I am not Roger Mitchell’s number one fan. He has been talking nonsense for years.
Or so I told myself. So a lot of us told ourselves.
There’s nobody quite so unpopular as the killjoy, the bearer of bad news.
Mitchell knows his stuff in a lot of ways though. As a former CEO at Hampden he is a smart guy who’s done a tough job and for the most part did it well.
He can speak about football as an insider, as someone who held the same job for Scotland as Peter Lawwell does at Celtic.
This is not some rank amateur playing Monday Morning Quarterback.
He has the qualifications and professional background to be taken seriously.
For a long time now Mitchell has been going on and on about Celtic’s decline, even was we were winning everything in sight.
None of us really wanted to hear it, although this blog and a handful of others have been mega critical of Peter Lawwell for a while now.
Mitchell has spent ages saying that the club has been downsizing.
His recent interview on the Graham Speirs podcast, brilliantly written up the other day in Joe McHugh’s VideoCelts could have come across as a man saying “I told you so”, but Mitchell is a Celtic fan and it comes across as a regretful “and here we are” instead.
Mitchell is correct to identify the boardroom strategy as the problem.
We have downsized. We have marketed ourselves as a selling club and stepping stone. We have talked about being a Champions League team but we pitch our strategies at the level of a Europa League one, which is why we most often end up playing in the second tier competition.
There is a disconnect between the signing strategy and the needs of the first team. This is obvious when you see how certain areas are strengthened whilst others are wholly neglected. There is a real absence of joined up thinking at the club.
One of his most striking criticisms of the board came when he talked military strategy; he compared the decision facing the board in 2012 to one faced by generals who have an opportunity to smash the enemy in one single engagement. We didn’t do that, and have fallen into what he is correct to call “trench warfare” … a battle of attrition.
God, what a terrible place for us to have ended up.
This is precisely the worst place to be, where we are again facing an enemy which is strong and powerful and which doesn’t mind spending money. We could have been light years in front of this lot, with a mixture of investment in the right places and taking a lead on regulatory reform, and instead we’re in this dreadful place as if 2012 never happened.
I think the most powerful criticism he offered was when he talked about the commercial strategy, which is one of those areas where the board frequently pats itself on the back. Yet he scathing about the way we’ve marketed ourselves, and to whom.
“Celtic could be beyond what it is just now, which is a local regional brand (marketing) to an audience that they already have and don’t have to work hard to get.”
This is a criticism that some have occasionally offered but which has never been properly explored. Our entire marketing appeal, in terms of sponsorship agreements, is painfully small-time and with a peculiarly Scotland bent; bookies and booze. Is it all we’ve got? How are we supposed to grow and develop the brand this way?
Do we lack the ambition to look further afield or is that the limits of our attractiveness?
I don’t believe that we can’t break out of that cycle.
I think, as Mitchell says, we promote ourselves around those markets because it’s easy to do.
It’s another example of our complete of imagination and creative thinking; this is what happens when you have the same board in place for more than ten years, even as trends have changed and business itself has changed. Our entire approach is behind the curve.
He spoke too about the need to constantly renew, speaking specifically about the way they club behaved in the aftermath of the League Cup Final last year.
“When Celtic won the League Cup (they were) utterly dominated, those writings were on the wall to anybody that wanted to look, I’m talking about fans here, not just the board. Did they want to look at it? No. They wanted to slag (them off) about 10 trophies in a row, bragging rights then look what happened. That is my issue … When you have won, the morning after you have to say how do I get better, how do I win again, how do I dominate again. You don’t win lucky, brag to the person that you’ve just beat and get lazy and I’m afraid that is where Celtic are.”
I wrote about this recently; we should consider that day the warning we never heeded. Had we done so we might not be in this mess. That was the time for some hard thinking. But our club has become so complacent we let it pass and went straight to the party.
Mitchell had one last warning for us; Speirs asked him about the upcoming cup final and predicted that the board would use it to buttress their own reputations and defend the decision not to fire Neil Lennon weeks ago. Mitchell offered a scorching verdict on that thinking.
“That is like me beating my son in a sprint when he was six-years-old, 12 times in a row makes me Usain Bolt, it doesn’t,” he said with scorn.
“You put a list of the teams that have put Celtic out in Europe over the last 10 years and tell me whether they are getting stronger or weaker and weaker all the time? The problem in Scottish football is that it benchmarks locally and until that stops we will get nonsense like that all the time. It is undeniable that Celtic is in managed decline.”
There is little doubt that he is correct.