The Curious Case of Leicester City FC

…and what the rest of the Premiership can learn from them

by Johnny Connelly

Mahrez Vardy.jpg

Just weeks after miraculously avoiding the drop from the English Premiership, the footballing world snorted with derision as Leicester City appointed Claudio Ranieri as Nigel Pearson’s successor. Fresh off the back of presiding over the Greek national side’s worst qualifying campaign in modern football history, Ranieri took the reins, as armchair fans across the country united in their view that the Foxes would once again have a fight on their hands to avoid the drop.

Fast forward five months, and football fans have been left agog, as Ranieri is performing miracles. Leicester City are now the only side in Premiership history to be bottom of the league one Christmas, and top the next.

The man Jose Mourinho considered to be a “loser” at Chelsea (who’s the loser now Jose?) has continued to defy the odds this season, avoiding defeat in all but one fixture, having beaten Everton, Chelsea, Newcastle, Watford, and Crystal Palace to name but a few.

With the 2nd lowest wage bill in the league, Ranieri’s men sit at the summit of the table, but what is the Italian doing that’s so different to the rest of the pack?

To lift the lid on this, we must look as far back as Ranieri’s first few weeks at the club. After a positive string of results, the Serie A journeyman was asked about what he’s done to bring about the change in fortunes. His response was: “I’ve tried to change as little as possible.”

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Put simply, Ranieri is riding the crest of a wave. The players and everyone at the club were on a high from the relegation battle triumph at the end of last season, so why rock the boat? There was harmony amongst the squad. With a consistent tactical approach and a bit of belief, he knew that success wouldn’t be far away.

Leicester’s fairly rigid 4-4-2 formation is something of a novelty now in the Premiership. Are the top clubs overcomplicating things? Underlapping fullbacks, False nines, trequartistas and gegenpressing are popular among the football hipster community; but is there more value in a simple formation, with clear instructions, complimented with a peppering of talent in the final third?

Some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in recent times can’t seem to get it right. Prior to his sacking, Mourinho tried everything at Chelsea: Playing without a recognised striker, playing a centre-half at right back, and even switching to 3 at the back. With every change he made, things got worse.

The revolving door at Manchester United has caused unrest there too. In just a few seasons they’ve switched from a well defined tactical approach via Sir Alex Ferguson, to a transitional

phase (which was given no time or support to bed in under Davie Moyes), and now onto a tedious possession-based game under Louis Van Gaal. How can any reasonable amount of success be expected here when there’s no consistency at the club? Van Gaal has spent over £250m in the summer, but still has players like Depay and Mata drifting in and out of the team, while the back four is currently made up of unknown entities such as Phil Jones, Paddy McNair, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Liverpool too continue to toil, despite the introduction of the ‘saviour’, Jurgen Klopp. The German has an infectious personality and is well liked in the game, but it’s clear the complex system he’s deploying will not work with the current squad of players. I suspect he’ll prevail in the long run (if given time), but a high pressing game with well-worn midfielders like James Milner and a striker as cumbersome as Christian Benteke just will not work. If the players can’t fit the system; devise a system that fits the players.

Leicester City’s simple tactical approach allows for two or three players to play a more expansive role. Enter Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. While the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United are suppressing creativity from players like Oscar, Hazard, Mata and Depay; Leicester are giving Vardy and Mahrez a free rein creatively, with dogged support across the field from the rest of the team. The results have been outstanding.

Vardy has smashed Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premiership scoring record, and Mahrez continues to drive through defences like a hot knife through butter. Other players in the side with less creative ability like Fuchs and Huth are given simple orders to follow in the game. The correct application of 90% durability and 10% creativity fused together is what’s given the Foxes a winning mentality.

Their approach to the 3-2 victory against Everton, and the 2-1 win over Chelsea illustrate this perfectly. On paper, Everton and Chelsea are stronger than Leicester, without question. The difference is that the Leicester side have clear defined roles, and the players know who they need to turn to for a moment of creative brilliance. Who do Chelsea turn to? Diego Costa has been in and out the side. Cesc Fabregas is sitting deep. Hazard’s confidence has taken a bashing. Then there’s Loic Remy, Ramadel Falcao, Oscar, Willian, Ramires, Matic and Pedro. How can a team who doesn’t even know who’ll be in the match day squad possibly have any collective creative reasoning on how they’ll win a football match? Very much a case of too many cooks, and a few too many egos.

Some people will point to the ever increasing pot of TV money which is giving the mid to bottom Premiership teams a bit of pulling power in the transfer market, but considering Leicester’s top two players cost a little over £2m in total, I hardly think we can point at financial muscle as any kind of indicator for success.

The real defining success for Leicester City this season has been their dismissal of the Champions League team glass ceiling. Ranieri has installed a real feel good factor. Where once Leicester would have parked the bus at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the City of Manchester Stadium, and Anfield; they’re now having a go.

