The Shocking Stat That Reveals A Big Part Of The Reason For Celtic’s Slide In Form.

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Last night, at half time, I went on Twitter to have a bit of a rant. I left a single comment, or I was going to leave just a single comment, about how poor the performance was, but then spotted a reply to it which gave me immediate pause.

“Of course, when you realise that Bernabei is our most expensive signing in the starting XI that goes some way to explaining how bad our lineup is …” said Pilgrim73. And I was stunned by that, absolutely stunned to realise that he was correct.

Over the last few days, the guys at The Celtic Underground have been putting some stuff together which is highly interesting and which may take this debate in a new direction, with clear information ready and available to hand.

Here’s are some facts from one of their articles, which you can read at this link.

Celtic has spent €197 million on players in the last ten years. We have, as the article puts its “paid for 95 players and sold 49 for money.”

That’s concerning in itself; that’s way too many signings which leaves you with a huge number of footballers who end up on the books and who you cannot even get rid of. But worse is this; our “playing trading profit” from that period is just €35 million.

The writer, Harry Brady, uses Ajax as a comparison; they have “paid for 68 and sold for money 95.” Their spending is much higher than ours; €410 million. But their profit, after receiving more than €1 billion in return is more than €612 million.

And the reasons why may be contained in the following facts, and those facts are what came to my mind last night when I read that statistic about Bernabei, at £3.75 million being the most expensive player in our starting eleven.

In that spell, in those ten years, of those 95 players, we bought 17 of them for under €1 million. As shocking as that stat is, that number rises to 57 when you’re talking about players, we’ve purchased for under €3 million. Ajax’s corresponding figures are 4 players under €1 million and 20 at under €3 million. For context, their signings of €3 million or less represent just one third of their transfer trading strategy; at Celtic that number is over 50%.

Another thing that jumps out of the article is something I’ve written about before, what Harry Brady calls “football inflation”. I wrote about that subject a couple of years back and then again when Rodgers took over and there was talk that Celtic might be willing to break the Scottish transfer record, which is the £12 million Tore Andre Flo money back in the sands of time.

That was 24 years ago now, and whilst it still looks like a mad number to have ever paid for that guy, the fact that it was 24 years ago means that £12 million doesn’t buy you now what it did then. We paid £6 million for Sutton and Hartson at that time. We frequently lament that you can’t get players that good at that price or anything close to it now … but if we were regularly spending that kind of money on a single player that would be one thing. But we don’t.

Our average spend on players is, as Brady points out, between £1.75 and £3.5 million.

Which in the modern game results in ever decreasing quality.

Two examples from the article give you a sense of what we’re talking about; Stuart Slater, signed in 1992, Brady puts as a £2 million purchase; in fact, he cost £1.5 million falling slightly outside of the bracket, but close enough that the point is valid. Alan Stubbs, on the other hand, did cost us £3.5 million as Harry Brady has pointed out … and that was in 1996.

And although football prices have skyrocketed since then, we still assume that a £3.5 million signing is going to be a top player for us. Because although football has moved on, our transfer policy has not adapted to keep up with it in decades. Decades. We’re still paying for players roughly what we were willing to in the late 90’s. And the same applies to wages, and this site has argued long and hard that the wage structure for our first team players is ridiculous.

You can see this attitude in the debate over Miovski, with a lot of sneering about whether or not he’s worth what Celtic paid for Scott Brown, £4.4 million to be exact. That was in 2007. That would be a steal for Miovski, so much so that Aberdeen would never accept an offer that low. We’d need to do substantially better than that to get the guy, and most people who observe our transfer policy know full well that will never, ever happen … but it should happen and if we’re to get better then deals like that are going to need to be the way we go about our business.

When we lost Jota we fumbled about for weeks looking for a replacement. Luis Palma is the guy we went for. The cost? £3.5 million, right out on the edge of that bracket and purchased for a fraction of what we got for the Portuguese. Our biggest signing of that window fell outside of the bracket – amazingly enough – Nawrocki. He was on the bench last night. He cost us £4.3 million, and Rodgers chose to start academy player Stephen Welsh instead.

