Celtic potentially the best of a depressing lot

Posted by - September 8, 2010 - Scotland

Domestic football season likely to be bleak North of the border

Although Neil Lennon was predictably optimistic following his side’s first competitive match of the season, even before the second supporters were resigned. Celtic were going to go out of the Champions League at the qualifying stage for the second season in succession.

It was not always this way. Between 2006 and 2008 Villareal, AC Milan, Benfica (twice) and Manchester United were beaten in the Champions League. Three years before this, Celtic reached the UEFA Cup Final. It is fair to say, however, that a lot has changed at Parkhead.

Celtic have not won the league for two years, the first time this has happened since 2000. They have not won the Scottish Cup for three years. They are not competing in the Champions League for the second year in a row, and they have lost their captain and goalkeeper in Stephen McManus and Artur Boruc. They even managed to lose to Utrecht, thus missing out on European football at all.

And yet domestically the mood in the green part of Glasgow will be one of quiet optimism. Neil Lennon, the new manager, was the fans choice, and he has been allowed to spend the money recouped on outgoing players. In total seven players have been signed. Gary Hooper and Joe Ledley were amongst the most promising young players in the Championship last season, and Efrain Juarez and Cha du Ri both played in the knockout stages of the World Cup. Five of the seven signed players are twenty-four or younger.

It is indicative of the current climate in Scottish football that Celtic’s relative likelihood of domestic success is increased less by their own improvements but rather the dilapidation of their rivals.

Rangers, despite consecutive league titles, are still in economic plight. After defeat to FC Kaunas of Lithuania meant losing out on the Champions League windfall, they have entered a period of steady financial decline. In March 2009 the club was forced to offer voluntary redundancy packages to staff, and a year later there was the threat from the HMRC of a massive backdated tax bill. Recent reports suggest that the success achieved domestically by Walter Smith may have saved the club, but the picture is still far from rosy. Essentially, although Rangers are in a situation where their debts are manageable, this does not mean that they are in a position where large outlay on players is possible.

This has been increasingly portrayed “on-field” over the summer, and is highlighted by Gordon Strachan’s transfer policy at Middlesbrough. In bringing in Kevin Thomson and Kris Boyd from Ibrox, many of the goals and invention have been withdrawn from the Scottish champions. Boyd scored 26 league goals last season, and goals scored by Jevlavic and Beattie are going to be a valuable commodity.

Furthermore Nacho Novo, Stevie Smith and DaMarcus Beasley, with 56 combined appearances last season, have left the club, and one of the brightest stars in Scottish football, Danny Wilson, has been sold to Liverpool. In the last 14 months, 12 internationals have left Rangers.

Even more disconcerting, the fortunes of Rangers are similar to the problems faced by Scottish Premier League as a whole. Lenders are unwilling to provide loans to clubs in a league where last year sponsorship and television rights earned just £16million, considerably less than the bottom club in the English Premiership. Without the Old Firm, the average attendance in the Scottish Premiership is 7,395. The clubs are simply not generating enough income in order to attract players of a meaningful quality.

The downward spiral is evident. Less money in the game means less investment in coaching systems, and therefore less talent nurtured. The national team’s recent poor performances have led to the removal of a Europa League place. All does not look good.

One suspects that Celtic and Rangers will get through. The fan base and attendances remain large, and the tradition and history will continue to attract players, funds permitting. However, the prospect of the other clubs in the league has never looked so bleak. Support, finance and investment in youth are all lacking, and a recipe for a desolate future is apparent.

Celtic will begin a domestic campaign having spent £8.4million on new players. Only two other players in the entire league have been bought for money, the strikers at Rangers. That is an alarming statistic for anyone other than the Parkhead faithful.

  • Jim

    Didnt you watch the recent Hibs v Rangers match? It had everything and was a great watch. Easily the game of the season so far unlike games in the premiership so far where one team usually just takes control of the game and thats the end of it, very boring, unlike the game in question which was very entertaining.

  • andrew

    Why do you mention McManus as a big loss to Celtic? He was almost hounded out of Celtic as the worst Captain in the modern era, if he had continued in the role there would have been riots, and he is also a crap defender

  • Eddie

    Im not saying you dont make a valid point, but if you want to be taken seriously you should try to get the basic facts correct. You said Celtic had been signed but by my count (and you dont need to take my word for it, it has been widley reported to everyone) Celtic have actually signed 11 players this year. Forster (on loan), Izaquirre, Majstorovic, Cha, Mulgrew, Juarez, Ledley, Kayal, Stokes, Murphy and Hooper.

    Also, your claim that Celtic could win the title just because the rest of the teams had got worse instead of due to them improving, clearly you have never watched them play over the last couple of years or any of their play so far this season. Lennons squad are miles ahead of the team we had last year.

    Yes i agree the quality of the football up here has gone down but thats not just in Scotland if you actually look at all the other european leauges. Or even look at the english leauge, im willing to take any bets that that will be won by one of two teams. Its the most predictable leauge in the world but the matreting guys have got their job done as people actually think its an exciting one.

    I also predict that as long as things remain the same in the english leauge then England will NEVER win anything. the quality and quantity of English players is dropping at an alarming rate while all the top clubs are buying their talent from the contenant. Even the middle and most of the lower clubs in England now buy in their talant and while the EPL marketing guys are convincing everyone this is great for the english game it very clearly is only good for them.

    We watched this happen in Scotland from the late 80’s onwards and it happened elsewhere too. Scotland and England used to provide talent for all the top leauges in the world giving us both a large pool to pick from for internationals. Compare the team England have now to even the one that played at Euro96, would any of them make it into the team?

  • brian

    worse than that actually daniel. you state that celtic spent the money recouped on outgoing players ( 8.4 million according to your sums )
    celtic in fact made a hell of a lot more than that on outgoing players. aiden mcgeady alone was sold for more than that.
    not to mention the vast slashing of weekly wages by selling the best paid players and seriously reducing the squad size.
    this has not been given to neil lennon to spend.
    i’m guessing the several million pocketed by the board will be claimed to have been set aside to offput the loss of any european television money at all this season.
    a bleak future indeed.

  • bilby

    Best thing for Scottish football would be a season where neither Celtic nor Rangers win anything. A league where the ‘lesser’ teams actually have a fighting chance would reinvigorate Scotland no end.

  • Chris

    Before every season, Celtic and Rangers are tipped to walk away with the title, this is true. But, the gap between the Old Firm and the rest of the SPL is getting smaller, both sides lost games which you would expect them to win. Games were you expect Celtic and Rangers to go and win comfortably, they don’t. I can’t remember Celtic having an easy game at St. Mirren or Hamilton. Scottish football is in a steady decline. We are going go have to face the fact that Scottish will never be the way it used to be.

  • joe

    An innocent question…why has no deep-pocketed owner ever tried a takeover in Scotland? At Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs one could pump in say 60mil for a new squad, it seems like they’d have a shot at collecting Champs League money within a few years. Just a random thought, feel free to shoot down.