Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Striving for crumbs

Celtic were this close to screwing up their Champions League dream for a third straight year.  Playing like a bunch of rabbits caught in the headlights of a massive Israeli truck, they nearly managed to throw away their three goal advantage from the first leg.  Hapoel Beer'Sheva's second goal was a particular lowlight; Saidy Janko, hapless all night, collided with Craig Gordon as the goalkeeper made an easy catch; it was like watching a Saturday night drunk on a narrow street stagger into a fellow pedestrian with remarkably buttery fingers.

Still, it was job done.  The Bhoys are back in the big time.  The Champions League brings them some prestige, a lot of excitement, and most importantly (though the club will never admit it out loud), loadsamoney.  There's no need for a Forster- or Van Dijk-esque sale to fill a gaping accounting hole; the total income from prize money, TV cash and gate receipts will be somewhere around £20million.  And that's just if they lose all six group games...which they will if they continue to defend like a Benny Hill sketch.

But that cash could pay for some very decent players, and their wages; Brendan Rodgers can also tempt them with the prospect of a few games against Europe's elite.  Celtic now have the option of reinforcing with some very big least in comparison to their domestic opponents.

One recurring theme of their qualifying campaign is that their progress is a 'good thing' for Scottish football in general.  It improves the co-efficient - in fact, the bonus points they attained for getting to the group stage are worth more than the three wins and a draw they managed in the qualifying rounds.  It also leads to substantial 'solidarity payments' for other Scottish Premiership clubs.  And, in theory at least, having a seat at the top table of continental competition should make our league look a but more impressive and attract some more sponsors.

Time will tell regarding the latter point.  Given that the 'solidarity payments' are worth more to each club than their annual income from the League's title sponsorship with Ladbrokes, it's fair to say that the only way is up in that regard.

And sure, a better co-efficient score benefits all Scottish clubs - if it is much much better than this for four or five seasons in a row.  As I have previously pointed out, the system is set up in such a way that our Europa League representatives can't be realistically expected to contribute much more than they already do.

As for the cash, 'solidarity' seems like a rather unfortunate word to use, even when we're talking a figure of circa £200,000 here.  To a club like Inverness Caley Thistle or Partick Thistle, that's equivalent to two extra home games against Old Firm opposition, and about 15% of their annual playing budget.  One would almost forgive various club chairmen if they were to turn up at the front door of Celtic Park and request the privilege of kissing Peter Lawwell's feet.

But that figure is a big fat 1% of what Celtic will get...and they won't even get it till September next year.  It's like the way a local crow monopolises my back garden bird feeder, scaring the other local birds to the point that, even when it isn't there, they content themselves with the crumbs that have made their way to the grass below.

Last year's Sporting Intelligence Global Wage Survey claimed the wage gap between Scotland's top two clubs was greater in percentage terms (more than 500%!!) than in any of the other major sporting leagues it covers.  And that wealth gap - is chasm a better noun? - is now going to grow even wider.  Ronny Deila's ineptitude and a need for a degree of financial prudence meant that their was a semblence of a title race in the last two seasons.  Now, even taking into account the presence of Rangers, Celtic seem as invincible as at any other point in the last five years.

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it" - George Santayana

Watching the first half of their win over St. Johnstone brought to mind Rangers' first season under Dick Advocaat, a season where David Murray spent £36million of someone else's money; that season they went to Perth and won 7-0, with even Stephane Guivarc'h scoring twice.  That dominance was nothing compared to how a few years later Martin O'Neill's Celtic won the league with just a single defeat and a goal difference of plus seventy-six.  In thirteen of their league games they won by three or more goals, and finished 45 points ahead of third place.

That period of Scottish football history was shortly after the creation of the SPL, which was ultimately based around the concept that Glasgow's gruesome twosome would bring in the megabucks, and sufficient cash would drip down to the other clubs that the big two's flourishing would keep them healthy too.  I don't remember that ending awfully well for many folk.

One of the major reasons for that is the way that Scottish football was so eclipsed in quality and exposure (one begets the other, of course), by what was happening across the border.  Ironically, given Celtic's desperate need for group stage qualification, the English Premier League is now so awash with cash that finishing bottom of the table this season is worth more money that winning the Champions League.  It can be debated whether it is the best league in the world, but it's hard to argue with the competitive nature - just look at last year's table.  Manchester City aren't going to win by three or more goals in a third of their games...probably not, anyway.

And yet here we are again; massive inequality between the big fish and the tiddlers that share not so much a pond as a puddle.  And yet, given the way the SPFL are only interested in marketing the 'return of the Old Firm' this season - and the SPFL board are simply doing what the clubs tell them - the diddy teams seem not only happy with this scenario but to be encouraging it.

However, I have a nagging thought that is really rather worrying.  These clubs are generally run by people who have had some semblence of business success.  I'm just a blogger and a fan, whose only prior business experience was as joint-Head of Advertising for a Young Enterprise project in High School.  Is it possible that they are in the right, that this terrible, uninspired, short-termist view of how to run the SPFL,  which will inevitably lead to an increasingly unequal, uncompetitive and rather unappealing and disinteresting (both to current fans and those from elsewhere) competition, is actually the only way to keep us all afloat.

It's all very, very depressing.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.


Anonymous said...

Thoughtful piece. I think the quote belongs to Santadana.

Anonymous said...

Or even Santayana

Lorry said...

Well spotted! Amended.

benalder284 said...

As was widely pointed out at the time, Delia could hardly NOT win the league in the last couple of years given the huge disparity in financial resources. Confirmation of the fact that the Scottish league's 'big two' financially dwarf the rest by more than any other European league is depressing (and I speak as someone who grew up watching Jim McLean and Alex Ferguson mount prolonged challenges to the Old Firm over a number of years).

In most European leagues there is now a very strong correlation of turnover (or more exactly spend on players' wages) and league position. You always get a few outliers in each league but with one or two exceptions it is virtually impossible to sustain.

That's the problem - not sure what the solution is.