Back in 2011 a campaign was launched by Craig Whyte (subsequently adopted by others) to convince Scottish Premier League clubs that Rangers were necessary for their survival, and in the event of a liquidation event, the league should invite a phoenix club into the top flight.
The people at Celtic became aware of this and after the initial revulsion that a team, who at that stage were three-in-a-row champions, could liquidate, then phoenix with the same players and income streams, but without the debts associated with building the playing squad, they ran the numbers. They asked themselves the question, could we survive without Rangers?
The answer was straightforward, if we can’t survive without Rangers we’re as well not surviving at all. We needed a strategy which would cope with the drop in income, the lack of domestic competition, but still deliver Champions League competition. Easy, right?
Not easy but by no means impossible.
Celtic were running at an operational loss without selling players or getting into the Champions League group stage. That season (2011-12), in reaching the Europa League group stage, we made a £7m loss (mitigated by a later player sale). The subsequent drop in season ticket sales in a league without Rangers (it happened), drop in associated commercial and match-day ticket sales cost around £5m. Dropping the price of season tickets by £100 this season arrested the decline in sales, but brought in £4m less than last season.
To balance this, we qualified for the Champions League group stage last season and this, sold £20m worth of talent this summer (and have spent £6m so far on new arrivals).
We have something practically unique in football, a sustainable strategy which is also successful.
Is it without its risks? No.
Will it tax the team and manager, even against teams like Elfsborg and Shakhter? Yes.
Is it as good a strategy as we could have? That is a matter of opinion but results on the park are the only place that matters.
We’ve made lots of decisions so far this summer. Selling Hooper, Wanyama and Wilson, while bringing in van Dijk, Derk Boerrigter, Balde and Mouyokolo, before getting to this stage. Would Norwich and Southampton have waited or signed alternatives, leaving us with rapidly depreciating assets?
I’ve no idea, but these are the kind of factors which contribute to each decision.
You can play your hand cautiously, hold the players, risking buyers leave the market, or sign more players early, on the basis that they are available and you are prepared to pay the asking price, irrespective of your valuation. You can certainly give yourself an easier ride by taking decisions against strategy based on pressure.
This would not guarantee success (nothing does) but it would further mitigate the risk of failure, however, it would potentially leave fewer resources to build a team which can reach further still.
We played a more ambitious hand. Strategy was adhered to, which looked a folly, to some, a week ago.
For the first time in 40 years we have a sustainable, successful, team development strategy, which is only just beginning to bear fruit. It is too tempting to take those fruits and blow them on the same strategy most of our UK-based peers do in an attempt to guarantee entry to the promised land.
Faith in the squad, manager and scouts was rewarded. Whether you like it or not, we have one of the best development strategies in football. Well done, Celtic.
Neil Lennon is an ambitious man but if he thinks he can stem the “disgusting” “hysterical” reaction to a Celtic defeat he is overreaching. Some will learn but others will have rationalised their reaction within a second of the manager’s comments being made. ‘Tis the nature of the beast.
Well done to everyone who attended last night. The place wasn’t full but there is something about a Celtic Park crowd of around that size which seems more effective than when we’re crammed in.
Enjoy being a Celtic supporter.
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