Deadline Day at Celtic Park is always the same. There’s a bit of a buzz at the start of the day in regards to a potential transfer that never comes off, before ultimately ending in disappointment after the club announce a couple of mediocre free transfer/loan signing after a few fringe players are shipped out for some game time.
Perhaps more predictable than the transfer activity at Celtic Park, is the response from supporters on social media. Fortunately for Ronny, Deadline Day came straight after another abysmal result on Sunday for his side. As we all probably witnessed, Deadline Day is the semi annual day when fans bash Peter Lawwell for a perceived lack of investment in the team.
A lot has happened in the past few months since I wrote a defence of Peter Lawwell (Peter Lawwell: The Reality) for ETims.net. Unfortunately, none of it has been good. Embarrassing back to back defeats by the cash strapped Molde ensured we finished bottom of our Europa League group and without a win in the group stages of a European competition for the first time in our history. It hasn’t been great on the domestic front either, as a 6 match winless home run nearly cost Ronny his job before defeat on Sunday once again left us clambering in the ashes of our treble dreams. Yet still, some fans are lenient towards Deila because of their disillusionment with Lawwell.
Although I understood this disillusionment, I thought Lawwell deserved some credit. Here’s what I wrote back in November;
It always irks when Peter Lawwell’s name is mentioned in the Scottish ‘press.’ The man is often painted as the Chief Exec who ‘polarises’ the Celtic support and the man with a ‘stranglehold’ on the Scottish game with his undue influence on various boards and panels. Indeed, they might have a case for the latter, but the former is a statement of the overtly sympathetic nature. Lawwell’s name is a poisonous brand amongst the increasingly ostracised green half of Glasgow, who would probably prefer the skin head down the road with a magic hat to be in charge of affairs at Parkhead. Indeed, with every defeat, the former accountant is lambasted for failing to invest club funds in new talent, while many see him as a narcissistic sociopath intent on lining his own pockets. Failure to make the Champions League group stages two years on the trot and an incapability to assert domestic dominance across all platforms has only increased pressure on Lawwell, but is there a better man for the job?
Maintaining financial stability while putting a team capable of producing results on the park is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when European clubs are haemorrhaging money. Monaco, for example, have had to curb spending after exploding on to the European scene after many a lean year. They quickly realised that spending outrageous amounts on the top European players, Falcao et al, might have been profitable in the short term, but risked their security going forward. Indeed, A UEFA review in 2009 showed that more than half of 655 European clubs made a loss over the previous year, with over 20% of the clubs believed to be in financial peril. Clubs are refusing to live within their means as they look to prosper, and a look across the city highlights the dangers of doing so. Our former rivals, the club once professed to be the ‘biggest institution out with the church’, were liquidated, and in their place rose a new club, currently lingering in the depths of Scottish football.
Celtic, however, have managed to become one of the most financially stable clubs in the game.
When Lawwell took over in 2003, Celtic had a staggering £35million debt and the club had recorded losses of £8million in the previous season despite making it to a European final for the first time in 33 years. Lawwell’s mandate was to wipe out the debt while producing a team capable of success.
Fast forward to 2015. Lawwell has successfully cleared the debt, and we are now continually raking in more profit than the elite clubs in England. Just for comparison, in 2014 the club made a pre tax profit of £11million, a figure greater than that of 12 English Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. This, of course, is in spite of the fact that Celtic and the rest of the clubs in Scotland’s top league receive less than 1% of the TV revenue that is awarded to the top level clubs south of the border.
Indeed, in a 2014 report carried out by S&P Capital IQ into the financial stability of European football’s top clubs, Celtic were found to be the club least likely to default, while the same report also suggested that the Scottish champions were the third most financially stable club in Europe, with only Ajax and Arsenal ranking higher (The report can be found here).
Although the club announced a £4million loss in the 2015 results, that figure does not include the £13million sale of Virgil van Dijk to Southampton, which is due to be added on to next year’s figures.
During this period of sustained financial growth under Lawwell, the club have enjoyed remarkable success, winning 8 Championship titles, 5 Scottish Cups, 3 League Cups, making it to the Champions League Group Stages seven times and to the Last 16 on three occasions. The Celtic brand has been expanded globally, with marquee wins over Barcelona, Manchester United, A.C Milan and the rest, while the front of the stadium has been redeveloped to cement Celtic Park as one of Europe’s finest footballing arenas. In short, Lawwell has overseen one of the most successful and profitable periods in the history of the club.
Weren’t we supposed to dissipate into a pile of flaming green ash when the almighty Rangers died?
