Peter Lawwell: Celtic, Success And The God Delusion

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Yesterday, I said that I could not remember a more disjointed Celtic in over a decade. We’ve had bad spells, we’ve had bad teams and we’ve had bad managers, but it’s rare to see a club where the incoherence and lack of joined up thinking is so profound.

The last time we were so all over the place was back in the fading years of Rangers, when they won the last three titles before the campaign where they spiralled down into administration.

Had they not, I think there’s a fair chance that they’d have won that one as well.

I say that, in part, because Neil Lennon was in his early tenure as manager, and it is worth remembering that we had hired him as a complete novice.

He had never before managed as much as a single football match and there he was in our dugout, leading our team. It was a shocking decision to make him the manager after his brief stint in temporary charge. That is one of the laziest and most backward decisions this club has ever made.

Having failed to win the league in his first full campaign, I was amazed that he was allowed to keep his job and in that second campaign he was within 45 minutes of a certain sacking at Kilmarnock only for the fans to urge the team to a 3-3 draw. He should have gone that night, but instead he stayed at the club and two dangerous myths sprung up in the aftermath of his title win; one, that Lennon had proved himself a good manager and the second was that Lawwell had proved himself the genius whose prudent strategy had outlasted Rangers.

Lennon built his rep in the two years that followed with no serious competition to challenge him. It’s not a coincidence that he flopped the second time around when there was a semi-competent Ibrox team in the league with us. It’s no coincidence that Lawwell looks flat-footed and dumb either, because his own reputation was built in the period between Craig Whyte rocking up at Ibrox and Dave King making him look like an absolute mug.

It is those ten or so years which his fans – and there are many of them, in the mainstream press as well as in the stands of Celtic Park – cite as proof of his genius. They ignore that Dave King’s managerial pick bested his, they ignore that he had to pack up his pencils and basically walk after the Second Coming of Lennon ended in the foreseeable disaster … and it’s no coincidence that he’s back at the club himself now and we’re reeling and rocking again.

Lawwell is not the genius his allies make him out to be. His strategy – for it is his strategy we are madly following again – is fatally flawed. When it has come up against a well-financed team from across the city it has failed as often as it has succeeded. He saw fit to return last year so that he could bask in the glory and take all the credit for Ange’s successful revolution, but it was a success because Ange made sure he was the centre of all the power in the land, something Lawwell had already started the grim task of clawing back. Because in the land of the Sun God there can only be one king and Lawwell has always believed that is him.

What amazes me about this is how completely unappreciative he is of the people who have given him the spotlight to bask in; not the absentee shareholder, but the men in the dugout, who alone had to work with the paltry resources he threw like scraps from the table. Think of the balls to sit there at the last AGM and dismiss so casually those who questioned whether or not he and the other executives deserve their pay rises. It’s a legitimate question in light of this board’s hiring practices and general attitude towards governance.

I slated his performance that day as that of a low-grade comedian, cracking shit jokes and trying to impose order like some two-bob dictator. He’s not in his current role on merit but as a result of cronyism and the patronage of Dermot Desmond, who by rights shouldn’t be able to make those sorts of decisions. The best thing Lawwell ever did for Celtic was realise the gig was up when his Lennon experiment blew up in our face. He saw a chance to redeem his legacy and bask in the reflected glory of Ange even as he was snatching the credit for himself … and now that threatens to rip what’s left of his standing with our fans to shreds.

And I would welcome that in some ways, because this glorified accountant is like the Wizard Of Oz; all very impressive until you rip back the curtain and see a stumbling, bumbling man heading towards old age and still grimly hanging onto his Important Chair. I would welcome it except that it would put Ibrox back on a solid footing and cost us trophies and titles and much misery.

I don’t wish Lawwell well in this role, because that will allow him forever to believe he was The Man after all. But I can’t wish him to fail either. I can only tell it like it is.

There are those who say that Lawwell is semi-retired and only a figurehead. That we are the ones who are making Lawwell into the towering legend who rules over Celtic with the controls firmly in his grip, but of course we’ve never believed any such thing to begin with.

