CELTIC chief executive Peter Lawwell described the club as being in “arguably the best financial state we’ve ever been in” after announcing pre-tax profits of £21.3m in the half-year accounts published yesterday.
This headline figure, achieved through £16.5m player sales and participation in the Champions League, resulted in the club sitting with £5.7m cash in the bank as at 31 December.
Lawwell expressed his “delight” at a set of results unrivalled in the modern age of the game in this country. “It sets us up,” he said. “We have a real strong foundation to face the future and the challenges of Scottish football. It’s allowed us to do a wee bit more. We have a multi-million pound project going on outside the stadium. We’ve given the fans several million pounds in cash back [through money off season tickets] and we’ve bought some players. It allows us to go into the summer transfer window from a very good standing to try to strengthen before the Champions League.”
Against the backdrop of banking such large sums – principally drawn from the £20m earnings raised from reaching the group stages of European football’s blue-riband tournament allied to the sums raked in from Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson being sold in the summer – supporters expected more to go out on new strikers in the January transfer window than the around £1m paid to acquire Leigh Griffiths from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Celtic’s rude financial health has inevitably then created a tension between fans and club over the perception that the board are sitting on profits.
“We are spending the money,” Lawwell countered. “We are spending on the outside and giving the fans something back. The money is there to be re-invested in the squad. Why wouldn’t we do that? We have a track record of buying players. It makes no sense to keep the money in the bank and we would rather invest in the business and that’s investing in good footballers that create value for the club. We are always about value.
“Celtic can buy a £6-8 million player if the value is there. We would not buy a 29-year-old at £8 million on a four-year contract at £40,000 a week because that is dead money. If there is value in signing an £8 million player we will look at it. We wanted to get as many in as we could [in January] and allow us to have them embedded and settled for the qualifiers, but it was very difficult. Neil [Lennon] is delighted with the players we’ve got in and the business we’ve done.”
Lawwell ridiculed suggestions that the redevelopment work to make the area around Celtic Park better had been made possible by cosy deals struck with Glasgow City Council and the organisers of the Commonwealth Games; the opening ceremony of which will be hosted in the stadium. “We are paying for it: the land purchases and all the work,” he said.
The Celtic chief executive was also dismissive of the grumbling by Rangers manager Ally McCoist the previous day over the decision by the SPFL to stage the League Cup final at Celtic Park in March, two months before the arena also plays host to the Scottish Cup final. “It’s the pre-eminent stadium in Scotland, it’s the biggest and the best and, of course, we were going to get it, but for no other reason. If it was practically impossible to have it here then clearly it should have gone to Ibrox, but this would have been the first choice, I’d have thought,” Lawwell said. “[Any implication that the venue was chosen because Celtic are pulling the strings in Scottish football] is totally unhelpful. People have got to see things for what they are. We’ve got to trust the people that are running the game to do the right thing.”
Lawwell also played down a report that Murrayfield will host the club’s early Champions League qualifiers while Celtic Park is out of action in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games. “It’s not a done deal. It might be confirmed in the next two or three weeks. We looked at smaller grounds in Scotland, but without giving away my negotiating position, Murrayfield is the most likely. We have an obligation to our season-ticket holders to give them the opportunity to buy a ticket for the game. To limit that wouldn’t be right.”