Yesterday @SwissRamble on Twitter dissected Celtic’s finances. His conclusions are as expected, “[Celtic] are in good shape financially… thanks to their sustainable approach, though this owes a lot to their player trading model. Champions League qualification is also important, so the expanded format should help future prospects.”
Player trading is worth exploring. We have had the Asset Management conversation on CQN since our early weeks (2004), “Manage your assets or fail to manage your assets”. Recently, when we wanted to transform our worst season in over a decade, we sold our top striker (Edouard) and our top defender (Ajer) and acquired Kyogo, Jota, Carter-Vickers and others. It’s hard to believe how controversial this was in the early days of CQN, now we have seen the evidence, everyone gets it.
There needs to be clear objectives, though, what are we managing assets for? There are two fundamental targets I think we can all agree on:
Win the league.
Qualify for the Champions League group stage.
The latter will sometimes be fulfilled by the former. After a few years in the Champions League wilderness you might have convinced yourself that this is enough. I read plenty of glowing comments from the “Just being there” brigade, reflecting in the glory of attacking against a vastly superior opponent who scored eight against us over two games.
This is not for me and I believe that it is not sustainable either. Two, maybe three, seasons of cannon fodder in the Champions League and you’ll never hear from the “Just being there” types again. We need to compete, have genuine hopes of reaching the knock out stages and I believe this is achievable.
Having lived through a quadruple treble and now two nine-in-a-rows, I don’t want to settle for a perennial nip-and-tuck title race. I don’t just want to win the league this season, I want to win the league every season. Giovanni van Bronckhorst got perilously close to delivering a European trophy for Newco. If there is any stasis around Celtic Park right now, we will soon lose our dominant position.
But how, how do we make the great leap? You can vary a few metrics around the edges, but player trading is where it’s at. This is the only route open to us, we need to be better at it (despite the plaudits from Swiss Ramble) and we need to do much more of it. Always be ready to trade, be ready to sell and have thoroughly assessed replacements lined up. Don’t wait until our top talent has one or two years left on a contract, then stalls on a new deal with an eye over the border, which is where we have been recently.
The Edouard/Ajer strategy is better than allowing players to leave on a free, or holding them on increasingly high contracts until their talents wither (see 2000-05), but it underachieves. At best, it allows stagnation, but it more commonly sees us decline.
If we want to be part of the Champions League story, if we want to go on another long run of league titles, we need to learn lessons, and you and I have had some painful lessons in recent seasons. Edouard should have been sold in 2019, two years before he actually left. Sure, there would have been distress on the comments pages here, but we kept a player who eventually became ineffective – too busy working on his next gig. We need to dare to dream big!
As well as our (now) excellent recruitment setup, Celtic need the vision and strength to up their game. Look at Ajax and Benfica, they are also trapped in small leagues, but sell players for multiples of the £24m we got for Kieran Tierney. Do this and like these clubs, we can shop for more expensive talent ourselves.
If you can think of a brilliant alternative strategy, I’m all ears, but for now, we are faced with two alternate futures: repeat the glories and inevitable decline of the O’Neill, Strachan and Rodgers eras, or increase the velocity of player trading to a level that demonstrates the courage required to be a competitive Champions League outfit.
When we embark on our Champions League campaign in September, I want to have genuine hopes of reaching the knockout stage. That will not happen without a radical overhaul of the current squad, which means selling for top money and buying more quality players. “Learning lessons” from this season’s campaign will never bridge the gap, anyone who supported Celtic through the 90s will testify to this, so let’s not pretend otherwise.
The work should be underway already, we have two transfer windows and the rare luxury of a commanding lead in the league. Celtic, you have a talented manager who works hand-in-glove with his scouting system. Aligned both to a level of ambition that would give lesser mortals a nose bleed. No more settling for “Just being there”.