This article is a lengthy disecction of Peter Lawwell’s record at this club. It was written over a couple of days in December last year, after the announcement that he was to return to the club as chairman. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but I believe that if we’re to scrutinsie this guy properly and evaluate where we are this year we need to evaluate where we’ve been … I believe this offers the complete picture of Celtic under Lawwell, and from this you can make your own judgement.
I’m writing this after having been on the Endless Celts podcast last week, and saying pretty much what I’m about to say now, except that I want to write this in more detail and place it in the proper context.
I also want to correct one big error, about our financial position in the early years, and one modest one from that discussion.
The financial error is over how much we were making at the time of Martin O’Neill’s success.
It wasn’t a failure of numbers but comprehension; the person helping me with the piece told me that earnings were broadly comparable to the present day, and I assumed that meant the totals were the same.
But he forgot to mention one important caveat which I will include.
He also made a slight error on the number of trophies the club won in Lawwell’s first eight years in charge. That was because of how he counted the years.
I used a slightly different method and came up with an extra honour. It makes little difference to the argument.
It is important if we’re going to have this debate about Lawwell that we make what you might call a “case for the prosecution.”
The case for the defence is already in the public domain. A club in a strong financial position. Trophies and titles over the last 20 years. A progressive manager in place and doing well.
It all seems to offer a picture of success. Phenomenal success. Unparalleled success.
Well I’m not even going to deny that record, because how can I? It exists.
So let me try and put it in the proper context, and the best way that I can do it is to reach into pop culture and give you the My Cousin Vinny version.
I have honestly tried to think of a better way to put this than using the trick Joe Pesci’s character deploys in that movie, and I cannot come up with one that’s half as good or coherent.
It’s not for nothing that actual legal journals encourage that trainee lawyers study that movie for lessons on precedent, legal procedure, courtroom tactics and the power of rhetoric.
The first time you see Vincent Gambini bring his formidable powers of persuasion and argument to the fore is when he visits his cousin in jail and the kid is trying to ditch him for a public defender on account of his inexperience.
Gambini demonstrates the skill he will use to win the case by lifting up a playing card and showing it to the kid.
Comparing the DA’s case to building a house, he shows his cousin the playing card. A house is just a collection of bricks, and here’s one of the bricks. And as Gambini explains, it looks just a like a brick. It has everything that a brick ought to have.
Except when you tilt it on its side, and then it’s wafer thin.
That, Gambini says, is the government’s case.
And that’s the case for the defence in the trial of Peter Lawwell.
To defend that man’s record, you have to not examine it.
When you actually look it starts to disintegrate.
To understand Lawwell’s record you have to consider that Celtic’s modern history evolved over four distinct phases; the Fergus phase, the Martin O’Neill era, the early Lawwell years and 2012 to the present day. Lawwell was in office since 2003, roughly 18 years.
Tonight we’re going to look at how Celtic developed from Fergus to the present day.
In doing so, we’re going to cast a light on the much vaunted Lawwell record.
The Fergus phase was when modern Celtic was built.
Every major building block of the club we enjoy today was laid by that man and his board. Every single one. He built the stadium. He laid the groundwork for the training ground. He built the season ticket base and he put the club on a sound financial footing. Our board has done not one thing of note – save for a recent scheme to redevelop Barrowfield – to advance Fergus’ vision.
I cannot put it more bluntly than to say that Fergus McCann left Celtic a Rolls Royce club. We had a ten thousand seat advantage over Ibrox and thus greater season ticket income. It opened the unbridgeable gap.
Nothing Ibrox has ever done has ever come close to closing it and there is nothing in their foreseeable future which might. Recognise that first thing; everyone who came after Fergus merely inherited what he – and we – built.
The current board did nothing to establish our advantage.
Fergus bequeathed them that, and he did it in four years. They’ve had 20 and the infrastructure is basically as he left it, aside from some changes to how the front of the stadium looks.
It took Martin O’Neill’s arrival to turbocharge the revolution.
He won a treble in his first season, the club’s income skyrocketed on the back of it. We edged into £50 million territory, and we were off to the races. Within two years we were in a European final.
The club was in a good place. More than that.
We were in a better place than we had been in many, many years. And then in November 2003, Peter Lawwell became CEO. Immediately, the cutting started, and it’s important to put that in context too.
Celtic was spending more than it earned, and by the time of his arrival we were in debt. Manageable debt, but we couldn’t afford to let it get much higher and so his first remit was to find ways for Celtic managers to do more with less.
