There is a truism about poker that a new player with a poor grasp of strategy will play strong when his hand is weak and will wish to appear weak when their hand is strong. There is a truism of chess that a really good player will sometimes start poorly against a new player because he or she will be looking for a strategy where none exist.
Whatever is going on at Ibrox, they aren’t spending when we expected them to spend. Which is now that they have money in the bank and the ability to do it. When they were skint they were begging borrowing and stealing it in order to do so, and we marvelled at that. We are entitled to be a little bit surprised at their decision to slam on the brakes.
You would be forgiven for thinking that there is no strategy to speak of here, that this is a club which continues to make it up as they go along, but you would be wrong. Whatever is going on here, for once there is some rationale to it.
There are two things, I think, which have to come into play and the first of them is UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. It would be truly ironic if the end of the rules we always thought would keep them in check, and the implementation of others which don’t seem anywhere near as harsh, was what finally brought them to heel. It’s part of it, for sure.
But there are other elements here, and I’ll get to them in a later piece. Regardless of both, the decision not to spend is a gamble every bit as big as the old chestnut about speculating to accumulate and running up debts.
What is money for in football if not to make your team bigger, better and stronger? There are clubs all over Europe who spend it recklessly, and the state some of them are in places those clubs in real existential peril. There are others which take prudence to an extreme and run on a for-profit basis like they are in any other business … their shareholders must be happy but the real stakeholders, the ones in the stands, know they will struggle to win things.
Ibrox has never behaved like the latter, because that entails its own risks especially at a club where the fans are used to winning things. At any club that would be chancy. At Ibrox it seems like a real walk on the high-wire. At a time when fans are spending big money on match tickets when there are lots of other priorities, offending the fan base seems nuts.
This year’s money is in the bank. That’s important to know, and critical to a proper understanding of what this is. They made sure they had the Champions League money before the window shut; that, too, is important to understand. Fans have given up their hostages.
But a bad season – and this could be a very bad one considering how we are playing – offers fresh hostages down the line. And if the cost of living crisis has worsened by this time next year you might not find as many people sitting in their stands.
Their “official media partners” are raging about their failure to sign a player after qualifying for the Champions League Groups. The news that Tom Lawrence is out injured – and possibly for many weeks – which was known on their forums for days but has only now been confirmed – strengthens their fury and lends weight to the anger.
You don’t have to be a seasoned Football Manager player to see several problems with the squad, which their fans fully expected them to address. They have no real backup for Colak, because Morelos is not popular in the dressing room and cannot be relied on. They have no real quality on the right of midfield (or on the left you could argue). Most crucially, they lost a key central midfield player in Aribo and did not properly replace him.
And incredibly, they are betting on Tavernier staying fit because they have no cover whatsoever in his position. If he gets injured it could all fall apart. Aside from that, a lot of their fans are not at all convinced by their central defence … or their keepers.
But it’s their midfield that looks particularly uninspiring. Three of them are in their 30’s with a year left on their deals. Kamara was halfway out the door yesterday before they pulled him back. I think that had he left their midfield problems would have been particularly acute; still it’s a lot of games to expect to Arfield, Davis and Jack to anchor regardless.
Read their forums and you find a strange thing; people who think their squad is better than ours but wonder how it will cope with the rigours of European football and the domestic calendar, at a time when every Celtic fan site professes us ready for both.
They are right to worry just as we’re right to believe.
They are confident they can spend in January … which they can. A lot of them are rightly concerned that they might not be in the title race by then.
I think we all expected them to try and pull a rabbit out of the hat. I wrote that in a piece earlier in the week. We had pushed the boat out for Ange; how could they not do the same for their own manager? And yet they didn’t, when they are most able.
It is a momentous risk, and I think even if they’d pulled something big off they would still have been vulnerable, they would still have been behind us, they would still have lost the league. But their failure to do it is critical and it will cost them.