This is what Celtic fears could happen;
We spend big in a transfer window; instead of posting a surplus on fees – which we have in the last few years – we make an actual investment in the team and spend more than we bring in. We go into Europe and get a tough draw. We lose early, and drop from the Champions League into the Europa League. We get a tricky draw. It costs us. We lose and for the first time in over a decade we are out of both continental competitions before the Group stages. Anger at the manager for the failure swells. The club is engulfed in squabbling. The league form suffers. Fans start to desert the team. The club gets set to post major losses and the board meets to debate where to start making cuts, cuts which will weaken the squad which is already in turmoil. Fan sites start screaming for major changes and the word “boycott” is mentioned. It begins to look as if season ticket numbers will drop off, which will destabilise the club further, necessitating more cuts.
This is the House of Cards Theory King espoused. How realistic is it?
Well, let’s start with the uncomfortable fact that it could happen. It is not impossible.
In fact, when you consider how tough it is to get through to the Champions League Groups you’re really only talking about one major slip, in a single tie, before we’d be 90 minutes away from seeing our club shredded and the pieces blowing in the wind.
This is not simply King planting beanstalk beans.
Let’s look at two new theories here. The first is causality.
Where King’s grand construct falls down is that for the full scale of Celtic’s collapse to take place we have to take the initial risk and overextend. Trace the effect – Celtic’s dominance collapsing – back to the cause, and what you’d find was a club that emptied its bank to chase success and then failed.
His scenario only really becomes plausible if we’re not sitting on all that money.
If we continue to run the club sustainably – and if we have a cash surplus in the bank – we can cope with a season out of Europe without major cutting back. We could probably survive two of them in a row, and if we sold a key player in each one the club’s financial position probably wouldn’t be all that bad at the end of the second.
That cash is our insurance policy.
Let’s look at the second theory; affect heuristic.
This is what we all suffer from to a certain extent.
When we analyse a situation we do a risk versus reward calculation.
We believe this to be a rational endevour, but affect heuristic theory says we suffer from an unconscious bias by which our emotions interfere with the thought process. We ascribe a higher probability of an outcome to the things we want rather than to those we don’t, and subsequently a lower probability to things which worry us than is realistic.
Put differently, if an outcome makes us happier, or feel more secure, we asign that a greater chance of happening than one which doesn’t, and at times it doesn’t even matter if there’s evidence to support the outcome we don’t want.
Thus believing the Brexit lies – and thus voting for it – can be more easily explained.
If you ask fans what the risks are of spending more money they will minimise the potential dangers.
If you ask a board member what the risks are they are likely to overestimate them.
That’s because we care more about the team than the money in the bank whereas they have to think about all possible outcomes, and have a less optimistic view.
Who’s right and who’s wrong?
Which is the right path and which isn’t?
Who says anyone is right? Who says anyone is wrong?
To weigh the odds properly there’s another factor that has to be taken into consideration; the risk of doing less than is required. The risk that the team is run into the ground, that players who leave aren’t properly replaced and that the whole enterprise goes backwards instead of forwards.
A weaker team has less chance of going through four rounds of European qualifiers.
A weaker team has less chance of winning trophies.
A weaker team will draw less fans to the stadium.
That can also lead to a domino effect.
A House Of Cards style collapse then becomes just as likely as the surplus is eaten into in order to plug gaps in the finances.
Underinvestment costs too.
Missing out on a Champions League group stage bounty reduces our income from anywhere between £10 and £20 million.
Losing the league title means we never even get the opportunity to grab that bounty.
Failing to make nine in a row whilst vast sums sit in the bank will not be seen as a prudent decision.
It will be viewed as a disastrous one, and perhaps even as an act of sabotage.
I’m not saying I subscribe to that, but when you consider how it would look to the average fan all manner of ideas would blossom and spread. There is already a perception that this board is broadly supportive of Old Firm Inc. This would elevate that idea to the level of Fact for a lot of our supporters … and they would not forgive those running the club.
I worry that our board has become so distant from the fans that they don’t see this at all.
Our healthy bank balance and the strength of this club has been built on momentum.
That momentum has been steadily building through the last nine years, from 2012 onwards, and Lawwell can give himself all the brownie points and ribbons he wants but the truth is that the huge upturn in finances was only evident after Rodgers’ appointment.
It’s not that long ago that Celtic Park was half empty on European nights.
He would be a fool, a complete fool, to think that scenario will not be repeated. If our momentum comes to a stop, if nine fails to materialise, if we’re back to Year Zero with a financially doped club at Ibrox celebrating a title, and especially if they are adding it to those won by Rangers whilst our club sits mute having lived with the lie for seven years, that’s more than possible.
Lawwell is in real peril here. His reputation would be obliterated if this went wrong.
His standing amongst fans would drop to below that of the Kelly’s and White’s.