That caused a lot of anger at the time, and it still does, but in fact it was a perfectly logical move for the club to have made.
The European record before he arrived was that O’Neill got us to the Champions League Groups in his second season, the Seville final in his third and then in Lawwell’s first year the Champions League Groups and then the UEFA Cup Quarter Final when we went out.
In Lawwell’s first season at the club Martin O’Neill was allowed to spend a mere £400,000 on transfers.
In his second season the manager got no transfer cash at all.
Larsson had left at the start of that season. O’Neill was expected to replace him with the Bosman signing Henri Camara.
In December, he got Craig Bellamy on loan.
That was the season of Black Sunday.
He has said since that he didn’t believe he could take Celtic much further unless the club was ready to take risks. They weren’t … and yet curiously the next manager did get backing … and that manager pretty much blew the doors off the building.
Let’s not beat about the bush; Lawwell’s first managerial appointment was also one of his best, because Gordon Strachan worked a minor miracle.
We slashed the wage bill, but in that first transfer window he got money to spend but whilst he was bedding in a team there was no Champions League football but the Nightmare In Bratislava.
That’s how far O’Neiil’s team had been drawn down.
Yet a league title and a League Cup suggested that maybe we weren’t in such bad shape, and we were acting like a club with big intentions.
Strachan got a little over £7.6 million to spend in his first season, the one in which there was no Sutton and no Larsson and no Lambert.
Strachan got even more money to spend in the next season, but this time the books had to balance a little bit better, and so on a transfer spend of £9,650,000 we also brought in £7,830,000 much of it on the back of selling Stan Petrov.
But the good times were rolling.
We won another double, league and Scottish Cup this time and this time European progress.
Strachan got us to the Groups and then another Round of 16. And you know, everyone at Celtic was entitled to believe that we were on a roll and that there were nothing but geniuses in the building.
More confirmation the following year, with another league title and a second consecutive Round of 16 in the Champions League. We thought, then, that was our rightful place in football.
Why would we believe otherwise? I know for sure that Lawwell believed it.
Again, we spent money.
It was the year of the famous joust for Scott Brown, which we won.
But the books pretty much balanced again, and the reason they did was an early sign that something wasn’t right, that things were happening which shouldn’t, when we sold Kenny Miller for £3 million.
That troubled a lot of people, not because we had any real affection for him but because Gordon Strachan valued him and trusted him as a key player and right up until the minute the club sold him had been saying he wanted him to stay.
Miller himself did not want to go.
So who took that decision out of their hands, and was it the first time that such a decision had been taken over the objections of the manager? It wasn’t the last.
By now, I think Lawwell’s ego had gotten the best of him.
He was regularly in the papers at this point in time, and he had put together a strategy where we were spending less than we earned and posting profits year on year and it must all have looked great.
The next season, Group stages again and the League Cup, and what could possibly go wrong? A lot as it happened, as had been evidenced for large portions of the prior campaign, which we won on the last day due to a 1-0 win at Tannadice.
The Strachan team was creaking.
Some of the signings hadn’t worked out well. A club regularly getting Champions League football should, we thought, have been pushing the boat out a bit more. Strachan’s initial backing had given way to the expectation that he could succeed with ever diminishing resources.
It’s as if Lawwell was testing how far we could be drawn down before it started costing us.
We’d lost the league, and then Lawwell made the first of two momentous mistakes.
We hired Tony Mowbray and then, when his team self-destructed, the board, in its wisdom, let Lennon take over on an interim basis and then they gave him the job.
The slide had begun.
There were no trophies that year, and no Champions League Group Stage football. Balancing the books had become the over-riding mission. Posting profits had started to take precedent over reaching as far as we could as a club.
By then, we already had the wrong priorities, and it was about to get worse.
I will never be able to fully understand what our board saw or thought they saw in Neil Lennon which convinced them to give him the job on a permanent basis. But I do know that he should not have survived that first full season.
From the lofty position of qualifying for the Champions League groups in so many consecutive years we took it for granted, we were out of Europe altogether by August after the twin disasters of Braga and Utrecht.
Lawwell is overwhelmingly to blame for that.
By this point he thought he could do no wrong. Appointing Lennon was him thinking that after Strachan he could spot managers like good scouts can spot talented players, and he blew it completely.
The transfer “strategy” had become increasingly bizarre with signings from far flung corners of the world which appeared to follow no logic, like Effrain Juarez and Cha Du Rei.
