By Johnny Connelly
It’s that time of year again when the transfer rumour mill goes into over-drive. Every prized asset from clubs all over Scotland will be touted for a move to a new potential suitor; some, as in Victor Wanyama’s case, will even be linked with clubs in the self-proclaimed, ‘best league in the world’, the English Premier League.
Wanyama is a wonderfully talented player. He’s composed, pacey, ferocious in the tackle, competent in the air, can pass well under pressure, and has even been known to knock-in the odd wondergoal, but if the reported bids of £10-£12m are true, then Celtic would be mad to hold on to him.
Let’s face it, it’s been the plan all along. The scouts spotted a promising young Kenyan playing for Beerschot AC in Belgium, and the club proceeded to snap him up for a paltry fee of £900,000 with a view to developing him for a couple of seasons, and selling him on for a huge profit. Whichever way you look at it, a potential £12m return on a £900,000 signing is a fantastic piece of business (if it goes ahead of course).
The dangers of rejecting this type of offer are crystal clear. You need only look as far as Emilio Izaguirre to see how quickly a white-hot gem of a player can descend back into mediocrity, taking his alleged £10m-ish price-tag with him. Celtic have to strike while the iron’s hot, behaving like a clever stock broker, buying cheap and selling high. The likelihood is that SPL clubs will never (at least in the foreseeable future) be able to command a transfer fee that exceeds £12m. There’s a glass ceiling in terms of value in the SPL, and Wanyama has hit it.
Players devalue quickly; this is one of the game’s most fickle qualities. As well as current Celts like the aforementioned Izaguirre, I remember the summer of 2001, when a certain Bobby Petta was tearing up defences and skipping past wingers for fun. The Parkhead faithful must have thought they had a world-beater on their hands when Petta, with his accomplice Didier Agathe, produced a phenomenal performance against Dutch giants Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena during a Champions League Qualifier. Petta found the net that night, and continued on to wreak havoc for full-backs who could only look on as the majestic winger left them for dead. At the peak of his powers, Petta’s opposite number Fernando Ricksen, was taken off just 20 mins into an Old Firm Derby where Celtic went on to famously win 6-2. Petta even secured a call-up to the Holland squad, and caught the attention of Paris St Germain. A £3m bid ensued, which Celtic of course rejected. With the gift of hindsight, this proved to be a foolish move. Petta’s form dipped, and the cult hero spent much of his remaining few years at Celtic Park on the sidelines, blighted by injury.
Not to suggest that Wanyama isn’t a better player than Bobby Petta, but if Celtic could turn the clock back and take the £3m, there’s not a supporter in the world that’d have stood against it. This, although admittedly an extreme example, could very well happen to Wanyama too.
Yes he’s a fantastic player, but when the grand history of Celtic Football Club comes to be written, I’m sure there’ll be few who’d regard the big Kenyan as indispensable. Neil Lennon seems to be well steeped in the club’s buying and selling policy. He’s been around the club for a while, both as a player and manager; long enough to have learned when to sell on for maximum profit. Since Petta, when have Celtic got it wrong? When have they hung on to a player too long?
Stan Petrov went to Aston Villa for £8m, Aiden McGeady to Spartak Moscow for £9m, and Ki Sung-Yueng to Swansea for £6m. These players were all wonderfully gifted, but they went at the right time, and many would argue that Celtic got the best years out of them.
When a top player leaves, the club always becomes stronger in their absence. When Celtic defeated Barcelona at Celtic Park last season, nobody was thinking that the team missed a McGeady, Ki, or Petrov. Wanyama will be no different, despite his talents and commendable attitude.
The plan was to sell on Wanyama, right from the start. The dream scenario is always to unearth a gem on the cheap, develop the player, enjoy their talents for a few seasons, then sell on for an exponentially larger sum than they paid to acquire the player’s services.
There’s no debating the logic. Celtic can’t generate large profits solely from winning competitions in Scotland. Champions League TV money and selling on young players, while operating within a strict wage budget is the only sustainable business model for the club. The likes of Gary Hooper, Emilio Izaguirre, Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley and Fraser Forster were signed with the same long-term goal in mind, although not everyone would admit it.
The plan doesn’t always work out, but if 1 in 3 players develops into a potential £10m transfer, then the scouts at the club will have successfully completed their task, and the club can reinvest in youth to start the process all over again, while achieving domestic success, competing in Europe, and most importantly, exciting the fans along the way.