The Athletic’s Story On Celtic’s “Transfer Kitty Ceiling” Is Lurid Speculation With A Fishy Smell.

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Before I start, let me state that I’ve not read The Athletic’s article on Celtic’s transfer plans, only what part of them Joe McHugh at VideoCelts put in his excellent article on this earlier today.

That boy does amazing work. I cannot praise him enough.

But the article he’s talking about is simply not something I am going to lose my shit over.

It’s not got the legs to stand it up. It’s lurid speculation, based on nothing at all, and like other pieces built on lurid speculation it leaves the writer plenty of room to back up.

Just based on what the writer – Kieran Devlin – has written, I detect bitterness and frustration about something. The tone of much of this is spiteful and negative, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you actually do a deep dive into it with me.

The basic premise is that Celtic’s transfer “ceiling” is £20 million.

That might seem like a bold claim, but it asks more questions than it answers such as this one; is that “net spend”?

Or are we simply saying that no matter how much the club brings in that £20 million in spending is the cap? Do you see, just from that question, how daft the suggestion is?

But look, let’s do the deep dive. Let’s take it bit by bit.

“They are reluctant to spend more than £20 million ($23.7m) this summer, which was also their rough limit last year. It was why, after spending £4.5 million on Carl Starfelt, £3.6 million on Liel Abada, £1 million on Hart and £5 million on Kyogo Furuhashi, their initial target for right-back was taking Manchester City’s Yan Couto on loan before he moved to Girona — prompting £2.7 million to be spent on Josip Juranovic.”

Nothing but supposition.

The whole thing is based on a very shady premise, which is that this guy has some understanding of what is going on inside Celtic. There is so much in that paragraph alone that has alarm bells ringing on the Credibility Board.

Let’s take the suggestion that we had a “rough limit” on the transfer spending last year. It’s garbage. There was no set kitty last year, and to claim that there was is simply not supported by a single one of the facts. This writer has already made numerous phony claims about our club based on some alleged insider information which hasn’t stood up.

Our transfer budget last season depended on any number of factors both internal and external. It was never set in stone. Transfer budgets rarely are. They fluctuate. And relying on baseline figures like the fees people pay for a signing is equally daft. The actual sums spent in fees are the tip of a very large iceberg, so anyone claiming they offer any sort of complete picture lacks a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of the market.

The proof that a transfer kitty is a fluctuating thing can be found in that paragraph. Our first target might well have been Yan Couto on loan, but that we then went from bringing in a loanee to spending nearly £3 million tells you that we were interested simply in the best players we could get, and not necessarily doing our business on the cheap.

Furthermore, we didn’t start properly spending until we’d made some proper sales. So at what point did the £20 million “budget” for last season get set? A question without an answer, I suspect, and the point is even more deranged when you consider that last season Ange had a transfer market trading surplus and that his spending this year is partly built on that.

So I ask again; is this £20 million net spend or not? Because last season there wasn’t a net spend and this season there has been. So comparing one with the other is comparing apples not with oranges but with bananas. And it doesn’t stack up.

The next paragraph is equally problematic.

“Both Carter-Vickers and Filipe Jota were excellent on loan last season and joining Celtic permanently was celebrated. But their transfers — £6 million and £6.3 million respectively — equate to almost two-thirds of Celtic’s budget. If Celtic turned their noses up at the fees and elected not to bring in Jota and Carter-Vickers, they would have to identify and secure another starting-XI quality winger and centre-back on top of the other priority areas. Such is the stop-gap solution of relying on loans.”

 Contradictory nonsense. And negative with it.

For openers, he says their signings “equate to almost two-thirds of the budget.”

This presumes that his article is based on an accurate figure in the first place, and I think we’ve already demonstrated that the claim has a number of problems with it.

Many months ago, I pointed out that these were expensive deals.

I also pointed out that if Celtic had decided not to pursue them that Ange could have bought two players with the Jota cash and another two with the Carter Vickers money.

He talks about a “starting XI quality winger”; our other winger, Liel Abada, didn’t cost £6 million … he cost £3.6 million.

Our other starting quality centre back, Carl Starfelt, didn’t cost us £6 million either. He cost us just over £4 million. There were cheaper options than both Carter Vickers and Jota out there; Ange himself decided he wanted these guys and that wasn’t even a decision taken this summer, it was made before Christmas, and probably even before then.

“Such is the stop-gap solution of relying on loans,” Devlin writes, with not a little spite.

These guys weren’t “stop gap solutions”.

We knew we were getting quality, and that’s why we included the option to buy clauses in the deals … these weren’t stop gap anything’s. It was always Celtic’s intention to buy them if they did the job.

“Siegrist arrived on a free transfer, but the fees above when combined with making Daizen Maeda’s loan permanent (£1.45 million) and left-back Alexandro Bernabei’s purchase from Lanus (£3.75 million) mean Celtic have spent around £17.5 million this summer.”