We signed Darryl Murphy as a striker on a record of 20 goals in 140 games and after failures on bling like Keane, like Bellamy, like Graveson, like Juninho we were still at it in signing Freddie Ljundberg that year in a deal that made no footballing sense whatsoever.
The transfer strategy was no longer predicated on strengthening.
It wasn’t even enough for the books to balance.
Now Celtic managers were expected to be in profit, with a transfer surplus, and to win things at the same time. On a spend of £10 million that year we brought in nearly £16 million.
It was soon to become clear that this is where Lennon’s value lay.
He kept his job on the back of winning the Scottish Cup; Lawwell’s tenth trophy.
Not nine as I said on the podcast, but ten. The researcher isn’t getting shot for that, he simply calculated the thing in a different way from me and I’m trying to give the CEO the benefit of some doubt.
That was Phase 3 of Celtic’s modern era, his first eight years in charge.
So what I’ve done here is show you the brick, holding it in just the right way so it looks as if it has everything that a brick should have. But this isn’t a brick at all, it’s a playing card, if you tilt it just the right way, so let’s do that now.
Let’s look at what was happening on the other side of Glasgow at the time.
Ten trophies in Lawwell’s first eight years sounds like a good return.
But across the city, they also won ten trophies in the same timeframe. They qualified for five Champions Group Stages and on one occasion reached the last 16. And they got to their own European final at the same time.
They won four league titles. We won four league titles.
They won six domestic cup competitions and so did we.
In those eight seasons there were 24 domestic trophies up for grab.
Far from being completely dominant, ourselves and Rangers were virtually running neck and neck although we had far greater resources.
It is now widely accepted that if we’d pushed a little harder in any one of the three years 2008-2010 that Rangers would have been denied the Champions League income which kept on the lights and they’d have been in administration or worse before the world ever heard of Craig Thomas Whyte.
You can draw your own conclusions as to why we didn’t.
That’s the thin edge, that’s the playing card rather than the brick, in terms of phase three of modern Celtic, the Lawwell era.
That’s how we got on under him with a major challenger in the arena, and a challenger we could quite literally have killed off had we shown the ruthlessness to act. It cost us. Even greater mistakes were to come.
Here’s the setup for Phase 4;
In spite of those greater resources, Ibrox’s ability to match us achievement for achievement was predicated on cheating both the tax man and the footballing authorities. Their final Champions League Group stage year was the 2010-11 season, under Whyte, when they should not have been granted a license.
So what was Lawwell’s remit those last ten years?
What was his duty to the shareholders and to the club itself?
Before we get to that, let’s get the trophy haul out of the way, as it’s the card everyone plays in his defence. We’ve seen that he won ten trophies in his first eight years … in the next ten years we were to win a further nineteen.
But for four of those years we had no domestic challenger worthy of the name.
There we 51 domestic trophies up for grabs during Lawwell’s tenure as CEO, and for at least some of that time we had no effective domestic competition.
In the first eight years, when that competition existed, we were trophy for trophy with our closet rival.
29 trophies out of 51 is, over the course, the ratio you might expect going head to head with an opponent who was just about at your level and over whom you held a modest advantage.
What was our trophy haul before the NewCo reached the top flight?
We won seven trophies in those four years.
But we competed for twelve. With no competition we left five domestic trophies – all cups – on the table.
Part of that was his dire managerial choices since Strachan, and boy oh boy, they need examined.
Tony Mowbray was first, and we’ve covered that.
Lennon was second, and although I believe hiring Lennon on both occasions was an appalling decision (and retaining him beyond his first full season in charge almost unforgivable) let’s for a moment give him an alibi for his own mistakes in that period, and there were a lot of mistakes but a lot of mitigation as well.
He posted a £5 million profit in his first season as boss, and that should have bought him some proper backing in the transfer market, and it didn’t. Lennon was given a meagre £3.1 million to spend on players the following year, and the striker position is a particularly critical area to look at if we’re going to be fair to the guy.
With numerous options to choose from, somebody chose Mo Bangura, for £2.2 million to lead the line, allegedly on the advice of Henrik Larsson himself.
There were better options available, but they were more expensive and so we went for a guy who had bounced around on loan at various clubs and had a handful of goals to his name.
He never scored a single one for Celtic and we actually paid him off three years into his deal, much of which he spent on loan.
