It has been a common question over the past few years, fuelled by the work of Bolton chairman Phil Gartside. Yet the current poor European performances from both must surely raise questions over the health of the two giants of Scottish football.
In the past decade, both Celtic and Rangers have competed in a major European final. Although in the end they were thwarted by the likes of Jose Mourinho and Andrei Arshavin, this was an achievement few English clubs outside “the Big Four” have achieved. With such impressive performances surely the two clubs could compete in the Premier League?
Despite this recent success the two clubs are struggling for form this season, with Hibernian placing a genuine challenge in the SPL. Many fans feel that this is the weakest Celtic team that they have seen in a decade, struggling to score, conceding at an alarming rate and failing to put away smaller clubs convincingly. It is much the same at Rangers, despite the goal-scoring exploits of Kris Boyd. Their home performances in this season’s Champions League were abject.
So why have the two teams tailed off in recent seasons? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that both teams’ finances have been managed poorly. The television deals in Scotland bare little comparison to the money in England and other major continental leagues. How can they compete in the Champions League when they have to buy from the Championship and minor European leagues?
The recent transfer of Gary Caldwell further emphasises the problem, with Celtic forced to sell after not being able to meet the players wage demands. Yet Wigan, a club with a far smaller fan base is easily able to fund the deal. Both Old Firm giants are surely set to lose more players in this January transfer window as the lure of cash is irresistible for both the players and the respective boards.
So what can be done about the issue? Not a huge amount, Gartside’s plans to include the Old Firm in an expanded Premier League, and access to its riches, have been dismissed and there seems little chance of a move down South. Instead the clubs must accept that they have to compete on a shoe string and ensure financial sustainability is a priority. They need to develop and maintain excellent youth systems, nurturing new talent, make clever signings, hope for improved television deals and rely on the fans to make the big European nights equally special and daunting for the opposition. A successful national side would also support the teams’ ambitions.
Some observers believe the finances in English football are unrealistic and doomed to failure and the Old Firm must not go the way of Portsmouth in pursuit of extra success. As a Celtic fan it is hard to accept such a gloomy outcome, yet with some astute business and some luck I still believe Celtic can be competitive on the largest scale. As for the hypothetical Premier League question? I feel that the current squads could survive in their first season and with the added finances, within 3 seasons there would be a ‘big 6’ competing for the league title. I am an optimist after all!
Written By Ewan Nisbet