To the man on the street £9 million is a huge sum of money to owe, but to football clubs the size of Celtic, £9 million is pocket change. If you look at fellow SPL side Kilmarnock, the Rugby Park side owe £10.5 million (as of 02/12/10) which is a huge amount of money for the Ayrshire side, as with all due respect they do not have the appeal nor the following that Celtic do.
The major issue to not only the club, but more importantly to the fans was the club's early exit from Europe. Knocked out of the Champions League by a competent Braga side and out of the Europa League by FC Utrecht after a poor showing away from home, Celtic lost the important revenue stream of European Football, which is much more important now than in previous years.
Despite the failure in Europe, Neil Lennon and the Bhoys have turned the corner domestically with the club in the final of the League Cup where they will face Old Firm rivals Rangers, they are in the Fifth Round of the Scottish Cup where they will face Rangers again in a replay after a 2-2 draw at Ibrox, and they sit proudly top of the Scottish Premier League, five points clear of Rangers despite Walter Smith's side having two games in hand.
After the rank rotten performances under former incumbent Tony Mowbray, Neil Lennon has improved the team not only in the dressing room, but also on the field with the performances captivating Celtic fans and neutrals alike, despite the usual criticisms from pundits, rival fans and general doomsday merchants that hang around Scottish Football.
In the Summer, Celtic sold Fan Favourites Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow) and Artur Boruc (Fiorentina), as well as Marc Antoine Fortune (West Brom), Stephen McManus (Middlesborough) and Cillian Sheridan (CSKA Sofia). With those departures and the revenue brought in to the club, Lennon brought in a mixed bag of players both foreign and domestic to bolster the squad and to turn around the fortunes of a wounded giant, who have had to watch on as rivals Rangers lifted two consecutive SPL titles. Cha, Forster (loan), Hooper, Izaguirre, Juarez, Ledley, Kayal, Majstorovic, Mulgrew, Murphy and Stokes all joined the Parkhead side in the summer and while Murphy and to a lesser extent Cha have still to produce the goods, the rest of Lennon's summer signings have impressed, with Kayal and Izaguirre arguably the buys of the season for Celtic. And with the side further bolstered in the January transfer window by veteran playmaker Freddie Ljungberg and Kris Commons, pinched from the clutches of rivals Rangers, the future is no longer looking as bleak as the numbers and Rangers fans may try to convince you.
Image - © Vagelis Georgariou
A £9 million debt, as Dr. John Reid stated, "is at a level that the Board considers as manageable, and still provides some flexibility in respect of future investment."
Celtic's business model allows them to spend a sizeable chunk of transfer revenue, unlike their city rivals despite pledges made a number of years ago about, 'for every fiver Celtic spend, we will spend a tenner'. What Sir David Murray failed to mention to the loyal brethren was that the fiver that Celtic spent was partly Celtic's money as well as some of the banks, but the tenner that Murray was spending was the bank's and not the club's. And while in the short-term money does talk, in the long-term you rack up £30 million worth of debt, all the while dodging paying taxes to HMRC (and still calling yourself the Queens XI - ironic eh?), being close to administration and failing to sell the club in over four years of it being on the market, despite the usual articles peddled out by the Laptop Loyal to trick the punters into parting with their cash to buy season tickets. But even those loyal Rangers fans are starting to smell a rat (no not Diouf) every time such story exclusively emerges.
But as we know the second half of the season, is more of a challenge financially to clubs and likewise with Celtic, as Reid testified too. But as fans we can let the board and the suits at Parkhead deal with the numbers, that is what they are paid for and to worry about. We can sit back and watch the product on the field, a product that has given us some great performances this season against Aberdeen (9-0), Hearts (4-0) and against Rangers beating them 2-0 thanks to goals from Georgios Samaras, and the 2-2 draw in the Scottish Cup. Despite being down to ten men Celtic showed that they had the drive, the desire and the passion to go out and try to win the game, against a Rangers side that were as per usual happy to sit with their backs to the wall punting long balls up to their lone striker. If Celtic played as they did against Rangers in the Scottish Cup, then the forthcoming double headers on the 20th February and the 2nd March, will be six valuable points in the bag, especially with fixtures now beginning to pile up for Walter Smith's side, despite their own dealings in January with the signings of an Arsenal kid, David Healy (who can't get a game for Northern Ireland because of Kyle Lafferty) and serial-spitter & sewer rat El Hadji Diouf.
While £9 million is manageable at the moment, Celtic MUST win the SPL title. Not only for the glory of lifting another trophy and beating rivals Rangers, but also to bring in much-needed European Football revenue. And while there is no automatic qualification into the Group Stages of the Champions League next season, even the money from the qualifying rounds would help greatly.
And if Celtic do win the title this season, not many players will be needed to bolster the existing side. Yes as ever there will be comings and goings, with the likes of Andreas Hinkel leaving for Germany, Fraser Forster returning to Newcastle (but hopefully returning permanently), Ljungberg and Glenn Loovens all potentially heading out the door. But these players other than Forster are not first team regulars, and their transfers or contracts ending will allow Lennon to strengthen in the summer, when he is rewarded with a new contract. A contract that should be handed to him right now to sign whether or not he wins the title.
But for rivals Rangers, if they fail to win the title, they will see a number of high-profile players leave despite what their fans or the club's mouthpiece Martin Bain says. Madjid Bougherra and Allan McGregor will be dead certs to leave Ibrox, as is veteran defender David Weir. The likes of Bartley, Weiss and Diouf will return to England with no hope of Rangers buying them. And there will be other departures contractually. With no SPL title, means no Champions League and that means the bank will further tighten the noose around the Rangers' accountants throat preventing manager-in-waiting Ally McCoist from strengthening in the summer other than dipping into the Bosman Bargain Bucket and promoting from the youth ranks.
The coming weeks and months are important to both clubs, but for one club it could be the beginning of the end of their dominance in the Scottish game. For Celtic however, it would only mean another year without a league title and another rise in debts - still lower than their rivals. But it won't come to that, as Celtic will be strong enough to grasp both handles of the SPL trophy from Rangers and lift it aloft in front of jubilant Celtic fans.
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