Lennon brought in £2.65 million in transfer fees, which gave him a net spend … but does not do justice to the number of players we released, most of them on frees, including; Murphy, Juarez, Ljundberg, Hooiveld, Rasmussen, McGinn, Hinkel, Hutchison and Maloney.
We had slashed the wage bill in a big, big way and there was no real sense that any of it was adding up to a sensible plan.
Yet … amongst the signings were a guy called Lustig (free), Wanyama (£900,000), Adam Matthews (free), Kelvin Wilson (free) and Fraser Forster on loan. (But there was also Brozek, Rabui Ibrahim, Andre Blackman and Badr El Kaddouri.)
To give Lennon a tilt at the Champions League you’d have been forgiven for thinking real money would finally be made available to him, but we allowed him to spend £3.9 million in a season when we brought in £8.5 million from sales.
And yet, Lennon performed a miracle and not only reached the Groups but the last 16 with 10 points, including a home win against Barcelona which shocked the continent and seemed – briefly – to have put us back where we belonged.
It was a false dawn.
The truth is, Lennon did that in spite of Lawwell and not because of him and from there on in that was a recurrent theme.
There was no Ibrox club in the league and Lawwell and the board didn’t even feel the need to try that hard to stay ahead of the rest. We had no ambition whatsoever to reach for the next rung on the ladder in Europe; whatever plan there had been, there no longer was.
On the back of that campaign, and a league and cup double, the board could have put Celtic on a different planet from the rest if they’d genuinely believed in Lennon and allowed him the chance to put his mark on the team and drive us forward.
And Lawwell and the board prioritised money in the bank, and that’s not Lennon’s fault but he accepted that and allowed himself to be suckered. What they did to him next was obscene and we should never let Lawwell’s defenders forget it.
In the window where we signed Van Dijk and Bitton we squandered even more on Pukki, Amido Balde and Boerrigter.
In the January window, we did at least bring in Stefan Johnsen and Leigh Griffiths.
But the damage had been done.
Another Group Stage qualification had been secured, but Lennon had lost the heart and soul of his team and we finished bottom of that group with three points, massively out of our depth, majorly outgunned.
The fans could see where the self-inflicted wounds had been administered; one before each European qualifying round.
A couple of days before the first qualifier, against Clintonville, we sold Victor Wanyama.
No-one could believe we were weakening the Champions League squad before a Champions League qualifying game.
But we did, and then we did it again.
A few days before we played Elfsborg in the following round we sold Gary Hooper, who had been Lennon’s most dependable forward.
So, the manager again had to go into a Champions League match weaker than when the draw was made.
We scraped through that tie 1-0 on aggregate, which made the decision to weaken the squad again prior to us taking on Shakhtar Karagandy incomprehensible. But on 9 August, just two days after the Elfsborg second leg, we sold Kelvin Wilson and 11 days later went to Kazakhstan and lost 2-0.
It looked as if Lawwell’s disgraceful strategy had cost us.
But give Lennon credit, he somehow managed to turn that deficit around and on a storming Celtic Park night a late James Forrest goal secured a 3-0 victory.
We went through, and then had what was arguably our worst Group Stage performance ever.
Lennon left, probably because we tried to force an assistant on him over his objections, or because he was just sick and tired of seeing his best players sold from under him. Perhaps both.
There were other issues as well, and to be honest I was glad to see him go.
I thought the hiring of Ronny Deila was a sign of imagination and progressive intent, until we learned that he was the guy we had tried to appoint as Lennon’s second in command.
The board didn’t bother conducting a proper hunt for Lennon’s successor, they just gave the job to the Norwegian.
It wasn’t imaginative at all; it was shockingly lazy and quite ridiculous.
Lawwell then imposed John Collins on Deila, and the real cutting started.
From a transfer spend of £4.3 million we brought in £11.8 million and by then the steady reduction in quality was obvious on the European stage when we could only reach the Europa League.
We did reasonably well under Ronny, getting to the second stages in that tournament … but it was obvious we were no longer even trying to reach that next rung. The rot had set in.
Ronny spent £8.75 million the following year, but again we posted a profit on a £14 million transfer income which included the sale of Virgil Van Dijk. We won the league and crashed and burned in a Europa League Group where we failed to win a single game.
The regression from regular Champions League football, including second stage qualification was obvious.
In the Barcelona season we’d been making money, winning things and the stands were full.
