Celtic looking to the Champions League to fill a Rangers-shaped hole

With the absence of their Glasgow rivals from the SPL having a negative effect on their income, qualifying for the group stages has become even more important for Neil Lennon's side

The glamour is the least of it. Celtic will certainly revel in a return to the Champions League group stage after a four-year absence if, as expected, they polish off the qualifier with Helsingborg on Wednesday. Neil Lennon's side, though, will be doing more than just amassing some prestige from a tie in which the away leg was won 2-0.

The relegation of Rangers to the Third Division of the Scottish Football League will have cut income. Although Sky do not comment on the present value of the five-year deal it is being suggested that the sum paid out has dipped from around £16m a season to £13m. There is sure to be a further impact on the Scottish Premier League since the Rangers away support now travels to a different set of grounds.

At such a moment, it is wise to remember once again that the term "Old Firm" is a scornful reminder that the clubs are business partners as much as rivals. The relationship has been as lucrative as it is claustrophobic and the Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell might pine for absent Rangers, even if it would be impossible for him to say so in public.

The damage can be offset to a degree. Celtic are not without assets and their name is resonant enough for them to be paid an estimated £1m for taking part in a friendly with Real Madrid staged in Philadelphia earlier this month. Nonetheless, there are anxieties.

Back in the 2000s, Celtic had a lineup that included John Hartson, Chris Sutton and Neil Lennon. That trio cost around £18m in total and while Henrik Larsson was bought for £650,000, his impact was so great that the personal terms must have been gratifying. He stayed with the club for seven years.

That sort of outlay was not sustainable even then. After Celtic had overcome Liverpool at Anfield and gone on to the Uefa Cup final in 2003, where they lost to Porto, the then chairman Brian Quinn had to break bad news to his manager Martin O'Neill. Celtic were in the red that season.

The club has a natural craving to be in a more lucrative environment. There is, however, no likelihood of, say, the Premier League being provocative enough to break the structure of domestic football in Europe by extending an invitation to Celtic. The television revenue is already vast without them. Other notions crop up. Celtic were, for instance, attracted to the concept of an Atlantic League that would bind together clubs who all faced similar difficulties.

It was intended that sides from Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark would take part in it. Those close to the discussions understood that Lennart Johansson, the then president of Uefa, might not be implacably opposed to the scheme. The principal trouble was that no country pursued the initiative with complete commitment. A club that was doing well, for instance, would lose interest in the project. The Portuguese were said to be the first to do so.

Back in Scotland, Celtic have tried to achieve new status by other means. All sizeable clubs scout globally, but the Scottish champions have to do so with particular intensity. For them, the case of Ki Sung-yueng is a textbook example. He cost Celtic £2m and has recently joined Swansea for around £5m.

The South Korea midfielder has talent and learned how to make better use of it during his time in Glasgow. He may well suit Michael Laudrup, but the truth is that Ki was not regarded as being critical to Celtic's plans. The anguish would have been far greater, for instance, if Lennon had parted with Victor Wanyama, an imposing Kenyan midfielder who came from Germinal Beerschot for £1m.

Currently, Celtic can feel that they are getting the maximum from the side. The economics dictate that a devastating and established striker would be unaffordable, but the teenager Tony Watt has been showing a ruthless streak. He was bought from Airdrie United for an initial payment of £80,000 and scored twice in his first start for Celtic, a 4-2 win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The club is enjoying a little spell of encouragement. While Celtic lack the money to buy the best footballers or even the established players, their approach is effective at present. Lennon has to make the best of his men and Georgios Samaras, who is no predator, often makes his contribution with surging runs from centre to left that often drag opponents away to open up space in the middle.

Kris Commons, who came from Derby County for £300,000, took the opener against Helsingborg in Sweden. If the visitors are brushed aside Celtic will step into the well-stocked bank vault that is the Champions League.

comments powered by Disqus