Lawwell And Nicholson Talk About Celtic Being “World Class” But Neither Can Deliver It.

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It was just one answer amongst many, but when Michael Nicholson told the supporters gathered at last week’s fan forum that Celtic aimed to be world class in every sense, it revealed once again the gap between what these people allegedly want for us and what they are able to deliver. He went on to claim that our ambitions and goals are the same.

They very well might be, although I see little evidence to back that up. But it raises another question and it’s this; do these people even have the capacity for delivering such a sweeping vision? Let me be clear; I am not downplaying their skills or their abilities in their own fields. But we know that every footballer cannot be Ronaldinho, and we know every lawyer cannot rise to the greatness of Marcus Tullius Cicero, not every chief executive can be a Steve Jobs visionary.

Last week was the budget, and Jeremy Hunt went on the radio afterwards to defend his terrible record and that of this rancid Westminster government. The Today show presenter Amol Rajan asked him if he thought his measures were enough to rescue an economy which has been virtually brought to its knees. And you know what Hunt said to him? “I think the overall characterisation that you’ve just given of the British economy is unworthy of the BBC.”

Hunt, Nicholson and Lawwell have a lot in common. They seem to believe that saying something brings it into being. In Hunt’s case he seems to think that if he bangs on enough about “British values” and “British spirit” and “British can-do” that you can move the needle somehow, that the economic situation would be a lot better off. If we focussed on the good things about it … err … which are … whatever they are … we would get somewhere.

The same applies to Nicholson and Lawwell. They seem to believe, or they seem to want us to believe, that saying enough times that we strive to be world class will somehow bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

Ask them for evidence that a coherent plan to get there exists, as Harry Brady of the Celtic Underground did at that meeting, and you get the evasions and misdirection of people who don’t have a strategy worth the paper it’s not printed on.

In psychology, this is called Magical Thinking; “when a person believes that specific words, thoughts, emotions, or rituals can influence the external world.” That’s how our country is run right now. That’s how Celtic appears to be run too.

Some of us have a different set of words for it; contemptuous and insane. I don’t believe these people do really think they can pull this off. So, all they’re doing is feeding their audiences a lot of flannel, to keep people off their backs whilst they continue to run things in the slapdash way they are doing right now. The idea that the Tories actually have a plan for Britain is absurd. The idea that these Celtic directors can advance our club is equally ridiculous.

Since it was a budget week, I recalled a story about Gordon Brown which always makes me laugh; during the early years of the Labour Government, they responded to cost-of-living concerns by putting pensions up by 75p. One old timer was so incensed by the paltry nature of the rise that she sent Brown a cheque for the money. Imagine her surprise when she checked her bank account to find out that it had actually been cashed.

That’s the sort of thing our club would do. That’s how tin-eared and oblivious they can behave; how distant and aloof they often seem. That’s the level of their disrespect for the fans and our genuine concerns. If our club had a strategic overview people would not need to ask for it. They would broadcast it from the rooftops the way the other clubs Harry Brady asked about do; they would have a section of the club site devoted to the plan and fans would be able to follow its progress the whole way. We have nothing like that. And there’s a good reason why.

Nobody knows how it would be delivered. And that’s the critical factor here. You can make promises of moonbeams all you want, but without a coherent strategy mapping out how you intend to get to where you want to go, all you’re doing is wasting time. Articulating an ambition is not the same as being able to realise it, and not everyone is capable of that.

We can be honest about this stuff and admit that. The crusty old men on our board are long since past the stage where they are going to come up with something radical that dramatically improves our standing. That’s not their fault. Nicholson is a lawyer by training, elevated to running a multi-million-pound business, something for which I suspect he is grossly underqualified. He certainly possesses none of the skills a modern CEO is expected to bring to the table.

We have exactly one person on the board who has ever shown entrepreneurial flair; Desmond himself, and he worked in markets he already knew and understood. He built his business out of knowledge of his particular field and a contacts book which is on an elite level. It’s impressive. Anyone who accumulates his kind of wealth is. But to call him a creative mind would be to abuse the term. It’s been a long time since he thought outside the box.

And this is a radically different skill-set from anything he possesses. Even in terms of just increasing our revenues and our marketability, these people are all out of ideas which is why we alternate between booze and betting sponsorship at a time when those are being steadily washed out of the game, as should have happened years ago.

Selling Celtic, the brand, and increasing its visibility, in a world where the superclubs have captured enormous market shares is difficult. But it’s not impossible. A top-class marketing team could accomplish much. A top tier creative team could accomplish even more.

Take our “efforts” to crack Asia. That was a long-term proposition that needed real work and real thought, and not something to be consigned to history the moment the manager left.

How do we know that it has been? Well, we are certainly not going to hit the jackpot signing an untested midfielder from the Korean second tier; that’s not showing ambition or intent as much as it’s going through the motions.

When Ange decided to bring in Asian players, taking full advantage of that required that the club possess the marketing know-how to get the maximum value from that boon, and what we didn’t possess ourselves we could have outsourced to some company over there which understands the marketplace and how best to operate in it.