Just a few years later, the squad was lacking, the manager was floundering, Champions League football was a memory and the upper tiers of the North Stand were closed for our Europa Group stage disintegrations.
The club was now fully in the grip of the Lawwell strategy.
The one thing we did right was hire the right guy as manager after Ronny left; Brendan Rodgers.
Domestic success in the next two years was total.
The Invincible Treble. The first double-treble in the history of Scottish football.
Phenomenal achievements, and Champions League football again in Brendan’s very first campaign. And all for a net spend of £4.6 million from a £7 million spend.
Some of our fans still think Brendan got a ton of money; he didn’t.
And that lack of ambition, even with an A list manager in the dugout, was the reason European football progress did not happen, although we were back in the big time. We didn’t win a game in that first group stage, in spite of two phenomenal displays against Manchester City. You could see that Brendan’s team was massively under-resourced.
Did he get proper backing for that second season?
Well, he spent £8 million and there was no reduction to the squad.
But the signings … they were never the sort that were going to take us to the next level, and you have to wonder how much influence Rodgers really had in them.
Were Jonny Hayes, Jack Hendry, Lewis Morgan and Marvin Compper worth spending half the kitty on?
Who decided that three SPL level players were going to progress us where it mattered?
When Rodgers was given £9 million to spend the following summer on Odsonne Edouard you might have been forgiven for thinking that, at last, it was all going to come together with an ambitious boss backed by an ambitious board and all on the same page.
But we all knew someone was going to be sold to pay for that, and Stuart Armstrong was gone in June for £7 million after Sviatchenko had already been sold for a million more. Rodgers presented the board with an ambitious rebuild plan with three planned signings to augment the team; John McGinn, Timothy Castagne and Fabian Scharr.
Not one of them was delivered.
The McGinn saga turned into an absolute fiasco. We resigned Izaguirre on a free. Instead of McGinn, the manager got Youssouf Mulumbu at the tail end of a window where he’d been available for nothing for months.
He got Filip Benkovic on loan on the window’s final day, as a sop because he hadn’t gotten the Swiss international.
And he got Daniel Arzani, on loan from Man City, as the City Group connection started to become more obvious.
He didn’t want Arzani, hadn’t asked for Arzani and knew nothing about Arzani until the deal was announced and he professed his bafflement.
It was an appalling way for the club to behave, and towards the end of the McGinn saga he made his frustrations plain at the press conference before our crucial Champions League game against AEK Athens at Celtic Park, which most people profoundly disagreed with.
Worse though was that a “Celtic official” briefed against the manager to the BBC shortly before kick-off on the night of the game itself.
We drew 1-1.
I was at Celtic Park the following day, for a meeting with Lawwell and Auldheid on Resolution 12, and I knew within minutes that he was the one who briefed Chris McLaughlin the night before.
I knew too that he and Rodgers had monumentally fallen out.
I told him, during the meeting, “Look on the bright side, if this goes wrong you’ll never hear the name Steven Fletcher again.”
It was a reference to the notorious Wilo Flood window of January 2009, when the manager was desperate for a striker to get us over the line and Lawwell had failed to deliver.
Rangers won that league, and then the next two.
On the way out of the meeting, we heard that John McGinn had signed for Aston Villa.
I knew that Rodgers would go at the end of the season if not sooner.
On the last day of the window, Moussa Dembele left without a replacement being sourced. The club released a statement claiming that all parties at Celtic were united in moving forward.
It was a barefaced lie and everyone knew it, and we were gambling with the league.
When, in January, we signed Maryan Shved and Brendan Rodgers immediately disavowed that signing with scorn, even the blindest Lawwell lover knew it had all gone badly wrong.
Rodgers was gone a matter of weeks later, with Lawwell once again the centre of all life at Celtic.
It hardly needs pointing out that the next choice he made on a manager was the worst of the lot, and we don’t have to dredge through the details.
By the time Lennon was fired the squad was a shadow of what it had been just a couple of years before, the last two bankable assets were in the last years of their contract and heading for the door.
And we had lost our quest for ten in a row.
Following 2012, Celtic was left as the last remaining superpower in the Scottish game.
We had no serious competition worthy of the name, and all we had to do was use that opportunity to grow as a football club and as a business. We did neither.
Instead, Lawwell took a series of decisions which sent us backwards.
I’ve already discussed how the decision to keep Lennon in post was a mistake.
Hiring Ronny Deila was the club’s way of lowering expectations and cutting costs further whilst there was no Ibrox club in the league.
