You and I know there is still work to so, but ask Newco fans or client journalists and they will tell you, they are out of the league chase this season, the title is going to Celtic. The question is why? At the very least, they have to give some credit to Celtic.
Ange Postecoglou transformed Celtic from the moment he arrived, bringing players from a market few in Europe had proper access to. Despite losing the title in 2021, the infrastructure at Celtic and profile of the squad was sufficient to raise money in order to scout, buy or loan with an option, Kyogo, Hatate, Maeda, Jota, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Juranovic, Hart and more.
The rebuild process continued at Celtic Park in the summer, consequentially, Celtic have won all but one of their domestic games this season. They are imperious rivals, far stronger than the side which lost their way in season 2020-21. If you want to compete against them, you need a comparable budget and scouting system; Newco have neither.
Despite taking over midway through a campaign, Giovanni van Bronckhorst won one of the two domestic trophies available to him. His immediate predecessor won one from nine. As we left Hampden in April, out of the Scottish Cup, we knew we had a resourceful rival.
In what seemed an impossibility, he eliminated Sparta Prague, Brondby, Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and Leipzig on his way to the Europa League Final in Seville, losing in the narrowest of margins possible. History will record that this record was one of incredible overachievement.
Then came the summer. He sold his two best players, bringing in over £30m in transfer fees this calendar year, money that would have been enough to challenge Celtic, but he was allowed to spend less than half this figure. After qualifying for the Champions League group stage – something I never thought I would see – Giovanni was given no additional funds. Zilch!
Two weeks ago I explained some of what happened inside Celtic when Neil Lennon’s side came off the rails, why Celtic did not sack him early in the season, how it is easy to sack a manager but immeasurably more difficult to get the next decision right. In particular, that “Proportionality of response is required if you are to be taken seriously by serious candidates.”
Celtic could have recruited those desperate for a job, but right then, they were not attracting a candidate that convinced them to hand them the keys to the kingdom. If you think ANYONE inside Ibrox right now believes they have a plan to flip fortunes with Celtic, you are wildly mistaken.
In that earlier piece I wrote, “[Newco] can sack a manager who achieved spectacularly for them, or face down some entitled fans. It will be a measure of their board if they are prepared to take abusive flack personally when a scapegoat is available.”
Abusive. Flack. Personally. This is impossibly difficult. I watched it at Celtic, when Peter Lawwell took on the grief because, as he told me at the time, he believed that firing Neil just months after his successes, would make it more difficult for him to attract a great candidate. He wanted to be able to say to a new manager, “I have your back when the going gets tough”. This counts in football.
The experience was painful and in all honestly, I don’t know if I would have gone through the same. It is no surprise those in charge at Newco reached for a scapegoat instead of facing down their more entitled fans at next month’s AGM.
There is another pertinent question, why didn’t Newco sign anyone after disposing of PSV Eindhoven to reach the Champions League group stage? Why were they unable to invest more of the cash they took in, or some of the guaranteed European revenue? Why did they send Gio into battle naked?
For this, I refer you to two news articles published in September.
Firstly, Uefa’s statement on 2 September. Newco were one of 19 clubs mentioned that Uefa said “will be monitored closely in the upcoming period” with regards to the new Financial Fair Play regulations.
Then in his annual report, Celtic chief executive, Michael Nicholson wrote, “Celtic played a significant role at a strategic and technical level in the development of the new regulations.” Having crossed swords with Uefa on FFP for many years, last season, Peter Lawwell spent half a day a week working with Association on their new FFP regulations.
He was hugely influential in drafting their objectives, which were material in inhibiting Newco from splurging cash again – material in what happened today. When I read the new FFP regulations in the summer, I mentioned to ‘sources close to Celtic’, “This is going to get wee Gio the sack.” I wasn’t wrong. From now on, if you want to catch Celtic, live within your means, run a good business, recruit good people and take your chances with the rest of them.