There are around 500 million reasons why Celtic will find themselves on a playing field which is anything but level when their latest Champions League group stage adventure begins next month.
The most recent available figures show that the two behemoths of Group B, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, enjoyed revenues of £546 million and £480m respectively in 2016. Even the £79m earned by Anderlecht, the third-ranked club in the section, outstrips the £56m Celtic recorded in their annual accounts.
In a bid to protect a greater competitive element in their competitions and curb the worst excesses of the richest clubs, Uefa introduced a Financial Fair Play system two years ago. If it is intended to prevent expenditure exceeding income to an unreasonable degree, then the world record fee of £198m which PSG splashed out on Neymar suggests it may struggle to have the desired effect.
Brendan Rodgers, whose biggest buy as Celtic manager is the recent £4.5m signing Olivier Ntcham, goes as far as to describe it as “obscene” and believes European football’s governing body needs to refine its financial regulations.
“It’s something that has been swirling about for a few seasons and since it [Financial Fair Play] was brought in, you could argue that it has gone the other way,” said Rodgers. “It is obscene now. I’ve always been one where you pay for quality and go that extra mile to get that quality in – but £198m for a football player? You would get 40 Olivier Ntchams for that – and we might need 40 in this group!
“Financial Fair Play is a different topic but it’s definitely something where the governance needs to be better. It feeds its way down the scale. For us, there will always be a certain market that we’ll be in, when you are taking a younger player then it feeds itself through. But it doesn’t make it any easier when transfer fees are so inflated. For a club like Celtic, signing a two or three million pound player a few years ago – that player now will be six or seven million. That’s the market. It is frightening when you look at what you’d consider an average player at a valuation between £20-30m. But it works its way down. There are players in the English Championship going for 15-17m quid. It’s the way the market is at the moment but it doesn’t make it any easier for us.”
That said, Rodgers is relishing the challenge he and his players will face over the next few months in Europe’s elite club competition. He insists his players are capable of upsetting the odds against their heavyweight opponents.
“It is difficult but if you think too much about it then you wouldn’t sleep,” he added. “But our aim is to be competitive in the group and everything has to be without fear. You cannot fear anything because one of the key elements at this level is believing in yourself. We have good players who are developing and learning and we have to go into these games without fear. If you do your best and give everything, you always have a chance. We saw that last year in the improvement in our team from that first game in Barcelona which we lost 7-0 and when we probably did play with fear. Then we developed throughout the rest of the group and actually looked like a team that deserved to be there. So now we’ve earned the right to be there again, let’s go and show that we can make another step.
“It’s important that there’s a realisation of the level that we’re at and certainly against those two teams [Bayern and PSG] it’s night and day of a difference. PSG might end up with Kylian Mbappe from Monaco as well. It’s a totally different level but that doesn’t mean we can’t be competitive. You can still make it very difficult but, of course, it’s a big challenge for us. We’re excited by it and 12 months on we feel better prepared for it.”
While Rodgers will urge his players to strive for a top two finish in Group B and qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League, he has no doubts that finishing third to claim the considerable consolation prize of a place in the last 32 of the Europa League would be a success story.
“If it ends up that third place is what it is, then it will still be significant progress,” he said. “As I said before the draw was even made, for us to be in Europe would be fantastic. It’s brilliant for us, brilliant for the club and for the players to help their development. We’ll go into this looking to show different aspects of our game. Domestically we have a lot of possession. At that level, you’re also looking at your counter-attack, which we don’t have to do so much here, so that’s great for the development of the players, if you can do that style as well.”