Lawwell, and Celtic, knew that Sevco intended to climb the divisions, but until they did we were content to stay just ahead of everyone else. It had huge consequences.
The closure of the top part of the stadium for European nights was one humiliation amongst many.
When the Ibrox club made it to the league at their second attempt we hired Rodgers, but it was as if Lawwell couldn’t cope with being the number two man and he started to undermine him.
That led to his departure and the second Lennon appointment.
So Lawwell’s decision making and interference enabled a club that had literally only just been established to climb the divisions and take a title inside a decade.
From a standing start to lording it over us, and you can trace every step of how they did it by looking at what we were doing at the same time. Had Rodgers got Ange style backing in the transfer market our club would be totally transformed right now, and so would the one across town.
But Lawwell’s real failures were not about what transpired on the pitch.
His mandate after 2012 was to use the immense power he had accumulated within the game up until that time to reform it and make sure that what happened during the Murray years never happened again.
There were three basic things that he had to do;
The first was to reform the SFA and expose the utter scandal of a governing body which either knew what Rangers were up to and did nothing about it or learned after the fact and then tried to cover up the worst of it.
Part two was a corollary to the first; it involved making sure that the SFA adopted financial fair play regulations, fit and proper person tests worth a damn and making sure that financial disclosure rules were robust. It meant reforming refereeing.
The third and final part was to get justice for a decade or more of cheating from Ibrox, and that meant making sure that appropriate sanctions – title stripping – were applied to that club so that lessons were learned for the future.
Not one of those objectives was achieved. Not one of them.
Most people don’t even believe that we actually tried.
Things are just as bad as they were, if not worse.
In the interim, folk like Doncaster were allowed to claim that phoenix clubs were common in football, that debt-dumping was okay and the so-called continuation of Rangers history was given legitimacy.
At one point, Lawwell asked the fans to bring him “the smoking gun” on the Rangers European license issue from 2011.
He probably didn’t expect the supporters group he spoke to about it to get very far, but they produced not only the smoking gun but half of the Ibrox arsenal. Resolution 12 remains unpursued to this day.
Because of courtroom revelations which essentially confirmed every single thing the Requisitioners alleged, the SFA finally announced an inquiry into that affair which was supposed to go in front of CAS. It never has.
The whole thing – the entire EBT era – should have been put in front of CAS.
Leaving it in the hands of the people who either missed it or were up to their necks in it was a flat-out disgrace and Lawwell was either a co-conspirator or someone too daft not to realise what the SFA was going to do.
The question as to why our club let things play out as they did has never been adequately answered and it never will be. At best it was a colossal, ghastly strategic error.
It was not the only one.
The failure to put in place fit and proper person policies allowed a convicted tax crook to take over at Ibrox, remove them from the stock exchange and thus limit proper scrutiny of their finances.
The utter failure to introduce domestic FFP, which every league in Europe has, allowed King to fund the club on director’s loans and God knows what other means; this enabled them to spend tens of millions above earnings in a very short time.
It did not take a genius to see that this should not have been permitted and that it might have huge consequences.
This site, and others, warned that if a financially doped Ibrox club stopped our ten in a row quest that Hell would need to be paid because the threat was so clear that Celtic should simply never have permitted it to grow.
We are very lucky that no top flight club has “done a Rangers” in the decade since, but it’s a matter of time before one does, before a club runs up huge debts in the pursuit of silverware and then basically tosses them aside and starts again.
The door for all manner of frauds and corruption is open, wide open, and has been since Sevco crawled out of Rangers’ grave.
That is arguably Lawwell’s greatest failure, and it removed any prospect of his remaining at the club after the ten in a row campaign collapsed. He quit, or so we were told.
Fergus McCann established the modern foundations of this club and neither Lawwell nor this board has ever substantially built on them.
When I said on the Endless Celts podcast that we were posting £80 million earnings back in the McCann era I mis-spoke but didn’t misunderstand; what the numbers show is that our club’s basic level of income was established then and has never really substantially changed.
Take away the years in which we sell a major footballer and you will see something odd; the baseline income at Celtic hardly moved at all from the moment Lawwell first walked in the door.
Accounting for inflation, I wonder if we aren’t actually in a worse position.
He and the board get credit for putting us on a stable financial footing; any competent board of directors would have done the same.
Half the teams in the SPFL now run on a break-even basis, and if they can do it then there are no magic powers involved.
