Celtic make inroads by finding right markets
When Celtic lifted the European Cup in 1967, all but one of their 15-man squad had been born within 10 miles of the club’s home ground. Forty-five years on, another famous and indelible mark was etched in Celtic’s history by a distinctly more cosmopolitan group of players.
Not that nationality will matter one iota to the Celtic support, who will rightly hail the heroes who defeated Barcelona on Champions League business on Wednesday night, but only one of the starting XI, Charlie Mulgrew, was Scottish-born.
Albeit player values have been warped by the ability to move under freedom of contract, a glance at Celtic’s successful line-up in comparison to their Catalan opponents paints a striking picture. It also endorses just how impressive Celtic’s shock victory, and general performance, actually was. Earlier in this campaign, Celtic had held their own in the Camp Nou and scored three times in victory at Spartak Moscow.
Five of the starting Celtic team – Adam Matthews, Kelvin Wilson, Mulgrew, Mikael Lustig and Joe Ledley – moved to Glasgow under freedom of contract. One, Miku, is a loan signing. Fraser Forster, Efe Ambrose, Kris Commons, Victor Wanyama and Georgios Samaras did command transfer fees but that figure, in total, is no more than €7.5 million. Tony Watt, an 18-year-old who stepped from the bench to score Celtic’s crucial second goal, cost €63,000 from Airdrie United.
Paltry figures, in other words, compared to the vast sums which are now thrown around by the clubs who prominently feature year on year in the Champions League. No Celtic player earns more than €1.9 million a year as a basic wage, Barcelona’s average annual salary is reported to be about €6.3 million.
Celtic’s ability to perform with distinction at Champions League level highlights how successfully they have recruited young players from far afield. John Park, Celtic’s football development manager, is the man credited with sourcing the clutch of players who could now be sold on for considerable profit. During Park’s time at Hibernian, the club produced and sold a number of exciting young players.
Wanyama is Celtic’s case in point, a 21-year-old midfielder who cost just €1.1 million from Beerschot in Belgium. Amid interest from top English clubs, Celtic’s manager Neil Lennon spoke of Wanyama being valued at €30 million. The Kenyan’s display against Barcelona offered food for thought to those who scoffed at Lennon’s words.
Wanyama is an example of the specific markets Celtic have targeted: those with affordable young players whom bigger clubs may be reluctant to take a chance on; other smaller leagues, essentially, which offer potentially hidden gems.
The full back, Emilio Izaguirre, arrived from Honduran football for €750,000 after Celtic launched a specific scouting focus on the 2010 World Cup. Beram Kayal signed from Maccabi Haifa and Ki Sung-yueng, who was subsequently sold to Swansea City for three times the €2.5 million Celtic paid for him, joined from FC Seoul. Commons, at just €375,000, represents one of Celtic’s best value for money purchases of recent times.
For Lennon there has been an epic turnaround. Last October, Celtic found themselves 3-0 down within 45 minutes at Kilmarnock with their manager, by his own subsequent admission, wondering how to compose his resignation letter. Lennon’s team recovered to claim a draw that day, won the championship and are now making positive inroads in Europe. For the manager, whose own talent may well have been understated in the past, that is an achievement worthy of wide recognition.