I said at the time that his self-congratulatory sneering at the candidates we didn’t even consider for the manager’s job was something with the potential to haunt him forevermore. It infuriated me at the time because it was so arrogant, so dismissive of very real concerns amongst fans and so cynically done … but it was also monumentally stupid, damaging both to his reputation and the club itself. He would be unable to remain here one minute more in the event Lennon fails.
Nine in a row is not just a once in a generation chance.
We did it at a time when we had an exceptional club which was the best in Europe at its peak. We also had one of the greatest managers of all time at the helm. Their own nine was won by a juiced up club living on more financial dope than has ever been administered in Scotland; at the height of it they considered trying for Ronaldo. That’s how ridiculous it got over there. That’s how large they were living, all of it unsustainable, all on the bank’s dime, in a period where that was still possible.
The chances of us ever having an opportunity like this again are between slim and none. I would estimate the possibility of it in our lifetimes at zero. I would estimate the possibility of it after we’re dead and gone at about 1%.
Nine in a row is a one shot deal. Miss it and it’s gone for good. Ten is the slate-wiper for them and the ultimate vengeance for us.
It repays everything we endured during their nine. It won’t reverse the two big lies but it will render the survival one almost moot as we close in on all their records with a better than average chance of reaching 55 before they can lay claim to it. Their much vaunted “most successful club” nonsense is placed within reach in short order.
If we’re not prepared to challenge those lies, there will at least be some consolation in defeating them in the record books, by vaulting ahead of them anyway.
All of it is imperilled at this moment in time, and there is a growing perception that this board is dragging its feet by not doing what has to be done to ensure that all of those things don’t slip out of our grasp. I understand the board’s calculation. I do not support it. I will not endorse it. It looks smart from where they are sitting but they’ve underestimated the consequences should their gamble fail. It would plunge us into exactly the sort of crisis they want to avoid.
If they don’t put us on a sound footing for the second part of this campaign the murmurs in the stand will grow with every bad performance. If those bad performances turn into bad results and we slip behind in the title race they are going to see real fury amongst the fans before this season even ends, whilst the games are still being played.
If we fall significantly behind, that fury is going to erupt full scale until it engulfs the manager and the boardroom and especially because we shouldn’t even be here. Mistakes at the strategic level have led us to this, from the club’s total failure to press real reform on the SFA to their tolerance of some of the most toxic lies ever foisted on the game.
From the moment Sevco crawled out of Rangers grave it was blatantly obvious that the only way they were ever going to get close to us was if a board over there resorted to exactly the kind of financial skulduggery that sunk the last one like a stone.
We should have safeguarded sporting integrity in 2012, by closing that door forever.
We should have demanded the introduction of Financial Fair Play regulations, as the ultimate insurance against a similar crisis.
There is a reason they call it Financial Fair Play; it has two purposes, one of which is to stop clubs amassing huge debts which endanger them and the football associations they belong to. The other reason is that financial doping is a form of cheating. That’s why we call it doping.
What is the point in some clubs living within their means if others are allowed to overtake them by risking their own health and the wellbeing of the game itself? Their club believes that if it spends what it doesn’t have now it can recoup everything down the line if they pull us off the summit and take our place there. We know that the risks are enormous but we only get to gloat if they fail. If they succeed, then all bets are off. Everything is up for grabs.
Tonight our squad is weaker than it went into this window. Ten days in – one third of the window gone – and with our league lead all but evaporated, with a strong looking club at Ibrox capable of matching us blow by blow, we’ve gone backwards.
That is the reality of where we are this evening, and only by dealing with reality can we properly analyse the risk-versus-reward ratio. Are there risks attendant in pushing the boat out? Yes, there are. But there are risks attendant in failing to do so too, and they are far greater.
Some will say this is panicking. It is not, unless you extend that definition so that it would take in those urging the evacuation of all those Australian towns in the path of the massive fires burning over there. Moving out all those people is expensive and difficult, but it is the right thing to do. It is the rational thing to do. It is the only viable course of action. The fires may change direction and those towns might not burn to the ground. There’s a chance of that. But you wouldn’t gamble on the possibility, would you? Not with so much as stake.
This board thinks hoarding money is the safe course of action.
That’s affect heuristic in a nutshell.
Their own biases are preventing them from making the right choice here.
If those Australian fire chiefs were crossing their fingers and hoping for the best they’d lose their jobs.
The politicians endorsing that course of action would be run out of town on a rail.
You get the impression that our board might not even realise there is a problem until the flames were lapping around their ankles. We’d be in real trouble well before that though, and when the window closes our opportunity to change the course of events goes with it.
I hope to God someone is talking sense to them. I hope Lennon is screaming it at them. For he knows as well as anyone what lies at the end of the dark road down into defeat; ignominy, disgrace, the probable end of his managerial career at the top level. To forever be known as the guy who blew it. The guy who let a rookie beat him, in spite of unassailable advantages and a Treble Treble winning team. Even if the board don’t get it, he certainly does.