The best article I’ve read today was over on E-Tims, where they did a timeline of the current Celtic disaster.
But they started that timeline on 9 August, 2018.
It was the day John McGinn signed for Aston Villa.
I’ll be honest; I read that and my first thought was “Here we go again.”
If I were writing for a print publication an entire rainforest would have already given its life for what I’ve written on the John McGinn deal, most of it giving Celtic the benefit of the doubt.
And of course, when I say “Celtic” what I really mean is “Peter Lawwell.”
Yet E-Tims take on it was a little different than the usual.
My understanding of it is that we played a bad hand badly.
Petrie was determined not only to squeeze us but ultimately to prevent any scenario where McGinn wound up at Celtic. He and Lawwell had fallen out and we were going to suffer for their pissing contest.
Because I knew those things I had never blamed Lawwell for McGinn ending up elsewhere. I blamed Petrie. I blamed McGinn, and thought he clearly saw Villa, with the Premiership and the big money, as a better bet. He could have been Celtic captain and the lynchpin of the team for a decade. He could have been the next generation’s Scott Brown.
Three things have made me re-evaluate that verdict, all of them recent.
There’s the recent story that McGinn waited for Celtic’s call which never came.
There’s E-Tims assertion, published this morning, that McGinn actually met with Rodgers and that they had planned out the role he would play and how it would fit into the manager’s overall plan for the team, and that Lawwell only had to close the deal.
And there’s the transfer failures which we know happened in that window and which have happened since, one of them, and perhaps two if you accept that we were in for Benkovic, coming this very week, and which I highlighted today in my Alfie Doughty article.
If it’s true that we were much closer to signing McGinn than I believed, and that Hibs would have been amendable to a deal, and that it was Lawwell’s posturing rather than that of Petrie which screwed the transfer up, then I have to conclude that it was Petrie who played a bad hand badly instead … because his great revenge on Lawwell would have been to see him ultimately blamed for the departure of Brendan Rodgers.
As it is, the fans turned on the Northern Irishman.
Neither John McGinn nor Petrie has ever really commented on that deal.
Neither has Rodgers, even though his version would undoubtedly be the most interesting to fans.
Between the three of them they have helped establish the narrative that most people accept; that Petrie didn’t want to sell to Celtic and McGinn didn’t want to wait until January.
Lawwell’s arrogant assumption that McGinn would wait – which he has repeated with Toney, Doughty and God knows how many others – does damn him in terms of that deal.
I’ve always believed that even if Petrie hadn’t been willing to do business with us that we could have turned the screw on him if we wanted McGinn enough, and made an offer that would have had his own manager – Neil Lennon as it happens – screaming for his cut of the transfer fee. We could have upped the ante in both public and private and made Petrie squeal.
But Lawwell was so brazenly confident of getting McGinn for free that he decided to take the risk, over the appeals of our manager and a significant section of the support who saw the writing on the wall and were hollering at the club at the time for it.
I wasn’t one of them.
I believed that we’d been screwed.
I wonder now if that wasn’t the real screwing, Lawwell managing to dodge the bullet. Lawwell doing something the manager found astonishing and incomprehensible and beyond the pale.
Don’t forget, it was just two days before – 7 August – that Rodgers had publicly slammed the club for their transfer failures, with the McGinn signing looking set to slip away.
It is worth re-examining what the manager said that day, to give us a proper perspective.
“My role in the summer was clear,” he said. “To keep the players that were here such as Kieran Tierney and Tom Rogic and – at the very minimum – replace the players that we lost and where we might need improving, … we did the first part with Kieran and Tom re-signed which is great. We sign Odsonne, something we clearly had to do but there are still a few key areas where I want to bring in quality and thus far we haven’t completed on it.”
It was the first public criticism of the board, and of Lawwell in particular.
He continued in the same vein, with comments that now scream at you.
“We needed quality and that is something that we haven’t got in the building yet, to add to the quality that is already here. You have to do that when you are in a strong position. I am not sure the club has been in a stronger position this summer than what they have been for quite some time.”
The following night, as the team was preparing to take the field against AEK Athens, an un-named Celtic director publicly slammed the manager in a briefing given to select journalists including Chris McLaughlin of the BBC, who promptly recounted it live on the air.
Most Celtic fans who heard that were stunned.
It was a massively destabilising move that I knew would plunge the club into crisis.
The following day, and just as the McGinn deal was being concluded with Villa and all hope of a last minute change was gone, I visited Celtic Park for a meeting with other bloggers, and I knew within minutes that it was Lawwell who had spoken to McLaughlin, that he had no remorse about it and that his relationship with the manager was in pieces.
I knew Rodgers was not going to stay much longer, but I thought he’d see out the season.
It’s clear to me now that if the fans had known the full facts – then – about the totality of Lawwell’s failures in the transfer market that he would never have survived the departure of Brendan Rodgers, whose own discontent had, again, been on display in the January window when we signed Maryan Shved, a player he had never heard of and was not interested in.
The way Rodgers chose to go, the underhanded way of it, and the sabotage of taking the whole of the backroom team with him, guaranteed that the fans would turn on him in fury.
How relieved Lawwell must have been the full nature of his contribution to that wasn’t fully explored.
He continues to evade real scrutiny for that to this day.
Nobody wants to rehabilitate Rodgers, and so nobody wants to think too much about the reasons for his departure. The pissing contest between him and Lawwell and the collapse of their personal relationship was absolutely part of it.
John McGinn and Rod Petrie are the reasons Lawwell has evaded that spotlight for so long.
Petrie could have thrown Lawwell to the wolves over it and never has.
McGinn has no interest in further destabilising Celtic and has been a good soldier.
But the truth of it is starting to seep out now.
We blame Rodgers but no manager of his calibre would have stayed long under those circumstances and under Lawwell’s arrogant, controlling nature.
The troubling thing is realising that no top class manager will join the club whilst this is the case either, because you can’t even trust Lawwell not to interfere or try to run the show.
The only thing that will suffice is his removal.
We will not move forward until it’s done.