After Alastair Johnston went off last night, our defensive line was Hart (free), Bernabei (most expensive player on the pitch, as stated), Welsh (academy), Scales (nominal fee from the League of Ireland) and Tony Ralston (academy.) And people wonder why the quality of the performances has dropped substantially since the start of this season.

We have a lost a number of critical players, either by selling them or losing them to injury, and this is what we’re patching up the squad with. I’m not saying it gives Rodgers an excuse for some of the tactical failings we’re watching, but there is a much bigger problem here than the manager and that is obvious looking at the hard numbers and the cold facts of this.

We are a club run on the cheap, and although people will bring up Maeda, O’Riley, Hatate as being top players who didn’t cost us a great deal of money, all falling under the €3 million ceiling, you have to remember that the best players in this squad were assembled in Ange’s first two windows where he was circumventing Celtic’s entire scouting department and working his own way.

The hiring of Mark Lawwell was done, perversely, to pull us back towards a way of doing things that does not work, and where a £1 million signing isn’t going to crack Celtic’s team first squad, where if that same player signed for Aberdeen, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

This club is stuck in the mud because it will not change a policy which was out of date back in the early 2000’s. We haven’t attempted to keep up, which is why so much of Celtic’s operation seems stagnant. There is no recruitment planning worth a damn, which is why we signed 10 players in the summer most of whom will never make it as first team regulars here with an average cost of around £2 million … right in the middle of the bracket.

We should have spent that money instead on three or four players of high quality who could have taken the team forward and made up some spaces for academy players who were talented enough to at least get a look-in. The January window reveals that there was no forward planning worthy of the name, because we were scrambling around for loan deals on the final day.

And that’s why last night, at Easter Road, our malfunctioning left back was the most expensive player in Celtic’s starting eleven.

For anyone who wonders why our team looks so poor … there it is. This is not somewhere we’ve been forced to go … this is about choices we’ve made and which we will continue to make unless something radical changes.

Something more than the guy in the dugout, who whilst he isn’t blameless is forced to work in these self-imposed and pretty ridiculous constraints.

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  • brian cavanagh says:

    Hi James

    Very interesting article. I am old enough to remember the £5M for Schiedt £1.5M for Paul Elliott, £2m for Paul lambert and £2m plus for Craig Burley -so just demonstrates your point on inflation. And this jars with early statements you made early this season that the club is well run. This article shows that is clearly not the case,
    And whilst the quality of player has gone down BR tactics have not helped. How an ‘elite manager’ can have a team play in such a pedestrian manner with over 75% of possession yet score few goals needs to question whether he is the right manager for the job. A similar situation took place in his second season first time around

  • Pat says:

    The board is too quick to turn a fast buck at times while at others are negligent in not moving players on. Giakoumakis was sold far too quickly and the board and manager should have made efforts to keep him for longer. To get such a miserable return was shocking. On the other hand we have held on to so many players down the years and lost them for free or peanuts in last window of their contract.

    We also do not develop our young players to any extent which would save a fortune on money wasted on gems. A prudent policy that would bring in proven quality, supplemented by the best young players from other clubs and a trust in our own youth would pay dividends.

    Sadly too many fans do not give our own, or home grown players an opportunity ahead of gems or projects. Just look at the treatment of Forrest, Stokes, Taylor, Welsh, MJ etc.

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Brian that’s my thoughts on our elite manager as well,most teams in the spfl have a 20th of our outlay but sem to be able to hold us at bay,mmm, who’s fault is that

  • Sid says:

    Superb article James, this really nails the decline. The board have to go and the policy must change. Our only 2 successful spells were under BR right at the beginning and Ange right at the beginning. The only 2 times the policy was ditched.
    Paul 67 shocking attack on our manager shows that personal feuds is more important than our success. This guy is a Peter Lawwell supporter first and a Celtic supporter second.
    We need to unite for huge change.

