Last week, Chris Sutton gave his views on the “false narrative” presented by the accounts, in relation to Celtic’s ability to spend in the transfer market.
He then goes on to offer … a false narrative.
For a start, the “false narrative” that we would spend big money on indvidual players was largely created in his house, the media, not our own. For another, the rest of his argument collapses when you subject it to scrutiny.
This is typical of the way our club is discussed in the media, and even amongst some of our fans; with an incomplete understanding of the way it works, as well as an entirely one-sided view of our transfer policy and wage structure.
For starters, Sutton offers the entirely false assertion that Celtic fans expected signings in the £10 million to £15 million bracket. This is nonsense. Celtic fans did not. Our two most expensive signings under Ange Postecoglou cost us £6 million apiece; Jota and Carter Vickers. But those guys were so obviously quality, and had proved it, that it was money well spent.
Celtic fans would prefer we bought two players of that quality, for that kind of cash, than one at that much higher price. The historical reminder I usually offer is that Tore Andre Flo was not worth what Rangers paid for him, and that we got Sutton and Hartson both for the same money; that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. Would a £12 million player have been a better bet than Carter Vickers and Jota? He’d have had to have been very, very good to be.
I don’t support shelling that out on a single footballer unless he is truly exceptional. But the idea that fans have been demanding that sort of signing – far less that we expected a couple of them as his comments seem to suggest – is simply not supported by the facts.
He suggests that players who are in that value bracket want to be compensated accordingly. Again, I’m sorry to challenge his remarks here but that’s also nonsense. £15 million in the modern transfer market is not a lot of money for a player, so it would be entirely unrealistic for anyone in that bracket to automatically assume that they can justify a megabucks salary.
But, and this is the third place his analysis falls down and helps to perpetuate the biggest myth of them all, he also claims that Celtic could not afford to pay such a salary if a player was demanding it, and it’s here that I’m afraid he and I are miles apart.
As I keep on saying, Celtic is where Celtic is by choice.
This is the design. This is not something that football has forced upon us. We are here today because of decisions that we have made inside the walls of our own club. The Celtic Park wage cap is notorious. It is also ludicrous at the level it’s apparently set at. And in defending it Sutton has pushed the biggest “false narrative” of them all.
Which is that Celtic “cannot” pay that kind of a money to a “quality player” because then the manager will have a line outside his door of people demanding the same. This is repeated so often that you’d think it were an unshakable truth; in fact, it’s absolute bunk as everyone who stops and thinks for a minute can work out in under that time.
People in the media have been pushing this line for near enough 20 years and it’s an argument that I know flows from one place, and from one man, and I don’t need to use his name because we all know who inside Celtic that is. That he got away with it in he first place is daft enough. That he continues to get away with it absolutely astonishes me.
Let me put it this way; at Ibrox they don’t have a salary cap. There are players there on vastly greater wages than their dressing room counterparts, and although some agents have managed to leverage that into ever bigger rises for their own clients those clients included Kent, Morelos, Goldson and Tavernier; in short, the mainstay of their team for a half dozen campaigns. The money that Butland is on is supposedly insane. But he appears to justify it.
I used to laugh when I heard that if you paid the top players significantly more than the squad players that the squad players would be demanding parity. Because over the period of time in which this daft theory has been in circulation Celtic has in fact paid certain players at the club far and beyond what their peers were getting, and that’s just one part of the argument.
Say we brought in a striker and paid him £40,000 a week. If Kyogo demanded that he would have a case; Kyogo is arguably the kind of player who could go out and get that money somewhere else. But Mikey Johnston would be laughed out of the room if he attempted to re-negotiate his contract to get something similar because he’s just not worth it and most of the players who Sutton thinks would be “lining up outside the manager’s door” aren’t worth it either.
They’re not going to leave Celtic and get paid that kind of money. Their salary is in line with what they can do on the pitch, and that’s where this argument has always fallen on its backside. Celtic sets the wage cap at a point where we stand next to no chance of keeping a player who knows he can have much more money elsewhere … but there is a solution.
Your solid, core group of players, you pay them what they are worth. Since we’re not talking about elite players here, that will be never be stratospheric £100,000 a week earnings.
You pay them enough so that they don’t feel they need to go out in search of the Promised Land of Milk and Honey. And yeah, you can’t afford that core group to get too big … so you work with a smaller squad. We ought to be doing that anyway.
We have over 30 players in the first team squad right now and the manager wants more. Why does he think he needs more? Because he’s judged that a large number of players in this squad are below the standard he thinks is required to make us a better team.
Our squad is too large, and here’s the important bit, it’s too expensive. A smaller squad, with better players and better wages for them, would probably not cost us significantly more than the current one does. I won’t say it would cost less, but it wouldn’t bankrupt us.
The math on this is so simple you can do it on the back of a stamp; a £2 million project player costs, in just the transfer fee, the same amount of money as upping the weekly salary of your best four players by £10,000 a week does. Or you could split the £40,000 between two players. Or even just pay one guy the kind of money that will keep him at the club for years to come and let you build the entre team around him.
Here’s the thing; it’s obvious that something is going on at the club which takes this into account. The new deals for Maeda, Kyogo, McGregor and Abada are a recognition that we actually can keep together the core of this team by pushing the boat out a little further in terms of salaries. If we’re on the brink of new deals for Hatate and O’Riley, as some have suggested, that’s even better news and means that we are starting to see this as a serious prospect.
That almost invalidates Sutton’s argument on its own. Because if we’re willing to do it for these guys then the justification for us buying some decent players in the 25-28 age bracket and paying then what their experience is worth virtually sells itself … and this, I’m sure, is something that Rodgers has gotten through to those who are running the show.
I see signs that we’re moving in the right direction. I suspect Rodgers is a much more satisfied man looking at the squad now than his frustration with the window allowed for. With some time to look at what he has available to him, I reckon he sees the long-term potential of this team if we can keep the guts of it together and add to it bit by bit.
We have big, big money sitting in the bank. But the potential for even more money is obvious in the proposed changes to the Champions League, riches we hope to be able to secure.
With this manager at the helm we really can do big things if he gets the backing … and the resources are there to do it. We need to break out of this defeatist mind-set in the transfer market though, and this idea that we are somehow unable to reach further than we do isn’t true in the slightest. We have chosen not to, and that’s a choice we can change any time we like.