There was no coherent, all-enveloping marketing plan to take advantage of it, just something hastily cobbled together in the aftermath; a Japanese language Twitter feed. Wow. Innovative. And actually, it’s better than nothing. But nobody should mistake it for a fully integrated strategy, and nobody in that field will, because it’s not one.

Look at the mess we made over Cho Gue-sung. We could have signed him for a couple of million pounds and developed him into a top first team player after the 2022 World Cup. We haggled over the price, and eventually spent £2.5 million on Oh. That’s a mere £300,000 less than what Danish club Midtjylland paid for Gue-sung in July.

What did we get for our money? A player who is now third choice at the club behind an off-form Kyogo and a striker on loan from Norwich who couldn’t get into their first team. Gue-sung has nine goals for his team already. Oh has 12 for us in two seasons.

But even more than that the Danes have very obviously got a better and more complete player is that the signing of that boy would have been a marketing bonanza. His social media following is actually ridiculous. His profile over in Asia is huge. Combined with the origin story of Celtic and a close title race in which he’d be playing a starring role … there’s your money back and then some. A transfer that quite literally would have paid for itself.

There is no synergy here, and that’s just part of why we’re stuck in the mud.

Scottish football needs reform. Where’s the plan from Celtic?

Even if there was one, where is the strategy for presenting it?

Because that’s how you get things done, that’s how you move the needle. You put together a strategy, you write an executive summary of the goals and you release that to the media as something for discussion and debate, and to see who else is on board with it. You make your senior executives available for a round of press interviews, you set out the reasons you’re doing it and what you hope it achieves … and then you wait for the response.

If you come forward with something workable, you will get positive reactions. The media may try to turn it into something more, but you stay on message, you keep to your basic points and you build your coalition. Even if that endeavour fails, other clubs have to go back to their fans and justify their lack of support for it, and that’ll be remembered, especially when it comes to refereeing, the next time they come to Glasgow and “can’t get a decision.”

And sooner or later, someone else will propose a plan along the same lines. You may not get the credit, but you’ll get the changes and people won’t forget that you started the debate in the first place. We won’t let them forget it.

The signing strategy is flawed. You don’t even need the last two windows to see it. You only need to look at the lack of value that was in the Celtic team when Ange Postecoglou took over; Edouard, Ajer and Christie were, other than McGregor, our only high value assets and the first three were headed out the door in the same transfer window.

Every player of value in the current squad was signed by Ange Postecoglou in a single campaign, and he did it by working independently of Celtic’s in-house team. He also had full control. When he wanted a physical, penalty box striker he told the club his requirements and they brought in a player who fit that bill. No Ange signing was made just for the sake of it.

Look at his triumphant January window, and even better example of what happens when someone is following a well thought out plan.

The two midfielders who were instrumental in winning us the title were actually signed more with the following season in mind because Bitton and Rogic were going to go; there was deep thinking behind every move, planning ahead, our club was several moves in front of the game.

And we rolled that plan back the minute Lawwell & Sons were in charge of the policy. Lunacy. Utter lunacy. And the brief Lawwell Junior was allegedly working to is clearly more about finding “value” players than about strengthening the squad … with the results you see right now; Rodgers, who isn’t interested in spending four years working with a handful of projects and who wants to drive Celtic forward in the here and now won’t entertain most of them.

That’s how you get a head of recruitment leaving his role after less than 24 months in the job. But that’s what happens when you hire the son of the former CEO and now chairman instead of casting the net wide and bringing in the right person in the first place. If we’d gone out and hired the very best person with the remit of actually helping the manager put a winning team on the park, we’d be streets ahead of where we are in the present moment.

Nothing we do fits into an over-arching strategy because nothing synchronises with anything else we’re doing. When you have the very public spectacle of a recruitment department working at cross purposes to the manager – one of the most fundamental and basic partnerships at any club and critical to its proper functioning – you can only imagine what gaps exist between departments at other levels of the operation.

There is evidence of it everywhere we are able to look, such as in relation to our on-going set piece issue, which is clearly a result of major problems in the coaching setup which a blind man could see need to be put right. It’s there in the number of injuries we get to crucial players. It’s there, if you want to take a simple example, in shiny kiosks which sell juice at huge markups out of plastic 2 litre bottles as part of “the match day experience.”

Amateurish. Cheap. Poorly thought through. Characteristics of decline. Certainly not things that exemplify the ethos of being “world class in every department”, and the more you look at it all the more you are forced to conclude that those are just empty words, that it’s not a real goal because nobody who articulates it believes it’s a realistic one and that doesn’t make them bad people, just mediocre operators when what we need is the real thing.

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  • Fiorentino Ferri says:

    A reasonable argument cogently delivered; which would be measurably more objective if ad hominem comments had been omitted.

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, it’s time you stopped using semi-colons when you should be using colons.

    More power to your elbow.

  • Bob (original) says:

    “World class”…? Pure beemer that quote! 🙂

    In recent years, our Board has gradually started to morph

    into a copy of the SFA Board:

    non-communicative, disconnected from the paying punters, tone-deaf, etc.

    And putting ‘progress in Europe’ firmly to one side,

    the development of the business – and our genuine, global brand – have been

    underwhelming to say the least.