Maeda’s wasn’t a loan. His was a permanent deal oddly structured.

But again, there was never any intention of us not buying that guy … and take a look at the fee. £1.45 million. He’s another “starting IX quality winger” … and purchased for a knock down rate.

The numbers are accurate.

But you know what it tells me?

That Celtic was wholly aware that it would be spending close to £15 million on three players from the last campaign. A decision we were entirely relaxed about and were confident in pulling the trigger on.

“There is a school of thought that because Starfelt and Carter-Vickers are both similar styles of defenders, the latter’s fee might have been better served recruiting that ball-playing centre-back. The majority of this summer’s budget has gone towards consolidating, if not quite reaching, their level of last season. Bernabei is compelling competition for Greg Taylor, but they have lost the pivotal Tom Rogic and the useful Nir Bitton in midfield and not replaced them.”

A school of thought where?

Certainly not inside Celtic Park, where the decision was taken to spend the money on Carter Vickers without a stab of regret.

This “school of thought” exists in the authors head.

That’s not the thinking of anyone involved in the footballing operation at Parkhead, where all the options have been weighed up and the big decisions taken.

As to the notion that “the majority of the budget has been spent consolidating” … that is only true, as I said before, if the article itself is based on an a solid foundation and I have my doubts.

Remember, it opens with quite a qualifier; “they are reluctant.”

Even if there was some factual basis to this claim, the “they” at the core of it aren’t slamming the door on the idea of spending more than £20 million. They would simply rather not have to.

The whole thing is based, therefore, on bullshit.

You can smell it on the second part of the paragraph, which is the assertion that we have “lost” Bitton and Rogic “and not replaced them.”

Everyone is well aware that this is a barefaced lie.

The manager himself has been very clear on this matter.

We signed three midfielders in January on the basis that these two guys would be leaving in the summer. Their replacements are already full bedded in and integrated into the squad. Unlike Devlin’s blind suppositions, that is a stonewall fact, confirmed by Ange himself, and you can take it to the bank. That alone should taint the entire piece.

“Budgetary constraints mean the types of deals Celtic are targeting are trickier. For all the optimism about Celtic’s recent recruitment, it is one thing to identify a great player and quite another to get them in the door when most of the budget is gone.”

Again, based on the notion that there is a factual basis to the article.

Which I’ve already demonstrated is not something on which we should rely.

“They are monitoring the free agent and loan markets, as reflected in their unsuccessful enquiries about loaning Manchester City centre-backs Ko Itakura and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, and City Football Group midfielder Vinicius Souza. They will still try to do a permanent deal if the value is there but it is unlikely they will sanction a headline-grabbing fee similar to Carter Vickers’ and Jota’s.”

Are we though? And what if we are?

I said months ago that the smart decision to bring Jota and Carter Vickers here on “loans with options to buy” had been vindicated, and that it was more than likely that we would explore that option again.

That is smart resource management. It’s not, as this guy stupidly suggested earlier, “a stopgap.”

As to the names he throws out; there is zero truth to the story about Itakura.

Confirmed by the club.

We may have expressed an interest in Harwood-Bellis but the initial stories around that suggested that we were more interested in buying him outright, so that part of his claim is probably not going to stand up either.

The Vicinius Souza story … again, the club has never confirmed any interest in that guy, and if such were real it makes nothing but good sense to bring him to Celtic, initially, on loan to find out what he had before paying a huge fee.

This is a guy with one top flight season in Europe; he was playing in the Belgian second division not that long ago. We would have been taking a punt and a half to pay serious money – £6 million plus – to buy that guy without seeing how he did first.

Espanyol agree. Or maybe they too have a “transfer ceiling” and are rooting around in the bargain bin.

Honest to God …

And that paragraph, in case you missed it, contains one big qualifier which shoots a rather large hole in the rest of the argument.

“They will still try to do a permanent deal if the value is there …”

Which means that the “budget ceiling” doesn’t exist, but that our transfer spending depends more on – shock horror – getting value for our money.

Notice the next bit; he doesn’t say we would not sanction another £6 million fee … but that it is “unlikely.”

Way to leave yourself enough room to wriggle off the hook.

He finishes up with this pearl of wisdom.

“A Champions League-quality ball-playing centre-back and defensive midfielder would arguably elevate Postecoglou’s side to the next level, and address their problems in Europe. But they are difficult to find within these parameters.” 

A “Champions League quality ball-playing defender” or defensive midfelder would cost Celtic more than what Ange has already spent on the team this summer. That “Champions League quality” notion … that’s loaded down with real weight.

Someone of that talent is outside any parameters that any club in this country is dealing with or will be able to deal with in the foreseeable future, and he knows that because he’s not actually stupid even if he sometimes writes like he is.

This is, after all, a football environment where, if you believe what you’re reading, an SPL level player is being touted for a £25 million move to Ajax or the Premiership.

