Almost five years ago, our old pal, Dave King, promised us that if Newco won only one league, Celtic would collapse: “We appoint a manager who can win games, with more resources, and we take one league away from Celtic.
“We only need one league. We don’t need two or three. We need one. Once we take one away, it’s a pack of cards.
“Celtic’s costs structure is more like we were 10 years ago. We needed Champions League football and if we went into the Europa League we were in trouble because the cost structure was so high.
“Take that away for one season and it will change the numbers in the Celtic side very, very quickly.”
It’s worth repeating: “We only need one league. We don’t need two or three. We need one.”
They got their one league. In 2022 they got Champions League group stage participation, a financially rewarding run to a European final and sold two players for a combined £27m. Meanwhile, we failed to reach the Champions League for the next four seasons. But still, it wasn’t enough to bridge the gap.
The financial prowess of a football club is not limited to income or bank balance. You need to look at the sell-on values it can generate from the playing squad. This is particularly difficult to measure accurately. Take Kyogo, for example. He is the best striker we have seen in close to 20 years but at 28, he will never move on for the money the inferior Odsonne Edouard generated. As a consequence, it is likely you will see Kyogo doing his thing for many years to come.
It takes experience to manage a squad successfully. Martin O’Neill was experienced and had gilt-edged winners, whom he encouraged the club to retain by offering ever-higher salaries. It worked, until players went into age-related decline on eye-wateringly high pay. We soon discovered we were not experienced enough.
You need a commercial team that will bring in the big deals, no matter what happens on the field. Celtic have this, it underpins our purchases and salary negotiations. Newco can only watch and try to learn. Their humiliation over the Sydney Tournament is a case in point.
There is a corporate knowledge at Celtic that’s been learned the hard way. It seeps into many corners of the club, instilling benefits that are not evident until you look back. It is also far from finished, just because we are a chapter ahead of our rivals, doesn’t mean we don’t have tons more learning to do.
When Dave King gave his interview on Celtic’s “pack of cards” in 2018 he referenced how Rangers collapsed after the 6-2 game in Martin’s first season. That game was certainly the moment Scottish football forever pivoted towards Celtic, but there’s a difference between Rangers dominance and that of Celtic.
Celtic are run on a sustainable basis. Rangers lost money annually, plunging £35m into the red in one season alone. On the way up, they rode a player price asset bubble, underpinned by an owner riding a property price bubble. It was always going to crash and burn (as I may have mentioned a few hundred times before it did).
Any team can get it wrong, Celtic did two years ago, but when everything else is structurally better than your rivals, you can pick yourself up and go again. They are a formidable rival, one that will take a brave man, or a very stupid one, to attempt to overhaul.