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Sid you keep referring to successful spells ,where in fact were they successful,a piss poor spfl, when did we ever have successfull spells in Europe, Never that is the benchmark for progress and for the last 15 years we have been in full reverse,so yes beating sevco in a piss poor league is fine but when have we ever improved on this outside the crap league that is the spfl,so I don’t think we ever progress.

  • king murdy says:

    great article james….there it is in a nutshell…..biscuit tin mentality…
    i watched the game last night bereft of any emotion…apart from apathy…i didn’t think it was a penalty, the tackle, in my eyes, came after kyogo’s striking of the ball, but in this day and age it is…when idagh put it away i just shrugged…
    god bless the fans who went thru to easter road…they deserve SO, SO much better..we all do…
    but it appears the board, truly, could not care less….
    FAIL FAIL !!

    • Jim Duffy says:

      King murdy the board don’t put the team out to play ,the board don’t do tactics ,our elite manager does , don’t get me wrong our board are every bit to blame for where we are now sevco breathing down our necks ,but our team and manager should be doing much better against teams with a 20th of financial clout.With the so called much vaunted players that we have we should be swiping these lesser SPFL teams aside ,the fact we are not has got to come down to tactics and team management.

  • Jim Duffy says:

    James our team looks so poor because at times they don’t look like they know what their supposed to be doing or what positions to take up,who is that down to? Also if our average spend is say 2.5 to 3 £ million those players should still be better than Ross county, Killie,hearts , Aberdeen or all of the SPFL teams apart from sevco who have spent some money,the other spfl teams players what has their average cost been,how much did miovski cost Aberdeen or shankland cost hearts,as far as finances go we’re still a big fish in a small pond .

  • Jimmy Gibson says:

    How much were Hibs ,Aberdeen,Ross County,Hearts Kilmarnocks most expensive signings?should still be taking care if these teams ,even scoring early doesn’t seem to help.

  • Tony Hand says:

    Having watched the ‘messing about’ by the Lawwells before and during the January transfer window I would not be in the least surprised if Brendan Rogers ended up as manager of West Ham with David Moyes in situ at Celtic next season. As the campaign gets under way to force Desmond and the Lawwells to act in the Club’s interest, rather than their own, I would like to make a suggestion. At the next home game versus the Rangers the Celtic fans should unfurl a banner stating “I think Glasgow Rangers are a great football club” — Dermot Desmond. Also a few wreaths on display would not be out of place. In the early 1960s my father told me that Masons hung a wreath, a sign of death, on their front doors at Christmas time when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. The Celtic Board are all Lodge members engaged in downsizing Celtic for the benefit of the Rangers.

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Tony it’s not just the board to blame ,they are part of it after all they brought Brendan back but surely with our elite manager and much higher class expensive players we should be walking this league.

  • Frank Connelly says:

    I recall a previous block when you discussed the scouting and use of analytics or whatever its called and drew comparisons with the crap attempt Sevco were introducing on the cheap based on our model. I took the view form your block that ours was “blue chip” and there’s was crap.
    Am happy to c lawell snr and jnr off the premises but if our process was so good how come all the data gathered (regardless of Lawell Jnr interference) has produced nothing of quality
    On a separate point another block claims Abada walked straight up the tunnel when hooked last night. Did anybody witness this?

  • Blair says:

    Brilliant piece all very true and correct many many fans supporters have been saying same thing since early part of this century
    We must find a way to change this crazy policy it’s no way to run our club

  • Thomas M Daley says:

    More and more you can see Lawell finger prints all over a simmering pot.
    No longer is he good for Crltic Football club

  • Rab says:

    Not to forget the miserly figure we offered to bring John Mc Ginn to the club. Another quarter of a million we would have had him.
    Rodgers said the board have to be braver. Are they afraid to spend a lot on a player incase he turns out to be a Tore Flop. Nothing is guaranteed but we have to take the occasional risk. I loved your comments here. Explains a lot of where we are as a club.
    Big Rab.

