Ten years ago, Tony Mowbray was the Celtic manager. His job was simple. To wrestle back the title we had lost the year before, when Strachan’s team had failed to get across the line and secure what would have been four in a row.
Try not to forget how the last decade started as this one gets underway.
A financially doped Ibrox club was telling all and sundry that it was the leading power in the game in spite of massive problems swirling around it. Celtic looked vulnerable. Mowbray was only to last three more months. When we appointed Lennon as interim manager most of us understood it, and accepted it as a short-term fix whilst we went out and got the right man.
Lennon’s appointment to the job on a permanent basis cost us the following year’s league title as well. In giving a rookie the job, we gifted that one to Rangers on a plate, and allowed Craig Whyte his only moment of triumph; taking a bow in front of an unfurled league flag.
Had we won the 2009-10 title or the one in 2010-11, there would have been no Ibrox club to speak of for Craig Whyte to swoop in and take over.
The tax case bombshell had already hit them. The banks were no longer playing the game. There was nobody willing to carry huge losses, which they would have incurred without Champions League football and the season ticket sales. They won three in a row when they were almost on their knees. That wasn’t down to how brilliant they were, it was down to rank bad management, bad leadership, at Celtic Park.
But they were there for the taking.
What happened next upended everything, radically transformed the landscape and ushered in the greatest era of success any club in the modern game in Scotland has ever known. Rangers fell into the abyss. Scottish football rocked back on its heels … but then righted itself. Aberdeen emerged as our primary challenger and we put down foundations for the future.
I am highly critical of this board for not having used its power in the most devastating manner, to reshape the game here, to transform the SFA, to put in place the changes to bootstrap the game into this decade, and to curtail clubs which want to spend money they don’t have, thus endangering themselves and the sport.
We didn’t do nearly enough. We continue to fumble about on these matters instead of putting a plan in place and acting decisively. But in one area I can have no complaints and that is the way we’ve grown the business in the same period of time.
Celtic’s financial advantage over the emergent Ibrox NewCo is enormous, and you have to realise that Celtic always did have an advantage over whatever club was playing out of that ground. The difference is that in years gone by, the Ibrox operation was able to rely on massive over-funding from Murray and the bank which stood behind him.
The last eight years have not seen return to “business as usual” at Ibrox; don’t let anyone kid you on that they have. They are an aberrant period in which a brand new club has tried to survive relying on director’s loans and the selling off of the family silver.
It resembles the old days only in that the club is spending money that it does not have, but there is no financial institution standing behind them any longer, only the largesse of its own directors. There was no UEFA financial fair play back then.
It’s impossible to believe that Scottish football won’t pass its own versions of those rules at some point. Progress moves at a snail’s pace here, but it does come, eventually. Even VAR looks on its way now; the Ibrox club can’t back out of their support for it, Celtic should welcome it and Aberdeen are the latest team to say they think it’s a good idea.
What they are doing is unsustainable. I cannot write that enough times.
It cannot be maintained and eventually trouble is going to come of it, perhaps a lot of trouble, the sort that sinks clubs completely.
Everything is different. Everything has changed.
Over the course of the next year or two you will see real problems emerge at Ibrox, serious financial problems, unless they can sell a key asset for massive money. Even then, I would bet on them doing what Celtic never does and spending all of it on the first team squad, which would waste every penny and increase the wage bill even further.
They haven’t learned, although the lesson should be obvious.
But there’s nobody to back it up. Once King departs the directors will be forced to choose between continuing his form of insanity or imposing discipline. Gerrard is a cheque book boss; there’s no way he’ll stand for that. That club will have to cut salaries and reduce what the manager has to work with or deal with the consequences. They are betting on stopping ten in a row. They probably think they can get away with the cuts afterwards, if they succeed.
But it is a gamble that is doomed to failure.
That club earns 30% less than we do. Changes to European football are not designed to help them close that gap. Scotland’s second placed side might get a temporary Champions League qualifying berth in a few years but it is likely to be a short-term bump before another slide. From that point on, the team who finishes second will play in Europe’s third tier competition … that will increase the gap and especially if Champions League reforms give the champions here an automatic group place, which it might under proposals for six team groups.
Back in 2012, Rangers was engulfed by a perfect storm.
It was a confluence of events which seemed so improbable that the media and their support were caught completely unawares; what few wanted to acknowledge, then or now, is that all of those events were interlinked and all of it was born from the same hubris that drives the current Ibrox operation. None of it was an accident, none of it was the result of the Unseen Fenian Hand. It was the natural consequence of decisions taken inside their walls.
Whyte emerged from Murray’s desire to get out quick. That desire was born from the twin pressures of the tax case and the banks pressing him for the return of the vast monies with which he’d funded Rangers and his other businesses. Rangers’ being controlled by the bank emerged from that chaos and the narrowing of the club’s options.
Like the current operation, they were heavily dependent on European group stage football to avoid running at massive losses which no-one on the board could, or would, sustain. I don’t think they could have long survived once they were knocked out of the Champions League that year – attained with a dodgy license. But their doom was absolutely certain the moment they were knocked out of the Europa League too.
Everything has changed … but nothing has changed over there.
The same mistakes are being repeated. The same egotism is driving the next disaster.
It is no surprise to see men like Alastair Johnson and King in the vicinity of the next looming crash; they were caught wholly unprepared the last time because they couldn’t see past their own view of the Ibrox club as a totemic institution which was “too big to fail.”
Listening to Johnson’s gibbering nonsense this week – more on that later – I am reminded by how bad the leadership over there still is.
In short, when people ask me how likely an administration event at Ibrox is, in the next five years, I no longer give them a percentage; it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, it is as certain as the rising and setting of the sun.
Their fans haven’t grasped it, the media doesn’t want to acknowledge it, but everything’s different except their behaviour.
As a new decade begins, a financially doped Ibrox club believes it is on the brink of better days.
That’s exactly what they believed ten years ago. What followed seared their souls and will haunt their grandchildren. The next ten years, whatever little baubles they may secure in that time, will belong to Celtic every bit as much as the decade just past.
The trophy haul will tell the tale. I expect us to start with another league and cup. From there, it’s in our own hands. What version of Sevco will remain at the end of it is up for grabs, but we’re not going to see a return to the halcyon days of Rangers … because it was those days that caused their collapse.
The current regime can spend their way to oblivion more readily than they can success.
That’s the reality that they refuse to engage with.
Their belligerence doesn’t change a thing though.
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