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Tom English: Would the fabric of Celtic change down south?

Celtic's Joe Ledley battles with Arturo Vidal of Juventus in the Champions League last-16 second-leg. Picture: AP

Celtic's Joe Ledley battles with Arturo Vidal of Juventus in the Champions League last-16 second-leg. Picture: AP

  • by Tom English
 

WHEN Neil Lennon was asked the other night what was the difference between Celtic and Juventus, he could have said five goals. Instead he opted for £100 million, the manager’s take on the gulf between the haves of Turin and the have-nots of Glasgow.

In reality, five goals and £100m amount to the same thing. If anything, Lennon was understating the financial chasm that existed.

It’s only when you look at the numbers involved that you get a full appreciation of what Celtic were attempting to do against the Italians in the last 16 of the Champions League. It wasn’t so much a football tie they were trying to win, more a miracle match.

Miracles happen in the game, of course they do. Celtic made one happen against Barcelona in Glasgow.

A team put together for, relatively, half-nothing against what we thought then was the best side in the world, a club with total revenues of £50m against a colossus with revenues of £390m, making them the second most monied club in the world behind Real Madrid.

According to the most recent Deloitte study of the football money league, Barça made £145.5m in broadcasting last season, £151.2m in commercial deals and £94.1m in matchday income. And yet a goal by a youngster who cost £100,000 from Airdrie rendered these numbers meaningless.

These phenomena exist in the game, but they’re rare. Lightning doesn’t tend to strike twice when the small teams (in financial terms) meet the behemoths.

The fact that Celtic navigated their way into the last 16 was a wondrous achievement but, against Juventus, they were left staring reality in the face.

Juve are the tenth-biggest money generator in world football, their revenues for 2011-12 coming in at £158.1m, which is three times the figure last posted by Celtic. Their broadcasting income was £73.3m, their commercial income £59.1m, their matchday income £25.7m.

Juventus have the power to spend sums which are stratospheric (to Celtic, if not to the Real Madrids of this world) on putting a squad together – and that is exactly what they have done.

In the last few seasons, Juve have spent, give or take, ¤13m on Mirko Vucinic, another ¤13m on Leonardo Bonucci and ¤13m more on Alessandro Matri. They bought Arturo Vidal for ¤11m, Fabio Quagliarella for ¤9.2m, Sebastian Giovinco for ¤9.6m, Stephan Lichtsteiner for ¤8.8m, Mauricio Isla for ¤8.2m and Kwadwo Asamoah for ¤7.9m. These are just the players who have featured prominently in Juve’s rise, but there are a host of others who have been brought in for big money and who have faded into the margins or have already been shipped out on loan or sold on permanent deals.

Milos Krasic was brought in from CSKA Moscow for ¤13.2m, Jorge Martinez from Catania (¤10.5m), Eljero Elia from Hamburg (¤7.9m), Simone Pepe from Udinese (¤6.6m), Emanuele Giaccherini from Cesena (¤6.3m). Vast sums and no return.

In the summer, Juve will bring the high-class Spanish striker Fernando Llorente to Turin from Athletic Bilbao. Meanwhile, Lennon is in fear of losing his main striker, Gary Hooper, to Norwich.

This is life with the big boys. It’s a brutal world but Celtic are all the better for having lived in it awhile.

Since their exit from the Champions League on Wednesday night Lennon has talked about the glass ceiling that he bounced his head off repeatedly during the two games with Juventus. He said that it didn’t necessarily have to be that way for Celtic, that a bit more luck in the draw for the last 16 might have given them a real chance of making it to the even dizzier heights of the last eight. He mentioned a couple of teams in the last 16 that he thought Celtic are on a par with, Schalke being one of them, but as Lennon knows, with revenues of £141m, Schalke dwarf Celtic’s revenues. The Germans rank 17th in the Deloitte list. The other club Lennon mentioned was Galatasaray. The Turks are 30th on that list with income that is almost double that of Celtic.

No wonder there is a desire to get out of Scotland. The riches on offer in England could transform the finances of Celtic (and Rangers) if they were ever able to enter the lucrative land of the Premiership and Sky and the multi-billion pound television deal that all those clubs are feasting on.

They won’t, of course. Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, is blue in the face from saying it. “No means never.”

Of course this is a huge blow to Celtic in their drive to give themselves a better chance of taking another step forward in Europe but a touch of perspective is required here, too.

The pursuit of these riches in England is threatening to destroy football clubs. You only have to look at the grotesque numbers that came out of QPR last week to see the dangers involved.

In their first season back in the Premiership – last season – the London club spent 91 per cent of their income on player salaries. Their accounts to 31 May, 2012 show big losses and massive wage commitments and those numbers don’t even include the latest wave of spending under Harry Redknapp.

This is kamikaze stuff, a desperate and many would say utterly reckless bid to keep themselves in the big league and in the big money.

QPR are not alone. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of clubs in the Premiership who are going about their business with a fiscal prudence. You’d need a third hand to tally those whose entire existence is now at the whim of a foreign owner or who are running at debt levels that are seriously unwise.

The notion that a miraculous entry to the Premiership would see Celtic crash through the glass ceiling of the Champions League might have merit, given the club’s huge potential earning power down south, but at what cost?

The takeover by the Glazer family has cost Manchester United part of its soul. God help Manchester City and Chelsea if their owners ever get bored of football.

There is an eye-watering amount of debt in the Premiership.

Arsenal are in robust financial health but they haven’t won anything in years and are now under massive pressure to spend like there is no tomorrow in an effort to catch up.

All the while in England player salaries rise and season tickets rise in tandem.

The ordinary Joe is having to dig deeper and deeper. There is so much that fascinates about the Premier League, but so much of it is built on gobsmacking levels of borrowed money and a crazed pursuit of the Champions League at one end and of survival at the other. Something is going to give at some stage. Something big.

Lennon was right when saying last week that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. He was talking about the possibility of losing some of his key players to the Premiership in the summer, but the same applies to the dream of Celtic moving south.

Would the fabric of the club change down there? Would the push for relevance at the top turn them into a financial basket case? It’s a question we won’t have to answer and maybe that’s no bad thing.

Celtic went out of Europe last week, but they achieved a great deal and they did it while refusing to spend money they don’t have.

They don’t get a trophy for that but there’s a bit of honour all the same.

 

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