Whenever the media has made out that Lawwell runs the SFA and thus Scottish football, I’ve openly mocked that suggestion … because Lawwell only runs Celtic because the man in Ireland wants it that way. He personally could put a stop to all this nonsense tomorrow.

Lawwell is, and has always been, just the puppet dancing on the strings held by hands across the Irish Sea, and although I do believe he was allowed, and is still allowed, too much autonomy I do believe that if Desmond yanked on his leash he’d get into line pronto.

But the idea that as chairman he wields no power when his former number two is the CEO and his son is running recruitment is so funny as to be hysterical. With the absentee shareholder across the water, with what doesn’t even amount to a passing interest in the day-to-day running of things, who do you think holds the controls and makes the big calls?

Remember what I’ve said about his record of hiring managers; Tony Mowbray, Neil Lennon (2), Brendan Rodgers (2), Ronny Deila and Ange Postecoglou. How many other clubs have hired the same manager twice and then done it again? How many clubs have appointed a guy who was originally supposed to come in as the managers assistant? How many clubs have gone for a proven boss, allowed him to drag out negotiations until virtually the moment pre-season training started, and then took a wild punt on a guy coaching in Japan who was literally the last name in his son’s contact book? Do you see a strategy at play in any of that?

Lawwell’s legend was made when the competition was so weak that we swatted them aside with ease. In a straight battle with a fully funded Ibrox, with this guy at the helm of “the strategy” we will lose as many major honours as we put on the mantlepiece.

That’s how it was before when he was in charge. The gap between their club and ours is bigger than it’s ever been, but they choose to spend every penny whilst we chose to put the money in the bank rather than out on the pitch. That’s why we’re catchable. That’s why we’re not out of sight. The policy of this club is not just wrong, it is manifestly insane.

We brought in £25 million for Jota in the summer. We got £500,000 for Ajeti and another £4.3 million for Starfelt. A total equalling nearly £30 million. That’s a bonanza. We spent, by the most detailed estimate I can find, £18.73 million.

We sold out our season tickets. We had Champions League cash guaranteed. None of that money was even touched far less spent. We closed out the summer transfer window with an £11 million transfer trading surplus without signing the key footballers everyone knew we needed; a backup striker, an iron man midfielder, a goalkeeper or a left back.

Yet we signed ten players for that money. If you want to understand the scale of the failure, that’s an average spend, per player, of £1.8 million, so of course it ended up an incoherent mess.

We said we had anticipated the Asian Cup but amongst those signings were three players who were eligible to take part in it, along with the half dozen already in the squad.

This is not backing the manager. This is not showing your strength. This is not putting your wealth out on the pitch. It is the opposite of those things.

I wrote last year about how it was Fergus who built modern Celtic, how he got the stadium up, built the season ticket base and laid the foundations for Lennoxtown.

None of that was done under the current board, who until this summer had not, in all the years they have been here, constructed anything lasting. Except disco lights. We should never forget the disco lights. That was the same year we lost out on John McGinn and signed Yousef Mulumbu on a free. And Rodgers, recognising fully how far down the list his own priorities were, was never going to last long beyond that. We all know what happened.

But I was not surprised that they decided, finally, to spend money on infrastructure with part of the surplus. Nothing satisfies the craving for recognition like the Big Project You Can Put Your Name On.

Above all else, these people are really only interested in leaving a permanent mark and it must have galled them that Fergus did that whilst they did not. When they lost the chance to make ten in a row their legacy, they were always going to turn to vanity projects like this. Lawwell has forever dreamed of a statue at the stadium; I guess he’ll settle for a nameplate at Barrowfield.

And that’s why I call it a vanity project.

Because it won’t move us forward in any meaningful way whilst the B squad plays its games in the Lowland League. The women’s team had one hand on the league trophy last season, only for Fran Alonso to be told that instead of building on that he’d need to do more with less, and now Ibrox outspends us in that area just as their wage bill for the first team squad has overtaken ours.

Remind me again; which of the two clubs is the one with the financial muscle here?

So as the B team and the women’s team continue to deteriorate through lack of funding on the one hand and lack of imagination on the other, an upgrade to Barrowfield seems like a grim joke, something done just to satisfy the craving of a bunch of old white men to leave something standing with their mark on it. It’s an indulgence more than an investment.

