A Guest Post by Chris Mac
Last night was the most unbearably painful in recent memory. While it doesn’t lessen the brutality of it, I don’t think there is a Celtic supporter worth their salt who doesn’t recognize that the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Our six one aggregate loss to Legia Warsaw is the end product of years of cynical and unambitious downsizing orchestrated by the leadership of our club.
The total no-mark Graham Speirs wrote an article in the aftermath of last night’s game suggesting that Celtic’s system is a success. James Forrest of the excellent On Fields of Green has comprehensively torn this ridiculous suggestion to shreds by cataloguing the last seven years of cynical (mis)management.
It is a glaring, atrocious condemnation of the club’s leadership that Lennon wanted Samaras to stay and the board would not facilitate this. Samaras spoke out saying that he wanted to stay but that the board wouldn’t even discuss it with him. This is a player, albeit a little inconsistent, that was a massively important force for us in our 2012/2013 champions league campaign. This is a player who we would have benefited from against Warsaw across both legs. Shortly after, Lennon left. Last week, after we lost the first leg, Lennon was quoted criticizing the lack of investment. It seems clear that Lennon left the club because, with an uncooperative board dedicated to downsizing, it was only a matter of time before his past successes were tarnished.
Between the historic victory over Barca at Celtic Park in 2012 and the following season’s Champions League campaign, the club had the spine torn out of it. Victor Wanyama, a Champions League-level player and our most important midfielder in Europe at the time, was out the door (12.5 million). Hooper, our biggest attacking threat was gone (5.5 million). And Kelvin Wilson, an integral part of our defence left too (2.5 million).
For the 2013/2014 European campaign we brought in Virgil Van Dijk (2.6 million), Amido Balde (1.6 million), Derk Boerrigter (1 million), Nir Biton (~700,000), Teemu Pukki (an undisclosed fee in the 2.5million ball park). So, money coming in from transfers was around the 20 million mark, and money for qualifying for the CL group stages was about the same. Money spent on new players to strengthen the team, and to replace the players we lost (including principally our biggest goal scoring threat and our most important European midfielder) we spent around the 8.5 million mark. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!)
The Porto model – getting players on the cheap and punting them at a profit – isn’t out of Celtic’s reach by any stretch of the imagination. We brought Wanyama in for £900,000 and sold him for £12.5 million. Less dramatically Hooper went for over 5 million, which is double what we paid for him. This is the model our club needs to follow: we need to be a development club.
I think our current scouting regime needs to be looked at for this to work however. Players like Rogic and Balde have come in and made little to no impact on the team. It is no secret that we have failed to even remotely replace Hooper. Pukki, Griffiths & Balde do not pose the threat that Hooper did at a domestic level never mind in Europe. Griffiths wasn’t brought in as a development prospect but as a player to slot straight into the team and he’s not brought much to the table that wasn’t already there in Stokes and Pukki. There’s still time for some of the players brought in recently to come good under Delia – Boerrigter and Pukki in particular. However, it is success and visibility in Europe that will attract clubs to players and allow the ‘development club’ model to work. This cannot happen without an incisive scouting team but, much more importantly, it cannot happen if the board refuses to reinvest transfer money in new signings.
Players like Wanyama, Forster and Van Dijk will draw attention competing at a European level in a way they will not if only competing domestically. If Celtic is constantly competing at a European level where these players are being showcased, this will not only increase their value but will subsequently attract other players to our club. This model cannot work if the board is not willing to invest money in the team to keep them strong and able to compete at a European level. Whatever system our board is running does not work.
At this point in time it looks like we’re about to have the spine again ripped out our already weak, Europa League level team (if that!): Forster, Van Dijk, Matthews and Commons all look likely to go. There is very little to attract them to stay after the humiliating display we’ve just put on and the lack of Champions League football in the coming months. We cannot operate as a development team if we do not invest money in new prospects and we are going to struggle to attract players without the promise of European football. What’s more, the money we make from selling Forster, Van Dijk, Matthews and Commons will just go towards replacing the Champions League money we’ve lost out on by not qualifying.
So our team has got beat in the second round of Champions league qualifying 6-1 and our solution to that is to sell three key players to plug the hold created by champions League money. Our solution to not being good enough is to get worse. This leaves us with holes in our team that we need to plug with development projects and only one year to turn them into Champions League players in order to have a team as good as the team that failed to qualify this year. How are we supposed to turn this around? We’re making the team potentially better and when it gets better we’re selling the players. Celtic loses 20 million this year by not qualifying for the Champions League. If Celtic spend £10 million to make £20 million that is good business. But the wait-and-see approach to European Qualifiers is causing a downward spiral.
The club’s leadership is unambitious. It is basically accepting that we are a sub-Europa level team and is refusing to invest cash in the club as a result. I can’t get over the fact that Lennon wanted to keep Sammy, Sammy wanted to stay, and the board did not facilitate the manager in building the team that he wanted. Now, with Ronny Delia coming into the club, the board appointed his number two rather than letting him choose his own right hand man. That doesn’t make sense to me. The tail cannot wag the dog. It is the manager’s responsibility to build the team and it is the board’s responsibility to facilitate this. You need to have faith in your manager and let him build his team.
We’ve essentially got Lawwell sitting on a pot of gold and saying ‘ahh you don’t need Samaras’. Has Lawwell scouted Warsaw? Does he know better than the manager? Or was he setting Lennon and the team up for failure with these backwards austerity measures?
I have never walked out of a game in my life, and I usually look down my nose at the mass exodus of ‘glory fans’. Last night, for the first time, I found myself sympathizing with the crowds streaming out the stadium early. Last night was the horrific conclusion of years of mismanagement and a stunted, backwards vision.
The club needs to be rebuilt, starting at the top.