Desmond Kane

Celtic deprived of right to realise true potential by club’s birthplace

Desmond Kane

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Too rich for Scotland, too poor for Europe. It is the age-old problem Celtic must try to solve.

But how do you address a dilemma that is not of your making?

Neil Lennon's side galloped to the Scottish Premiership title on Wednesday night with a 5-1 walloping of Partick Thistle at Firhill.

It was the Glasgow club's third straight championship gong amid an overall total of 45. With seven games of the season remaining, they have scored a whopping 79 goals for the concession of only 15. The prospect of hitting 100 for the season looms large on the horizon.

This is all well and good, but where does it leave you in the bigger picture? Not very far is the answer. Not when you are faced with the annual prospect of losing your better players to bigger leagues bloated by obscene amounts of television revenue.

Celtic unearthed a 2-1 win over Barcelona some 16 months ago on their way to reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. They were subsequently bundled out by Juventus over two legs, but their form through qualifying and in the group stage was sufficient enough for Premier League concerns in England to come calling.

Southampton handed over £12 million for the Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama while Norwich purchased forward Gary Hooper for around £5 million.

If ever there was a seismic shifting of global football's plates, it could be earmarked by those transfers. No disrespect to Southampton or Norwich, but these are vastly smaller clubs than Celtic. But crucially not poorer. Money talks, and its discourse continues to discourage and damage clubs like Celtic, who cannot hold on to their best players for any length of time.

Professionals in the modern era are quite likely to be content to move to double their respective salaries in a loftier league. Leaving a bigger club does not come into it. It is all about money as Wanyama and Hooper would probably concede in their quieter moments.

Unless you are Lionel Messi, the era of the badge kisser is dead. And Messi only kisses the Barca badge because he is well paid for doing so.

Talk of enhancing a squad can only be viewed as a one-season project for coaches like the Celtic manager Lennon. To think longer than this would be foolhardy in the extreme. Celtic are at the mercy of market forces. And the market they play in is not big enough for them. It has not been for a long time.

To be 26 points ahead of second-placed Aberdeen with seven league games remaining is quite frankly a nonsense, but the Irish forward Anthony Stokes was correct yesterday went he commented that Celtic can "only beat what is in front us".

The administration, liquidation and demotion of traditional city rivals Rangers to the nether regions of the domestic game in 2012 has turned the Scottish Premiership into not so much a one-horse race, but more a man dismounting before walking a horse around a course. While managing to trot around the jumps.

Lennon celebrates four years as Celtic manager next month. It has been a productive spell for the Northern Irishman in his first posting running a club.

He has picked up three titles in four years, but his prospects of landing a Premier League position are disadvantaged because critics view the Scottish Premiership as one of the least competitive leagues in the world. Perhaps he should console himself with the knowledge that the average lifespan of a manager in England's elite league is a solitary year. There is a lot to be said for job security.

A better analysis of Celtic's true value can be discovered by studying their output in the Champions League earlier this season. In six matches, they scored only three goals. Only Steaua Bucharest and Real Sociedad managed less among the 32 entrants.

Only Steaua, Basel, Marseille, Austria Vienna and Copenhagen managed fewer shots on target than Celtic's 34 over six outings. They won one match against Ajax, and lost the other five. Including two to Barcelona which is hardly shameful. In Scotland, they have lost one league match - to Aberdeen a few weeks ago - in 31.

Due to successive qualifications for the Champions League group stage, Celtic are financially fit. Their latest figures showed profits of £21.5 million.

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But if there was a need to remember where Celtic play their football it came from across Glasgow on Thursday, with the Rangers chairman David Somers suggesting that any projected boycott by fans and withholding of season ticket money could see administration darken the door of Ibrox once more.

Rangers remain a season away from the Scottish Premiership. They bled £3.5 million in the six months to December 31, 2013 to illustrate that investing money in a football club can be comparable to throwing money on a bonfire.

The haggard confines of Scottish football are not easy in which to operate, but the business in Scotland is not yet a boondoggle. There remains an appetite for the national game as demonstrated by Aberdeen's ability to carry 45,000 to Celtic Park among a crowd of 53,000 who watched their League Cup win over Inverness.

Aberdeen have become a disadvantaged, domestic side since the era when Sir Alex Ferguson led them to European Cup Winners' Cup success against Real Madrid in 1983. But the Dons never had 45,000 salivating over them back then.

The Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has been busy reaffirming the fact that Celtic do not need to sell their most exuberant performers. But that does not mean they won't sell. If an English club comes calling this summer with a couple of £10 million bids for the England goalkeeper Fraser Forster and the Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, Celtic are unlikely to dissuade their pursuit.

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Can Celtic find a route out of Scotland to play in England? Well, there has been two South Wales derbies between Cardiff and Swansea in the Premier League this season. It is explained away because of history. This does not make any sense.

If Welsh clubs are allowed to play in England, Scottish clubs should be allowed to play in England. In the name of fair competition, Celtic's move to play more games outwith the Scottish Premiership - whether they be in England or in an extended European League - seems to be a longer-term solution worth hankering after.

UEFA has shown it is open to the idea of change by introducing the Nations League at international level. It must strive to protect clubs from smaller associations who have been left at a mighty disadvantage because of how football has evolved. Having a ground like Celtic Park that holds 60,000 and winning the European Cup in the Sixties is from another era of the world game.

Regular Champions League participants from less fashionable league such as Ajax Amsterdam, Benfica, Porto, Anderlecht and Olympiakos would concur.

It is ironic that Celtic's Irish heritage causes consternation among some members of the public in Scotland. Yet it is their very Scottishness, the club's proud birthplace in Glasgow, that continues to hold them back from fulfilling their true potential.

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