I firmly believe that this approach will inspire other sides to do likewise. Why go down without a fight when you can take the bull by the horns and potentially win the match?

Will Leicester City go on to win the Premiership? I certainly hope so, but if we’re being brutally honest, they have yet to climb the steepest part of the mountain. If Vardy and Mahrez stay at the club, and stay fit, the Foxes have a sporting chance. The whole country wants to see the league being turned on its head. Never before has one club received such overwhelming support from all corners of the UK. This in itself is a bigger success than Leicester could have hoped for. They’ve single handedly burst the repetitive bubble of the same handful of clubs challenging while the rest look on as spectators. For that reason alone, regardless of their final league position, this season is already a success for Leicester City.

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Why Celtic must take the money for Wanyama…

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.

Victor Wanyama celebrates against Barcelona
Wan the man – Victor bested Barca

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.

We Fade to Gray

How the powers that be are strangling the life from Scottish Football

By guest blogger, ‘Kes Devaal’

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Rugby fans enjoy a beer
What’s the problem? Ok at rugby; but not at football…

España 82’. What a wonderful time to be introduced to the beautiful game. I remember as a child being overcome with excitement as the colour and noise of this wonderful event had me glued to the screen. The pizzazz of Platini, Rossi, Zico & Socrates laid out in front of me for the first time, a real splendorous feast of football, whetting my footballing appetite for life.

Fast forward 24 years, and this time I had the pleasure of getting to savour the flavour for myself with a few mates at The 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. Amidst all the excitement and drama of what unfolded that summer, what really left an indelible mark on me was the coming together of thousands of fans from countries all across the globe embracing the occasion in the correct spirit & obviously over a cold Schofferhofer or two.

The fact that this was able to happen in a safe, family-friendly arena without an intense Police presence exponentially added to the wonderful carnival experience. It’s with this sentiment that I ponder over the possibility of ‘The Impossible Dream’ making it to our country – i.e. getting to watch the game I love in a Scottish stadium packed with men, women & children, with an optional cold beer in hand.

Having listened to Les Gray, The former head of The Scottish Police Federation on Monday’s edition of ‘Scotland Tonight’ it’s clear that long arm of the law still harbours doubts that the Scottish Football fans’ social behaviour has evolved since The Hampden riot of 1980. Going by this absurd logic, we might as well deter people from visiting Germany for a city break since we were at war with them 74 years ago.

Gray of course is no stranger to explosive diatribe. In fact his spurious blurb following the Lennon v McCoist touchline handbags following the March 2011 Old Firm match was central to the kneejerk legislation passed by First Minister Alex Salmond. The ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill’ was intended to address anti-social behaviour at football, but now only serves to choke the very spirit of our domestic game. Innocent football fans have, and continue to be treated with mistrust as a consequence of a lazy narrative shoehorned by The Scottish Government and police, fulfilling criteria that generates nothing more than additional paperwork to file.

Worryingly for thousands of ordinary punters like me who strive to see the Scottish game flourish on the park, Mr Gray thinks your average Scottish Football fan cannot be trusted with alcohol whereas our friends who follow the oval ball can. We aspire to experience a modern sporting day out at the football, comparable in value and pleasantness to that of a day at the races, golf, or rugby. The fact that those in authority see fit to prohibit any progress on this front is nothing short of a slur on the working class. I thought that kind of approach of contempt for the working class punter was supposed to have died in November 1990, when the late Margaret Thatcher was dislodged from No.10.

To compound matters, you can attend virtually any sport in Scotland and be permitted to consume alcohol. Should you have the luxury of disposable income then you can enjoy a beer at the football, but only in the Corporate/Hospitality areas. Again this promotes a dangerous class divide, a false notion that only affluent wealthy classes can be trusted with alcohol.

Sir David Murray embarked on an egotistical spending crusade at Rangers to outdo Celtic’s 9 in a row and achieve European Cup success. He did so by being economical with the rules of the game and spending money that wasn’t there. The cost of failure was the very existence of Rangers Football Club when they were liquidated in 2012. The cost to the Scottish game was that our member clubs had to gamble with finances to compete with Rangers, and we now find ourselves in a very precarious financial reality. With this in mind, the Scottish game now, more than any other time, needs to do two things to sustain a bright future. On the park we need to get back to the model that served us well: Operating within our means and investing in youth. To be fair to most SPL clubs, the penny has at last dropped and they are embracing this policy. The second component, which is equally critical, is that we need to look after the paying public and give them a match day experience that compels them to return. The introduction of controlled, responsible drinking I believe would go a long way to making the paying customer feel as if they are being catered for. As they do across all Premiership stadia, SPL clubs would control responsible drinking largely with stewards, which is a straightforward process, and one that causes little or no trouble south of the border.

