Celtic are a club with a rich tradition of footballing success, but whose recent years have been undercut by financial restraint. The SPFL Champions have been the great underdogs of European football in recent times, consistently achieving more than they realistically should and maintaining their lofty reputation.
But the future is bleak for the club. Scottish football continues to be dwarfed year on year by its near neighbours and without that financial support the hope of competing against the best in Europe fast becomes the stuff of fantasy.
It therefore seems apt that the man to push forward a solution is the same person that saved the club from bankruptcy 20 years ago this week. Fergus McCann, the Scottish-Canadian entrepreneur, revealed that his last remaining dream for the club he loves is to see them merge with England into a redesigned English Premier League. He warned fans that it is ‘impossible’ to attract the best players without escaping a Scottish league set-up with ‘too many small clubs’ to generate serious cash. The club generated a revenue of £75.8m last year on the back of their run to the Champions League knock-out stages, a figure that still only compares with the likes of Norwich and Fulham in the Premier League. Celtic can surely do a lot better, and with supporters clamouring for success this is surely an enticing option?
McCann thinks so; and he believes market forces will inevitably dictate the move for Celtic to cross the border and become part of the English League:
“I think it could and should happen. It would triple the size of the club in financial terms, overnight.”
Explaining the necessity behind Celtic finding a way to escape the confines of a small domestic market, McCann added:
‘”The EPL now dwarfs Scottish football financially and makes Celtic’s progress a daunting challenge. Nowadays, supporters want the best, and that is impossible in Scotland generally, with too many small clubs. This is obvious. It is a real achievement for Celtic to play in the Champions League group stage. In the last two years they represented the smallest country.”
This will invariably be a notion that polarises opinion within the club, and one that is likely to be far from an easy decision when it comes down to it. Celtic wouldn’t lose their Scottish base but their relationship with the Scottish League is one that for many should cherished rather than abandoned.
McCann would see this as his ideal legacy; by pushing through the move he could guarantee a sustainable future for the club he adores.
Celtic are accused of lacking ambition, by selling their best players and bringing in cut-price also-rans there remains little hope for the club to continue its involvement in top-level European Football. For Lawwell though the situation is precarious, having to balance the books without the revenue streams of his continental rivals. It is worth remembering the fact that Celtic aren’t immune from the perils of financial collapse, and Lawwell’s prudence is what has been holding the club together of late. Selling the likes of Wanyama and Ledley without an adequate replacement may seem like an aberration, but for Celtic at the minute it is a necessary reality.
So how would McCann’s dream change all this?
To say that the move would treble Celtic’s revenue overnight isn’t an overstatement. Premier League prize money, TV deals and the potential for a new wealth of sponsors could transform Celtic’s fortunes and make them seriously competitive once again. This is without mentioning the power of Celtic as a brand, a club that has the international fan base to rival even the biggest Premier League clubs.
Whether the cost of success is too much to bear is another issue. Celtic’s heritage is built upon Scottish league football and for some a move would be almost inconceivable. The animosity falls both ways with English fans wary of the Scottish Champions moving across the border; it is fair to say the path forward will be a difficult one.
For Celtic though change is a must. The current trajectory is towards further decline and without drastic changes we are unlikely to see much of a change from the current worrying trend.
Will this be a case of having to swallow their pride for Celtic?