Following an annual general meeting which served up as many snippets of humour as it did controversy, Celtic manager Ronny Deila was one of those who had most to smile about.
While issues such as the contentious re-election of Tory peer Ian Livingston and the club’s continued refusal to sign up to the living wage scheme drove a wedge between the board members and the majority of the shareholders who packed into Celtic Park and see both decisions as a slight on the club’s charitable heritage, there was greater unity when discussing the man charged with engineering success on the field of play.
“To be Celtic manager the expectation is to win everything,” said chairman Ian Bankier. “Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Last year we won two trophies. This year we are ahead in the league, but we have been sharply disappointed by two adverse results in Europe. That doesn’t put the club in crisis, it doesn’t affect our faith and confidence in the manager. We can’t buy success, we need to develop what we have and he has great talent for that. All of that is a long-term project. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m speaking for the board, we are on course.”
The inability to secure Champions League football remains irksome to fans, and the Europa League results thus far have been disappointing, but, while pressure has been mounting, chief executive Peter Lawwell called for a measured response.
“I think it’s easy to snapshot and you could go back to 3-0 at Kilmarnock in 2011-12 [3-0 down at half-time, Celtic fought back to draw 3-3], which was on the back of losing to Sion and going into the Europa League and that was on the back of the previous year when we lost to Braga and Utrecht and Rangers had won the league. You need to look forward and, from that point at Kilmarnock, when we were 3-0 down, Lenny [former manager Neil Lennon] went on to do magnificently well, winning three in a row and doing exceptionally well in the Champions League. So our job is not to be knee-jerk, it is to look forward and, God willing, Ronny Deila will be even more successful than Neil Lennon was starting from that day, at Kilmarnock.”
There was a positive response to that and a small smile on Deila’s face. “It’s always important to hear but it was not a big surprise for me as I talk to him [Lawwell] every day,” he said. “It’s nice to hear in public and important for the fans as well. It’s great to get the information across so they understand what we are doing and how we are thinking. It brings people closer.”
The same could not be said for the board’s stance on the living wage. While they insist they have taken shareholders’ views on board and are now paying their own staff a minimum £7.85 per hour in line with national recommendations, the mood in the hall was that more could be done. They said it was as much a matter of perception and they wanted the club to serve as a role model, and officially sign up to the scheme and implement the increased minimum of £8.25.
One speaker maintained that the cost would amount to no more than an extra £2,000 per week, but the board resisted the resolution, Bankier insisting “it is not in the interests of Celtic to sign up”.
“It is important to us that we can run the business and the club for the benefit of all the shareholders and it is just not in the interest of the shareholders to have wage policy, an important part of our cost base, directed by a non-statutory body,” he said.