In February 2016, four months after he was sacked by Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers offered an illuminating insight into the challenges faced by a manager operating under the Anfield club’s player recruitment policy.
“The club needs to look at it and decide whether they want a business model or a winning model,” observed Rodgers.
“A winning model would mean trying to get the best possible players that you can, at whatever age they are, it doesn’t matter.
“Some clubs will go into work and have that in mind. Others will think it is about buying a player, developing and improving them and then selling them on for a much greater fee, as opposed to getting the best possible player, irrelevant of his age, in order to win. I think the best clubs must get the balance between both models.”
Rodgers, it should be pointed out, had always declared he was personally content to work within the framework of the transfer committee system implemented at Liverpool by its Fenway Sports Group owners. He was simply pointing out the potential frustrations it could bring for an ambitious manager who is hungry for silverware.
But in light of his comments over the past few days when asked about Celtic’s transfer activity, it’s not difficult to wonder if those sentiments once expressed about Liverpool could now be applied to the Scottish champions.
Rodgers has been adopting a shrug of the shoulders approach to questions regarding the ongoing pursuit of Hibs midfielder John McGinn or any other possible business being done by Celtic in the current transfer window, repeatedly stating it is “out of my control”.
References to the club operating “in a specific way” have seemed increasingly pointed, along with consistent responses that his role is simply to coach the players he does have and make them better.
He continues to do that in a highly effective manner, as evidenced by much of the enterprising and eye-catching play in Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over Rosenborg at Celtic Park in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round tie.
It leaves Rodgers’ team as strong favourites to complete the job in Norway next week and secure a meeting with AEK Athens in the penultimate round of four ties they must negotiate in order to reach the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for the third year in a row.
So right now, Celtic can claim with some justification to be effectively running both the “business model” and “winning model” referred to by Rodgers in that interview back in 2016. If there is any kind of disconnect between board and manager in regard to transfer policy, it has yet to have any negative impact on the pitch.
In a summer which has seen them smash their own transfer record with the £9 million permanent signing of Odsonne Edouard from Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic can hardly be accused of an unwillingness to invest. They have, however, recouped around £8 million from the sales of Stuart Armstrong and Erik Sviatchenko to Southampton and Midtjylland respectively.
It would not seem unreasonable, then, for Rodgers to expect the signing of a target like McGinn to be completed in a relatively swift and straightforward manner. In distancing himself from the mechanics of the deal, he appears to be offering tacit disapproval of the protracted way it is being conducted.
After leading Celtic to two seasons of unparalleled domestic dominance and highly lucrative back-to-back Champions League group stage participations, Rodgers has every reason to feel entitled to be afforded a bigger net spend when it comes to reinforcing his squad this summer. Yet his vagueness in responding to queries about Celtic’s interest in teenage Australian international Daniel Arzani raises questions about just how much influence he has on player recruitment.
There was once a sense that no manager at Celtic since Martin O’Neill enjoyed as much control over the club’s football operations. Fuelled by Rodgers’ own comments in recent weeks, that notion is now being challenged.
As a business, Celtic continues to be run shrewdly and sensibly, something its custodians will make no apologies for. The balance sheet offers its own testimonial to the work of chief executive Peter Lawwell. A profit after tax of £17.4 million and cash at the bank of £30.9m at the end of 2017 is a remarkably healthy state of affairs for a club operating within the restrictions of the Scottish football environment.
Celtic’s full year revenue for the 2016-17 financial year was a record £90.6m but was still dwarfed, for example, by the £364m earned by Liverpool in a season when the Anfield club did not play in Europe. So long as Champions League participation for Celtic remains dependent on the vagaries of the qualifying rounds, they are likely to retain a rainy day strategy in managing their finances.
Rodgers himself has previously praised the “intellect and intelligence” of the Celtic board while, at the club’s most recent annual general meeting, Lawwell stated there is ‘no-one in world football’ he would rather have as manager than the man from County Antrim.
In the first two years of Rodgers’ tenure, both the business model and winning model at Celtic have run smoothly and in perfect harmony. The club’s support will hope that the manager’s recent comments are simply a temporary expression of frustration and not an indication of potentially damaging discord.