels dropped when left to settle for local challenges. Ultimately as these players continued to be played this also seeped into domestic performances, particularly without a demanding support ensuring some semblance of standards may be retained. And we all know what happened next.
The fallout saw Peter Lawwell resign and Neil Lennon leave his post as manager. Captain Scott Brown soon announced he was heading for Aberdeen, and when a series of expensive stop gap loan deals, designed to save the season but ultimately was money for nothing, moved on, Celtic also found themselves with the biggest squad rebuild since Neil Lennon took over from Tony Mowbray, indeed it was even bigger than that.
In came a new CEO and belatedly after many months of Howe long for a manager, Ange Postecoglou arrived. From there we had a race against time to fill the squad with players who could fit a philosophy and win back a title, one with the added incentive of automatic champions league qualification behind it.
Celtic brought in 12 players. Time will tell how those players will settle down and whether a title challenge is a possibility, but almost immediately having completed his transfer window work Dominic McKay resigned, soon followed by trusted press sources pushing the narrative of the new man being pushed. Rumours abound of a dissatisfaction in McKay’s ability to negotiate the transfer market, of spending too much too soon and of the profile of the players signed not suiting our historical business model and the age of the players particularly so.
Joe Hart and James McCarthy fit the bill for experienced performers. If there is no sell on value, then don’t spend much. One cost a million the other a free transfer. But the ‘big’ money spent on Kyogo Furuhashi and Carl Starfelt at over £4million doesn’t fit, nor does the signings of Josip Juranovic and Georgios Giakoumakis. The reason is not so much the ability of the players it is their ages.
Juranovic, Giakoumakis, Starfelt and Kyogo are 26. For all those players, unless sold after a year, there is limited scope for the returns Celtic like. Yes, they may attract transfer fees but Scotland is limited to an extent as to what they can demand, as such the sell on clauses and percentages of future sales, a secondary transfer fee, is immediately negated. If these players spend two years at Celtic, they leave when they are 28 and as such when they move on from the buying club they will be in their thirties and with little resale value, and as such Celtic’s business model is hit.
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