The history books will record this year as the year of the great defeat. We failed to achieve either our tactical or strategic goals. It will be costly. Key leaders have left their posts in shame. Operational concepts which served us well have been completely re-evaluated. The plans have been torn up and shredded. It is a massive setback.
But do not read too much into this for it was not a hammer blow that rocked us back on our heels and drove us to our knees. This is not the end of all things, to quote Luo Guanzhong, when “Heaven is to be rent asunder, Earth to fall away.”
This wasn’t even our Dyrrhachium, where Pompey beat Caesar and, had he pressed his advantage, may even have had total victory in his sights.
As I shall explain, total victory was never a prospect for our enemies here.
No, if you want to use an historical analogy, this was our Market Garden, an effort to end the war early which just didn’t pan out. Poor intelligence, bad planning and underestimating the enemy cost us resources and time and set back the morale of the people.
But at no point has this placed in doubt the final outcome of the war.
It will simply take longer. We will incur more losses. We will entertain our darkest fears.
Yet the outcome remains as certain as it ever was.
One major failure doesn’t change it.
Let our enemies believe that we’ve suffered a devastating setback which has turned the tide of the war. Foolish people believe foolish things.
The perception of weakness on the opposing side has tricked more generals into launching offensives than all the masquerades and strategies ever devised.
One of the reasons Hitler believed that he could successfully invade the Soviet Union was the failure of the Winter War, the three-month conflict from November 1939 until March 1940 between Stalin’s forces and Finland which cost the Red Army hundreds of thousands of soldiers and tarnished its reputation as a fighting force.
Early victories on the Eastern Front reinforced his view of the Soviet army as something over-rated and past its best, and his famous speech to his political inner circle that “we have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down” may have sounded good at the time but it was undoubtedly the costliest miscalculation in human history.
What I’m trying to say here is that Germany never stood a chance. They were overmatched from the first. At no point did Germany possess the ability to deliver a knock-out blow to the Soviet Union; the best Hitler could hope for was a long campaign of attrition, which he would have lost because his enemies simply had more resources of every sort with which to wage the war.
Celtic could have delivered a knockout blow to Ibrox had this season gone better. Ten in a row would have crushed them. That opportunity has been lost, but other opportunities will arise. In the meantime, we are now in a war of attrition.
But we are the bigger club, and over the long term that will be telling.
The Ibrox operation is exhausted and barely standing. Even now, you only have to look at the amounts of money being funnelled in there via director’s loans and other shady means to see that this is not a club on the brink of a new era but one on life support.
People are somehow resistant to this idea, and especially because they’ve just won the title, but I’ll say again what I’ve said before; Rangers had won three titles in a row in the years before they went bust.
If you look at the financial state of the club then and compare it to the financial state of the current club at Ibrox you see a lot of parallels between the two.
Forget, also, the ever-popular notion that a year or even two years of Champions League money will sort this mess out. It won’t. The full impacts of this year have yet to be felt over there.
With the possibility – the probability – that only limited numbers of fans will be in grounds next season will they still sell out season tickets? Even if they do the loss of match-day income over the period so far and into another year is likely to be substantial.
Ibrox’s directors probably face the prospect of having to finance their club for a while to come. Their last accounts show that they will continue to need director’s loans well into the next campaign. On top of that, what people tend to forget is that European football income is unreliable. It depends on your team qualifying and that’s not guaranteed.
Ibrox is spending more than it earns. If European football income were entirely removed from under them, even for one season, that club would almost certainly be facing administration.
Wars are won by strength and by will.
Celtic has not collapsed because we lack the strength.
It’s because we underestimated the enemy or lacked the will to strike the killer blow. The Ibrox side cannot destroy Celtic, we are too big a club with too many structural advantages. We’re too well run in a business sense.
All they can hope for is a war that lasts a long time … but in which we will win more battles than we lose, and eventually exhaust them.
In football, the key element is money. Ibrox spends more than it earns.
This money has to be found somewhere. Even if they reach the Champions League Group Stages, there is a chance that their income will come up short next to ours.
In the last ten years of Rangers’ existence they bettered Celtic in income only twice, both in exceptional circumstances.
The current Ibrox operation has never reached Rangers’ level of income.
Our own growth has been sluggish in that time, but we are still comfortably ahead. In the other metric that matters, which is the ability to avoid losses, our record is even better.
No Ibrox operation in the last 30 years has been able to turn a profit for more than a single year at a time and it was a rare occasion when they did.
We know the results of the last set of Ibrox accounts, and what they add up to is devastating for them.
Their combined losses from the period of 2012-2019 are a staggering £80 million.
We have no numbers for the year of the virus; they are likely to be eye-watering.
Take that amount of money out of the club … more than £10 million in spending every single year that they’ve been in existence. Where would they have finished in the league? Second? Third?
They would certainly not be sitting at the top right now.
Celtic is a bigger club than the one at Ibrox.
We are a more powerful club. We are a richer club.
We have the ability to withstand shocks like the global health emergency.
If need be, we could recapitalise our club in the coming year with our own share issue … but it would not be like the ones at Ibrox, where the proceeds went to keeping the lights on.
Whatever has gone wrong at Celtic Park is correctible.
In fact, I think that once we have the new structure in place we’ll be in a stronger position than we have in a decade or more, and that’s not a statement against Lawwell or anyone else; it’s a recognition that we’ve been massively successful in the past decade even running an archaic operation behind the scenes.
If you accept that our whole process has been a mess for a while – and it’s an absolute fact, and it stands out a mile – then you have to accept that we will quickly be capable of even greater successes when the machine is working as it should be.
Even if the Ibrox operation has two outstanding years on top of the campaign they’ve just had, they will not be able to knock Celtic off the map. We are going to be here no matter what they do.
You have to understand how important that is.
There will be a Celtic and Celtic will be strong enough to challenge them on every front.
But if our next two years are successful I really do believe we’ll push them to a point where a third such triumph will drive them to the brink.
That’s the difference between the clubs and this will remain a fact until they recalibrate their outlook and their expectations … strip both clubs of European income and we would, year on year, finish around £10 million to £20 million ahead of them.
Every year. That matters.
That’s why we can say, quite safely, that they have won the battle but that we will win the war.