The truth is we probably would have suffered tremendously had it not been for introduction of Lawwell’s controversial transfer strategy. Lawwell was aware the club had to adapt to the relative football poverty of Scottish footbally, consequently deciding that the way forward was to curb spending on established players in exchange for signing younger, lower reputation players. Players such as Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk, were purchased and all contributed to European and domestic success, before being sold on for huge profits. The model is still in place, with Lawwell giving Deila the green light to sign Scottish talents like Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay Steven, Scott Allan and Ryan Christie in 2015, with the hope of establishing a dynasty in the Scottish game for years to come. As a result, the £10million a season ‘black hole’ left by the demise of Rangers has been but a soft blow.
Unsurprisingly, many fans have rightfully been unhappy with the strategy. Although it makes sense economically, many of us have grown frustrated with the club finding a gem of a player, watching him for 2 or 3 seasons before moving on. It’s gotten to the stage where its nigh on impossible to get excited about a new player, knowing that they’ll be moved on for a quick buck when Lawwell and the board get the first sniff of a decent fee. Of course, it has led to a poorer quality team on the park and frustrating performances. It is Lawwell’s strategy, but let’s understand why it is so.
Of course, Celtic are one the world’s biggest clubs in terms of history and global support, and we’d all like to think that we are capable of so much more than we’re currently doing. However, as we are all aware, the Scottish league is holding us back. There’s not a player over the £5million mark anywhere that’d be willing to play in our league. Even if there was, they’d more than like be demanding a weekly wage over the £50k mark, given that they could get that easily down south. Let’s say we could offer that type of money; would it really be worth the risk? Not only would it create a rift in the changing room, we’d be risking our very existence in the long term. The revenue and TV income is simply not available to support such reckless spending.
If anyone is any doubt, take a glance down the road at the club formerly known as Rangers.
Years of spending millions on the top players in Europe meant success in the short term, sure, but an era of living out with their means ensured that the club was liquidated and had to reform in the Scottish Third division.
Do we really want to go the same way?
Lawwell and the board are simply adjusting to modern football and the times we find ourselves in. If they were to have their way, we’d be in England and not only playing, but competing with the European elite. Unfortunately, we’re restricted, and the club has had to adapt.
Admittedly, the last two years under Ronny Deila have been difficult, and it is perhaps during this time that Lawwell has endured the most pressure of his Parkhead career.
There’s not a Celtic fan out there who didn’t feel utterly soulless as Malmo tore the heart out of our defence and ended our Champions League dreams for the second year in a row. It was an abysmal performance and was rightfully picked apart in the Scottish press. However, the analysis of the situation at Celtic Park on social media was a different story. A quick glance at twitter that night and you would’ve noticed a large proportion of the Celtic support blaming Lawwell’s lack of investment in the team and demanding his immediate resignation. A lack of investment? Really?
Lennon’s team got to the last 16 in 2012-13 and qualified for the Group Stage in 2013-14 with a similar investment in the side, so surely the current Celtic side should’ve been more than capable of making it playing a team whose budget is the equivalent of Aberdeen? Our squad actually cost 12 times that of Malmo’s to assemble. To put it in context, Derk Boerrigter cost more than the entire Malmo starting eleven in Sweden. This was a side, if we are to compare the quality of the two teams on the park, we should’ve put four or five past without coming out of second gear. Instead, our defence was beaten by three simple set pieces over the two legs, while our supposed best defender was left looking like a frightened rabbit. He would later sell for an absurd £13million. Clearly the loss was not down to Lawwell’s shrewd transfer strategy, but a poor team performance and an absence of tactical know how on behalf of the management and his coaching team.
Yes, the last two years have been hard to endure, of that there is no question, but to place blame with Lawwell is simply unfair. Lawwell’s, and subsequently the club’s ability to operate is restricted by external factors and conditions out their control. Since 2003, Peter Lawwell has managed to turn our club from one on the verge of spiralling out of control with debt to one of the most financially secure in Europe, while our club and our fans have managed to enjoy fantastic success. Let’s not use him as a scapegoat for the failures of the team for the past two qualifying campaigns.
Lawwell’s not everyone’s cup of tea, least of all mine. He’s a hypocritical, ignorant, money hoarding megalomaniac. But he’s bloody good at his job.
I’ll admit, when I first wrote the original article I was a firm supporter of Lawwell, in spite of the negative press he is sometimes rightly awarded. That support, however, has wavered incredibly over the past few months as results have worsened. Not because I don’t believe in his transfer strategy or ability to keep the club afloat financially, but because of his continued blind faith in a manager who is out of his depth.
If this faith continues, our financial predicament will suffer (most will agree the present squad and management staff have little chance of making the Champions League next year) and Lawwell will have only himself to blame. Indeed, it might become the Chief Exec’s downfall.
However, does one mistake negate years of good work? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know when we’re either glued to the TV or drowning our sorrows come the draw for the Champions League Group stages next year.
For now, the defence of Lawwell still stands.