And people wonder why we’re in a state right now. We can’t even get the pitch looking good at the moment. Even our coaching setup reeks of small-minded thinking. How many years now have we been unable to capitalise on all the set-pieces we get, whilst we continue to look vulnerable to them? Do we have a set-piece coach? If there was one out there called Strachan, I think we’d have signed him up years ago. We’ll just have to wait until there’s one called Lawwell or Desmond. Top class clubs hire top class coaching teams. We retain the services of the ex-managers son and a bunch of former players and it all screams mediocrity at you.

But this is leadership Lawwell style and I still hear people tell me what a success he’s been, what a towering figure in the history of this club. It’s a myth. It’s life in the Matrix, it’s “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

And you know what that truth is? Our “leaders” are leading us to disaster, to a scenario where your money and my money rots in the bank whilst we’re overtaken on and off the field. People keep telling me this is deliberate, that Lawwell, who I know from personal experience hates the club across the city, is wilfully sabotaging us, and I can’t convince people they are wrong because it looks that way to them and they can’t wrap their brains around it any other way.

Unfortunately, I can. He has never been a genius. He has never been a master strategist, far less the Machiavellian figure the Scottish media seems to think. He’s nothing but a jumped-up bean-counter who should have stuck to working on the commercial side of the club and trying – in vain as it turns out – to significantly increase revenues, which I can make a compelling argument he has never actually done. I refer again to the article I wrote on Fergus McCann and the “four phases of Celtic” which you can read at the link at the bottom of this one.

But before that I’m going to leave you with a quote, because one of the worst traits of narcissism is profound selfishness, and his desire to be at the centre of things running this club as he has before, convinced of his own genius, marks him down as one of the most selfish people ever to hold a position of authority at Celtic Park.

“This is far beyond garden-variety narcissism,” the quote goes. “(He) is not simply weak, his ego is a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment because he knows deep down that he is nothing of what he claims to be.”

That was Mary Trump, talking about her brother.

If I hadn’t told you that, you might have spent all day trying to guess who had said it, but you’d have spent no time whatsoever wondering who the quote was about, because it’s on the nose, isn’t it?

This is the author of the strategy. This is why we’re heading for trouble.

From The Archives: Four Phases Of Celtic: The Real Story Behind Lawwell’s Record Of “Success.”

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  • Bhoy4life says:

    Managed decline to keep Sevco relevant and in the race, probably a criteria in the 5WA.
    Sevco need the cash to survive, and in turn that means a title and CL football, cos there ain’t no money to be made in Scotland.

  • Jonny says:

    Really good article. There has to be a concerted effort to remove the Chairman, the CEO and the head of recruitment. To be replaced following a thorough search for the best people in their fields, not the best connected. But we have a league and cup to win. Off field focus should be on May 26th

  • michael mccormack says:

    Thirty year season ticket holder , already decided I’ve had enough of being taken for a mug , no longer!!!
    Shove yer season book next year .

  • Bob (original) says:

    PL has won a watch.

    On paper, he is a NED Chairman without operational responsibilities,

    yet does anyone believe that PL is NOT pulling the strings again?

    We are seeing a repeat of behaviours on and off the pitch which

    culminated in BR buggering off – the first time.

    And no, despite what PL might think in his own head:

    he is not an ‘immortal football god’, but just an incredibly lucky

    accountant, who is allowed to run a plc like a personal fiefdom.


    But, hubris will most certainly get PL in the end…

    [but we might have to wait a while 🙁 ]

  • Eamonn Little says:

    This should be a must read for everyone with the club at heart.Every single bullet point nailed.Come summer the campaign for change must begin.In the meantime we must all get behind the team,to get the title won and champs league money in.Screw the 5 way agreement,we arent half of anything.

  • Eldraco says:

    Brliant . Just brilliant jf

  • J Campbell says:

    Only need to look at the Chairman’s statement on the accounts where he does not mention the operational head of the organisation but has time to mention himself.
    Only the fans can remove him and his son.
    There is a total disconnect between them and our manager.
    This is not going to end well.
    Someone needs to do a full article on his waste of resources and how much he has taken from the club and remind people of his 1% ownership that he takes dividend from despite fans reinvesting there dividends.