    Our club’s ‘leadership’ style is parochial, risk averse – with a suffocating groupthink

    inhibiting the club’s ability to exploit its true potential?

  • Roonsa says:

    The concept that had Celtic as a World class operation had a single point of failure. Sevco.
    If we couldn’t keep them at arms length then the World class perception would be a laughing stock.

    That’s the World we live in. We either reign supreme in our own wee pond or we don’t (and are perceived as a joke as a result). And if you can’t win in Scotland with all the advantages that Celtic have then the people who force that World Class view on others have failed. As such, they have to let someone else have a go at it.

    We all know that’s not going to happen so we’re forced to endure this pish until it is retrieved or we lose the plot and the board have no option but to call it a day. I don’t fancy the prospect of either. Even if we do pull it back from the brink, we face more years of the bean counters running our club for their own ends. If the other scenario comes into play then we (and George Square) must face the music. Shudder.

  • john mc guire says:

    is this the same people on the board who had a vision about building a hotel next to the next to Celtic park and even having a landing strip so teams from Europe could jet right into the hotel play there game and jet back out again Wow now we have disco lights and a big porta- cabin as the super store and the ticket offices ,,,,,, dream on they are worst than the paw-grabbers .

  • Michael McCartney says:

    Complacency, mismanagement and arrogance are the three words that spring to mind when I think of the Celtic Board, the 4th word I could add is Amateurism.
    We all laughed over the years at the Ibrox mob, but now we’ve opened the door to the jackpot for them. They gambled the rent money whilst we sat admiring our bank book.
    There team is full of seasoned physically strong journeymen with a class goalkeeper, whilst we’ve got apprentices with a touch of class here and there and very little physicality.
    Unless even by by some miracle the team can turn things around this season, there will still have to be changes to the way we operate at every level of the club. Will this happen? I would hope so, but haven’t much confidence in this Present board instigating positive change.

  • Mick says:

    Prime example is Dominic McKay, hired him and fired him for scaring the Bayjaysus out of the crusty grey board when he articulated his ideas, basically; they shat themselves.

    They’ve gotten way too comfortable in their positions, time for change is here.

    Great read thanks for the articles.

  • Wesley Dick says:

    It’s been going on for years no strategy or forward planning just hoping to finish the season above Rangers & bank the champions league money in the process finding themselves further behind at european level; it’s embarassing really.

    • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

      They cannot be hoping to finish the season just above ‘Rangers’ Wesley…

      ‘Rangers’ kicked the bucket and died (c.2012) !

  • Sid says:

    Bravo James! Both should be gone in the summer. If not we’re on a long road to nowhere. Really glad you’re asking the relevant questions now not leaving it until its badly affecting next season too. The doomsday scenario to me is the title race is close until we eventually lose it and we sneak into cup final before losing with season tickets bought and no time for significant change resulting in us falling even further. The scary part is we can fall further and the bit that angers me most is, some of us actually could see it coming and predicted it.

  • Dan says:

    I totally agree with the boards flaws, their main one is not having Celtic in an uncatchable situation in Scottish football, we should be miles ahead of the rest.
    However, It is totally Rodgers fault that we struggle to look a top six side with the players we do have. Today was bad again, but play that Rodgers style and that will always happen.

  • Magua says:

    Brilliant piece, James. To be fair, the PLC members are world-class in one respect…stealing a wage.

    Hail Hail.

  • James McAllister says:

    Totally agree that board needs to be overhauled especially lawell

  • KC67 says:

    “world class in every department”, Was Lawwell in the next room doubled up pissing himself laughing when Nicholson cracked that one. Sadly there are folk among us that believe every word that the sock puppet spouted. They are insulting our intelligence, it’s as simple as that.

    The Celtic support need to think long and hard before giving these lazy clowns their money.

    The only world class thing about the board is how they gaslight the fans. The club is simply being run for Desmond and Lawwells benefit. As I’ve said before Desmond will dump us like radio active waste if he can make a profit on his shares. He is not a Celtic man, only a money man. Meanwhile the rest of us have to suffer while the club stagnated and regresses to the point that a 12 year old club looks likely to win a treble. Don’t give them your money.


  • harold shand says:

    Sitting with smiles on their faces like in that picture counting their big fat bonuses

    Whilst Celtic fans see the team sheet like today for a Qtr Final at home to Livi and are filled with dread

    f*cking shameful

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    World Class ! – Aye at hoarding fcukin millions upon millions of cash…

    World Class ! – Aye at reincarnation of a beloved ‘O#D F#RM arms race and with it Scotland being The Laughing Stock Of World Football…

    World Class ! – Aye at being HATED by their ain folks (maybe they’d prefer if I said ‘peepil’ )…

    World Class ! – Aye Lord Lucan-Nicholson… I’ll crack the jokes – And April Fools day is still 22 days away d’ya know !!!!

  • SSMPM says:

    There’s not another thing they could say that could possibly rip the piss out of the support any more. What an embarrassing shower of shite we have running our club. HH

  • Bob (original) says:

    Meant to add:

    “World class” ?

    Let’s start with trying to get the club operating to

    somewhere remotely near “European class” first?!


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