The frequent boast is that we never ended up like Rangers, but that would have taken activities so reckless that we would have deserved all we got, and as far as I’m concerned they get no credit just because they didn’t flush us down the toilet.
They have done only what any semi-competent board would have.
His appointment of Neil Lennon the first time is unfathomable.
To know the limitations of the man and all the baggage he carried to the role, and to have watched the twin disasters at Bolton and Hibs, which confirmed him as a mediocre choice prone to throwing his own players under the bus, makes the decision to appoint him a second time disgusting. The unprofessional way that it was announced compounded the disgrace of it.
The hiring of Mowbray was a dire mistake, quickly corrected.
The appointment of Deila showed that for all the club’s public talk of us not needing a club called Rangers in the league that they were complacent and without vision without one.
The hiring of Rodgers the second a club by that name was back in the league proves that their outlook for this club is fatally compromised because it is seen through the prism of the “Old Firm” which they deny.
Rodgers himself was forced to consider his position after tolerating Lawwell’s interference and failed transfer strategy for little over two years. By the time his third summer window came around, when his efforts of the two previous years were rewarded by the contemptuous manner in which his transfer targets list was treated, he was ready to go.
Lawwell briefing against him in the media wrecked whatever was left of the working relationship and when he publicly spoke out against yet another signing imposed on him in the January window the writing was on the wall and it was a matter of time.
His one triumphant managerial appointment, the one which went the distance, was that of Gordon Strachan and Strachan got better backing than any Celtic manager had until Ange. What was the result of giving a manager total support and the freedom to work? Success. The one year they failed to back Strachan ended in a loss and Ibrox won the next two as well.
I think Lawwell has been a competent administrator and nothing more.
He did not significantly grow our revenues except for establishing us as a selling club, which for years has hidden the basic truth that we didn’t move forward under him.
He interfered in too many areas which were not his purview and failed to get tough at the SFA.
Lawwell established a reputation as a control freak.
The idea that a man such as this will come into our club, in the top position, and limit himself to chairing meetings is preposterous and nobody should take it remotely seriously. If he attempts to interfere there have to be people at the club strong enough to push back.
My concern is that the most important one may decide it’s just not worth the trouble to do it.
At that long ago meeting with him, on the day after he’d briefed against Rodgers, I told him that if things went badly wrong he would never hear the name Steven Fletcher again, a response to his historic mistake in the Wilo Flood window.
The way Rodgers left spared him a lot of the flak he should have taken for that.
Those who want to rehabilitate his reputation claim that the hiring of Ange does that.
It is amazing that none of them bothers to conclude that he should also take the blame for the Eddie Howe debacle, and the way it left us on the brink before the season started.
And Ange’s appointment should be seen in that light.
If we hadn’t had contacts with the City Group, what was our Plan B?
Ange’s hiring was, whatever way it is dressed up, an enormous gamble.
A 50 something manager with no experience in a top flight European league, or of significant moves in the transfer market.
Giving Lawwell credit for that is like giving your partner credit for winning at the poker table when they’ve staked everything on the last river card. If it comes up, against all the odds, you win big … but if you lose … you lose it all.
Such a reckless gamble, regardless of how it has turned out, sums him up.
He should have been fired for taking a risk like this with our football club.
The success of that appointment is nothing but luck and I cannot see it any other way.
If Ange Postecoglou feels undermined and if that becomes public knowledge then the names of Rodgers, Fletcher and John McGinn are the ones he’ll never need to hear again and his legacy will be a fan uprising like this club hasn’t seen since the old board was ousted.
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain and I chatted about this earlier.
His own feelings on Lawwell’s return barely need to be imagined; he wrote a scathing piece on the subject when it was announced.
It is not an accident that he used a picture of Maryan Shved on that piece.
He was in attendance at a web summit for international journalists and got the opportunity to ask the President of La Liga some questions; the answers, especially on Sportswashing, are fascinating.
Phil’s concern is that Celtic has no obvious “successor” to Dermot Desmond waiting in the wings, as was the case with Fergus … he worries what we might end up with.
It’s not something we should ignore, but it does not mean that there would not be a serious and concerted campaign of action against this board if it came to that.
It must not come to that, but the only reason we’re discussing it is because of this contemptible decision with all of its ghastly implications.
I hope I never get to write another word on this subject.
I hope that I never need to.
If Lawwell allows the current system to work then none of us has anything to worry about.
If he stays in his lane this will all be fine. If.