Following the previous year’s £11m earnings – bolstered by the 2013-14 participation in the Champions League group stages and the £10m sale of Fraser Forster to Southampton – revenue for the 12 months till June 2015 was down by more than a fifth to £51m, with the figure for player sales dropping to £6.77m from £17m. Lawwell maintained that the drop-off was not a mere incidental.
“We could have recorded a profit by selling players but we chose to retain key members of the squad in order to give Ronny a chance to build in his new post,” he said, with the club’s cash in bank rising to £4.72m. “We expect to be in profit next year and it is important we have the means to remain stable.”
Lawwell is adamant that there would be no change of policy, and no threat to the club’s envied sustainability, even if they were to win a fifth straight title only to then endure another evening like the one in Malmo that brought elimination at the Champions League play-off stage last month.
“These games happen in football,” he said. “Scotland were beaten in Georgia. Teams suffer off nights. We are talking fine lines. We consider ourselves a Champions League club but our objective this season will be to do well in continental competition through the Europa League and go again. We are solid enough that we do not need to change our strategy of investing everything that comes in.
“It isn’t becoming any easier to reach the group stages but there is no alternative to what we do. What would the alternative be? To give up? We continue to do well in a difficult environment. In this calendar year, between the January transfer window and the summer window, we spent £10m on new players. That is massive for a Scottish club and allowed for by our fundamentals.”
The sale of Virgil van Dijk to Southampton for £13m last week – which will underpin any profitability for Celtic in next year’s figure – made him the latest player the Scottish champions have cashed in on handsomely courtesy of the English Premier League side they have practically become a feeder club for. A total of £35m will be poured into the club’s coffers because of the moves made by Victor Wanyama, Van Dijk and Forster in recent years, and this approach of bringing in unpolished gems and selling them on for huge mark-ups is a central plank of Celtic’s economic equilibrium.
Lawwell admitted it was a “challenge” to keep such a conveyor belt turning over – a fact demonstrated by the need to outlay £4.5m merely to acquire Croatian central defender Jozo Simunovic as a long-term replacement for Van Dijk. “We are having to go younger,” he said, in reference to the newly-turned 21-year-old from Dinamo Zagreb. “And that makes the signings riskier. But the wages to be paid for a 24 or 25-year-old can prove prohibitive.”
Yet the Celtic chief executive rejected the suggestion there is no obvious next Van Dijk/Wanyama/Forster. “We have value in the squad with such as Nir Bitton, Stefan Johansen and, we believe, new arrivals Dedryck Boyata, Nadir Ciftci, Scott Allan, Saidy Janko and Simunovic,” he said. “No-one had heard of Wanyama, or Ki-Sung Yeung or Gary Hooper. What would people want us to do? Buy in a 33-year-old striker like Ricky Lambert, who cost £3m and is being paid £60,000-a-week by West Brom. That isn’t on and we will continue to look to be creative and innovative.
“In my 12 years, we have been champions eight times, made the Champions League group stages seven times and the last 16 of the tournament three times. In the same period two of our biggest clubs have gone bust. Our environment is challenging and there is always pitfalls such as an off night in Malmo.”
The veiled reference to a “bust” club was the only time Lawwell came close to lifting the name of Rangers yesterday. He declined to respond to the comments of the Ibrox club’s owner the previous day that, with Championship success a given in his eyes, next season Rangers would start off with the intention of winning the top flight. “We have a big game against Aberdeen, who are second in the league and are our closest challengers, and that is what matters right now. Anything else is irrelevant.”
Lawwell also refused to comment on the unfortunate timing of Leigh Griffiths being admonished in Edinburgh Sheriff Court for chanting about Hearts player Rudi Skacel being a “f******* refugee” on the very day that Celtic backed a European Club Association move that will mean E1 for every ticket sold when Fenerbahce visit Glasgow on 1 October being donated to organisations assisting in the refugee crisis.