Saturday 20 January 2018

Lack of competition impacts on both halves of Glasgow

Celtic and Rangers need each other – on and off the pitch, says Declan Whooley

Celtic's manager Neil Lennon celebrates his side's fourth goal against Partick Thistle
Celtic's manager Neil Lennon celebrates his side's fourth goal against Partick Thistle
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

While Celtic claimed the fastest Scottish title win in 85 years last week, rebuilding is the name of the game at Parkhead. For rivals Rangers, it's simply a case of survival.

Not since 1929 has the Scottish title been wrapped up so early and came 14 days after Rangers confirmed their own dominance in the third tier of domestic football to lift the League One title. Presumably, the celebrations were a little more downbeat in the blue half of Glasgow.

The Scottish giants combined have nearly 60 points to spare over their nearest challengers in their respective tables, but the ease of victories masks the truth of two clubs struggling in the shadows of the past.

The lack of competition has impacted on interest levels, commercial revenue and, most crucially from Celtic's perspective, performances against quality opposition.

They just edged past Shakhtar Karagandy to qualify for the Champions League group stages, where they recorded one win, three goals and a 6-1 defeat at the Nou Camp to round things off.

Off the pitch, it's a different story. Celtic's interim results for the financial year to December 31 showed a surplus, all the more impressive when you consider they operate in a league where television revenue is less than one per cent of England's.

The seeds of the five-year business plan laid down by the club in 2006/'07 have been sown despite the difficult economic environment. The club took the stance that it would take "significant funds" from the first team for the betterment of the club and this has helped deal with its debt. In the last two summers Celtic have made more than £18m profit from the sale of Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper, Kelvin Wilson and Ki-Sung Yeung alone.

"We reinvested in a state-of-the-art training campus; developing a youth academy; constructing a sports science programme and the recruitment of an international football development manager," chief executive Peter Lawwell said.

The difficulty for Lennon is that he has been limited in his ability to strengthen the first-team squad. "Affordability is obviously the crux of it," he says. "I don't think things are going to change that much in that respect. I have been looking for players in the Championship but value for money isn't there so we are looking elsewhere." It is a problem Ally McCoist would gladly swap for across town, as debt, loans and financial security dominate the on-pitch activities.

Dubliner Jon Daly, one of the few Irish Catholics to have signed for the club, has played his part in their dominance this season. His 19 league goals and counting have propelled them to the title at a canter, but club attentions are focused elsewhere. Primarily, finding a new investor.

Rangers made a £14m loss last year, and former Ibrox director Dave King claimed the club needs £30-50m fresh investment to be able to compete with Celtic.

It's a far cry from the days when the club broke its record transfer fee on eight separate occasions between 1998 and 2002, with the likes of Mikel Arteta, Ronald de Boer, Michael Ball, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Andrei Kanchelskis. The £12m capture of Tore Andre Flo is a reminder of a different era.

South-African based businessman King is looking to rescue the club despite losing his £20m investment when oldco Rangers were consigned to liquidation. Thankfully for those concerned with the fallen giants, it hasn't deterred his efforts to rebuild the club.

"I've lost £20m in Rangers already and I'm happy to lose another £30m as I love the team," the lifelong fan said earlier in the week.

"I don't want to be arrogant but it might be easier for me to lose £30m than it is for some fans to afford season tickets."

Celtic have no real threat to their current dominance in Scottish football. They will be going for a five-in-a-row should Rangers make it to the Premier Division at the earliest opportunity.

Rangers are now struggling to keep up with Celtic off the pitch also – among the many cutbacks was the shutting down of their scouting programme – and a return to the top tier cannot come soon enough, for both parties.

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