  • Cheezydee says:

    What actually is the story with the pitch? In Rodgers first term he demanded an EPL level 4g hybrid pitch or something, which was duly done, at a significant cost. Then I believe it got some disease and it’s struggled ever since. I don’t recall anything ever being mentioned about the company coming back in etc

  • Peter Cassidy says:

    We are in a league that piss poor there is not enough money in Scottish football for clubs to invest in better players just the 2 Glasgow clubs only because of there large fan base that’s a big part of the problem. They have played on the bigotry element for decades but really don’t give a shit about fans just there money so the farce will continue between the 2 of them very depressing for everybody who enjoys good football so now the rangers seem to have a decent manager in now and looks like he will get backing Celtic have a real battle now to win this league which is not a bad thing manager and players need to get going if they want to win the league and it’s a big IF.

  • Pastelgreen says:

    Deluded is the support. Michael please do hand it back I have family members on the waiting list. Celtic have won the last six matches yeah definitely having a bad spell. Sometimes you need to win ugly, you all rant at SMSM however the support are the worst no wonder the press play you all like fools.

    Embarrassing that supporters boo a team off for winning.

    Nobody is selling this window, EPL has had its quietest window ever. Teams like we have said are says ‘not selling the window’ though fickle supporters think everyone should sell star players to us by we should not sell to anyone. Some supporters would rather us by anyone by the looks of it. We need quality and the right players.

    People seem to have selective memory, even Chris Sutton (he just types whatever give the best reaction after he scours social media). We had a few gems but there were lots of duds too Shaw, McCarthy, Ideguchi, Jenz, Kobayashi, Abdilgaard, Iwata, Haksabanovic Ange never really played any of them Oh and Bernabei not really cutting it either.

    • Auldheid says:

      I’ve met PL a few times.

      James was there on one when evidence that strongly suggested the UEFA Licence in 2011 was granted to Rangers under false pretence aka fraud.

      PL misdirected shareholders on the issue at 2019 AGM (in addition to the 5WA question ) .

      I find he lacks ethics and I find that an insult to the ethics on which Celtic were founded.

      Nothing will change for the better until Celtic start to act ethically.

      I think that is worth more than any titles but also believe doing so will bring rewards unimaginable.

    • raymond traynor says:

      you mentioning all the duds sums it all up.far too many duds for it to be a club ran properly

  • Gerry says:

    Most importantly, we have a league to retain and SC to win. In my lifetime, Celtic have always stalled, when in strong positions to really kick on and achieve so much more, especially in Europe. ( Going back to the 70s/80s)
    Earlier in the season, B Rodgers remarked that he had met DD ( in Rome I think,) and it was because of his strong relationship with DD, that he was back at our club. Surely, if their relationship is thus, then Lawwell shouldn’t really be relevant, pulling strings or influencing Rodgers’ teams and DD should be clipping or removing his wings completely, if he does ! And you’d therefore believe that Rodgers should get the ‘quality,’ he keeps remarking on in his press conference, regardless of the nepotism and cronyism issues we all keep mentioning?
    Or is that too simplistic to accept in the modern, murky world of football?

  • Alan Cunningham says:

    Fundamental problem appears to me to be that Desmond wants Celtic to operate on the American business model i.e. maximise stockholder value. The main thrust is to be risk averse and exercise strict cost controls/ cut corners to maximise profit and push up the share price. Boeing is currently the worst manifestation of this way of doing business.
    On the plus side, at least the Enron model, as used by the original Rangers, is not in play.

  • John Fitzpatrick says:

    This is a deliberate act of sabotage to keep Ibrox in the game. No organisation could be that stupid otherwise. We will lose this league. We are watching it unfold like we done in Lennons last throws when Lawwell decimated our defence to prevent 10inarow to keep ibrox relevant. Sick of them all…!!

  • Chris says:

    Why can’t the 5 Way Agreement be published for the public to see ??
    Corrupt people.
    Eff Scottish football,I have had enough

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