  • Tony M says:

    While our spend might be low compared to what we used to pay in inflation-adjusted terms we’re still getting terrible value for money. Any one on our first team earns more than the entire squads of teams like Hearts, Hibs, Killie, all of whom we’re lost to this season. Celtic are a HUGE club that with a half-decent team would pack in 60,000 every week. Compare that to the likes of Girona or Villareal who get gates in the high teens, have low TV income (RM and Barca hog most of it) yet can be right at the top of La Liga and in the case of Villareal compete at latter stages of the CL. Meanwhile we can’t even get into the group stage of the Europa League.

    It’s not about how much is spent it’s about HOW it is spend. And we’re making a real dog’s dinner of it.

  • Michael McCartney says:

    Aye and 4 of our 5 defenders, after Johnston got carried off, were probably the only players + Idah who got pass marks last night and Bernabei was the odd man out. Our wingers were so ordinary that I was wishing James Forrest was on the bench.
    That not meant as an insult to Jamesie but just saying that Forrest in the twilight of his career would have been more dangerous to Hibs than the 4 who were on the park over the 90 mins last night.

  • Michael Clark says:

    That is some frightening stats and from a Celtic supporter’s prosprective, this makes for grim reading. Knowing this is a problem from the top down, you realise this is going back to the good old days.

  • Effarr says:

    I don`t think you need 4 or 5 million pound players to take a decent corner, free kick, score from them or defend them, far less score from a penalty. As for defending: you just need to look at any team in Scotland with a group
    of players who can`t get a game anywhere else to see whether defending is as difficult as Celtic makes it out to be.
    They panic, even, at long throws and can`t even take a short throw themselves. That is where the managers and coaches (just what does John Kennedy do?) have to take the blame. As for the “Academy”: Ragged School is a better term. I just hope if they are not going to win the league this year it will soon be short and quick. That would take the sting out of another helicopter Sunday.

    • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

      Agreed Errarr ! – I’m still bloody traumatised by 2005 and just as bad 2003…

      Horrific years indeed (in the league anyway) !

  • Andy says:

    You say we spent 6 million on Sutton and hartson. You talk about roughly the same for lennon. 3 million for some others. The fact is at that time it’s all relevant to the transfers paid at that time. Sutton and hartson were top class English premier league players. Scored lots of goals at that level. They would be worth 5 times that now maybe more. Even 3.5 million players back then we thought should be the finished article. The whole thing has changed so much that yes when we pay 3 million for a player it’s a gamble because they will not be the finished article cos us getting players like Sutton hartson lennon Thompson and others are long gone. Even the odd big signing like Robbie Keane is well out our reach. It’s so hard for me to say but I’m afraid we’re not in that league anymore. The players we want to make us better are out of our reach. If matt oreilly is worth 25 million how can we replace like for like

  • Jim Duffy says:

    Got to agree Effar,we are comedy at defending set pieces ,free kicks ,corners ,yet we can never seem to score from any of the aforementioned situations,who’s that down to ,I’ll tell you Kennedy Strachan and all our hopeless coaches ,trainers.

    • Clara says:

      The truth of the matter is we have stood still as a Club financially and in some years went backwards, that’s the real issue.
      Look at 2008 and 2009 where we turned over 72 million, adjusting for inflation that’s equivalent of just over 120 million today, we struck it lucky in getting 25 million for Jota last season but in a normal season we wouldn’t get anywhere near 120 million.
      Like a lot of businesses we cut costs in wages, outgoings etc to make a profit.
      If we bought ready made players for 6 + million they would be looking for a competitive wage and that plus transfer wages especially in a season where we didn’t make the CL would destroy us as a Club, we are not well run business we’re a football corner shop.

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