And in that environment you tell me who the sane and the sensible people are; those who spend for the sake of it, or those who would rather rely on getting this stuff right?

Here’s the thing; we’ll know by the end of the week what’s what, as Ange reckons there are two more signings on the way.

And you know what? I suspect we’ll blow this claim out of the water.

Devlin makes another rather large leap in this piece though … that anyone would, or should, care if we don’t.

Nobody I know will give a damn whether there is big spending done on our final signings, or if they come on loan with options to buy … as long as we get the right quality.

That’s all most Celtic fans, and the Celtic manager, care about.

I know a lot of people are tremendously impressed by the quality of much of the writing that they find in The Athletic, but honestly, to me, if that’s the standard I think I’ll hold onto my money that little bit longer before I take out a subscription.

I’m just not convinced right now, you see, that “the value is there.”

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  • Benjamin says:

    James, I mentioned this in response to your earlier article as well, but it’s worth repeating here.

    Kieran Devlin is no hack. He explicitly states that he sourced that £20m ceiling directly from people at Celtic Park. He’s not just making shit up for the clicks (which do nothing for The Athletic as they’re not an ad supported publication). Having read the article myself, as well as the comments where he clarified a couple points, it’s also clear that the decision makers inside Celtic view the £20m ‘ceiling’ as more of a soft target than a hard limit. They know there aren’t going to be any major player sales this summer, so the difference between gross spend and net spend is maybe £2-3M at most. But the important part the reader is left with is that Celtic more or less know their budget for the next 6-12 months – and not just the transfer budget but the overall expense budget given who’s expected to leave and how much any new arrivals are likely to cost in both transfer fees as well as wages – and the club aren’t willing to dramatically deviate from that budget. He acknowledges that there is some wiggle room to exceed that budget by a modest amount if the right player became available, but that would have to be a player that walks into and improves the starting 11 with potential resale value.

    Honestly, I don’t see what the fuss is about. We’ve known that Celtic runs their transfer business (and overall financial model) very conservatively for decades. This isn’t new. The fact that there’s a limit to the transfer spend – whether that’s a hard cap or a soft cap is semantics – should be treated as fact given their history and what we know about this board. The only thing even mildly debatable is the fact that the cap is supposedly £20m and not some other figure. But when the author claims to have gotten that figure directly from Celtic Park there’s not really much point debating the figure unless you think either the author is flat out lying or is being manipulated by his sources.

  • Paul Mac says:

    “their initial target for right-back was taking Manchester City’s Yan Couto on loan before he moved to Girona — prompting £2.7 million to be spent on Josip Juranovic.”

    Got as far as this and gave up … if the author cant be arsed to verify his sources then why the feck should I be arsed in reading it ? Yan Couto went on loan to BRAGA in
    PORTUGAL´s Premier Division not GIRONA in SPAIN´s Second Division .. for feck sake he even played twice against the toilet water drinkers !! Also i thought that Couto wasnt our first choice at the time .. was it not a Portuguese fella called Buta .. which was also total bollocks.
    Also the issue with Julien is that he can only play on the right hand side of a partnership as can CCV .. which is why firstly Ajer and Welsh were shunted over to the left and now Starfelt (or young Lawal in the friendlies) is likewise. So when Julien was complaining about lack of game time it was because CCV was keeping him out of the team. Therefore we need to sort out someone who can play on the left hand side to replace/compete with Starfelt allowing Welsh to be groomed as CCV´s backup. The afore mentioned Lawal should be put out to loan this season at a higher level than the Lowland league as he needs regular game time in the 19/20 age level so that he can come back next season and make a claim for first team action (if he impresses on loan obviously), am also interested how Scales will do playing in his favoured left sided centre half position.

  • Mark b says:

    Delighted truly we signed Jota and CCV. Two great signings. But facts are clear in terms of adding to squad strength incrementally to last year we have added a LB and lost Rogic and Bitton. Over at Ibrox they have added more than us it’s a fact, if you can’t see that you are wearing hooped glasses. we still need to add a couple in my view. CH and DM.

  • Johnny Green says:

    I can’t get worked up about ‘The Athletic’s’ story or am I prepared to worry about it’s authenticity. I’ts stored in my who gives a fk file.

    I would though be delighted to think that Celtic would be prepared to spend 20m on an annual basis, in fact it would be music to my ears to think our Club were so financially sound that they could afford such a figure every season. I know though that is not the case or would ever be the case while we are playing in the SPL.This season we are already breaking the bank, but it is all relevant, and with automatic entry into the CL Group stage then it is affordable this season. Hopefully it is a worthwhile investment and future spending will depend on the same thing, European revenue allied to success along with profits on future player sales. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts, but remember that every day is not Christmas.

  • John S says:

    “There’s a school of thought…” that only one club has limitless funds, even if it’s not true.

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