I am a proud European, no matter what queue I have to stand in at the airport.
I voted Remain. I will vote Yes in the future independence referendum in the hope that we are returned to the EU.
I have loved the EU since I visited Germany for a trade union conference when I was in my early 20’s and met delegates from all over the continent who spoke with pride and passion about the EU ideal. I got it immediately.
I want to put that out there before I start this article, because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m about to sing the praises of the national disgrace and act of colossal self-harm that is Brexit.
But for Celtic that atrocity might just have a silver lining, of a sort, in the way it has fundamentally changed the way we go about our transfer business.
We have, for years, worked hard to identify signings from Europe, and that’s why we haven’t been as busy in other parts of the world. Obviously, Europe is the beating heart of world football and so I understand why we’ve concentrated our focus on there.
But with the UK no longer part of the EU issues have arisen.
Players from Europe are harder to buy than they’ve ever been before.
We have been handed a significant advantage over England in that our work permit rules are more relaxed, to reflect the realities of having to do business in a market dominated by countries with huge television deals.
English clubs can no longer raid the markets for the best promising players as they used to. This is why Ibrox held out hope, in this window, of moving on the likes of Aribo and Kent; players that any club in England can bid for, and who don’t need work permits.
It’s also the reason they are hoovering up youth players. They believe that at some point this will give them valuable assets. If England didn’t have more than ten times our population and three times as many clubs it might even be a viable plan, but it isn’t because of those things. And at the moment their focus narrows, ours expands.
What’s changed in our thinking is partly having a manager from the other side of the world who knows that there is talent, and value, in leagues outside Europe. We’ve scored big on Japan. For that reason, it’s worth looking around at what else might be out there. Our work permit regulations are very different from England’s, but in one sense they are the same; it’s just as easy to sign someone from Japan or, as is the case now, from Argentina than from Italy.
Or to put it another way, signing someone from Italy now requires you to jump through the same hoops. If we’re going to have to do it like that then it makes nothing but good sense for us to expand our scouting range and look further afield than ever.
To sign a player from outside the UK, clubs in England are forced to conform to what’s known as the Governing Body Endorsement criteria. It’s a complicated points based system, and for most clubs down south it is highly restrictive.
Clubs in England could not, now, sign a Van Dijk straight from Holland. Clubs in Scotland operate under a different rule.
We have what’s known as the “Exceptions Panel”.
It’s like a court of appeal, and it’s this panel which has allowed us to rebuild our squad these last few seasons. It had originally been introduced on a temporary basis, but in December last year it was made permanent.
Celtic has sat up and taken notice of that.
We’ve understood that work permit regulations now affect every club on this island, but that we have a system here which allows us to sign exceptional up and coming talent from abroad in a way clubs in England cannot match.
With EU players subject to the same requirements as those from elsewhere, Celtic has decided to keep an eye on markets outside of the European Union … to our immense benefit.
The Japanese players are not the last we’ll sign from Asia.
The Argentine left back is not the last we will sign from South America.
Celtic’s way of doing transfer business has undergone a radical, and overdue, transformation for the better … and we can trace that, in no small way, to Brexit. That and our foreign manager, who refuses to be restricted in his rebuild.
Those changes will make our position stronger and better, and in fact they already are.
Think you know what happened last season? Take our quiz and find out!