Championing the cause, Peter Lawell will most likely need to call upon the services of a Johnnie Cochran style lawyer with supreme powers of persuasion to stand any chance of altering the opinions of the powers that be in this country. As the finances of the game in Scotland continue to dwindle, as does the time we have to right this wrong. The dream of having an all-encompassing football infrastructure that allows the likes of alcohol to be sold within the grounds is in no way an unrealistic target, but now is the time to act if we’re ever to make the change.

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How Not to Run a Football Club – Lessons Scottish Football can learn from Chelsea, Man City & QPR

By Johnny Connelly

These days it seems to be something of a rare occasion when the farcical nature of the beautiful game supersedes that of our own football north of the border. But this, my friends, is one of those times.

The seemingly never-ending chronicles of the Rangers tax-case appear to be finally put to bed, Celtic are just 1 win away from reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, Hearts live on to fight another day, our ‘dysfunctional’ & widely discredited league format is expected to change, and the national side have parted company with their most unenthusiastic and least successful manager in history. Yup, things are looking up in Scotland.

Many more significant successes could be thrown in too, such as Craig Brown transforming Aberdeen, and Terry Butcher working wonders within the constraints of crippling financial resources. But let’s take this moment to poke fun at the complete and utter shambles that some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in the ‘best league in the world’ have embroiled themselves in.

We all know, and we’ve known for some time, that the unsustainable nature of spending south of the border puts football institutions that have existed for well over 100 years in danger. Danger they wouldn’t have faced otherwise.  It’s abundantly clear that Premiership clubs have two primary income sources. The first is the comically over-inflated TV deals from Sky; and the second is the cash in hand payouts from the band of billionaires who’ve taken over these clubs to fill their egotistical void for an elaborate human, emotional, and living plaything.

The second of these income sources currently is what sets the clubs apart in terms of silverware (by in large, as a rule of thumb). The clubs with the biggest money men have had the advantage when competing for honours in recent years, but what a hollow existence for a football fan. To watch your team, strewn with passionate journeymen, battling bravely against relegation one second; to then be catapulted towards competing for the title and signing the most expensive players in the world, just as soon as the money man sees fit to turn on his magic money-tap.

Both of these income streams are not secure. What happens when Sky get bored of the big money payouts? When they don’t feel the product they’re being given is worthy of the hefty price they’re paying? Or when they themselves come across financial difficulty in years to come thanks to the ever-developing world of digital entertainment?

The money man issue is less secure still. At least Sky & EPSN’s involvement is based on a tangible Return on Investment. Like a spoiled child that knows they can get anything they want, a time will inevitably come when boredom sets in. The brat will want a new toy, and the deluded football fans will be left pondering how on earth their beloved team will ever clear debts of hundreds of millions of pounds, and pay the remainder of their top stars’ £120k per week contract.

It genuinely baffles me how most Premiership football fans feel any connection at all with the product their team is putting out for them to support on a Saturday. This week has been a classic example for them.

Look at Chelsea. By hook or by crook, Roberto Di Matteo led them to win the Champions League. They weren’t the best team in Europe; they weren’t even the best team in England. But he did it, and he did it with camaraderie and a likeability factor – something that hasn’t been seen at Stamford Bridge since the days of Gianluca Vialli or Claudio Ranieri’s tenure.

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Di Matteo – Good, but not good enough

Roman Abramovic arrived and transformed a middle of the road, semi-likeable club into a glory-hunting, unmitigated machine of imperialistic endeavour. Chelsea started spending Abramovic’s millions, signing players who’d never have touched the club with a bargepole previously, and accepting nothing less than 100% success. Mourinho came and went, followed by Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ray Wilkins, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, and of course, Roberto Di Matteo. Now, the club have taken on another big name manager, Rafa Benitez. They’ll spend yet more money chasing the impossible dreams of a disengaged Russian billionaire, he’ll fail, and then the cycle will continue all over again. What a horrible existence for a football fan to endure, regardless of the standard of the product on the pitch.

Man City are finding themselves being pulled down the same road of despair. Without going into too much detail, the current owner, billionaire Sheik Mansour, propelled a club that typically finished between 10th-16th in the Premiership, into a club that signs players for in excess of £30m, and pays players like Toure around £250k per week!  It’s almost unbelievable, yet it’s what is being put to the average football fan as ‘the way the game is headed’. People forget that Mark Hughes was ousted in bizarre and immoral circumstances as City manager. Now, after the owner has spent over £1bn on the club, it’s Hughes’ successor, the once untouchable Roberto Mancini who is hanging by a thread. Mancini to his credit delivered City’s first ever Premiership title; but has floundered in Europe, and now looks as though he could go the way of the Dodo, (or as we mentioned above, the Roberto).

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Hanging by a thread – Mancini could be next for the chop

QPR too parted company with their manager this week, and again it was Mark Hughes who was the victim. Hughes was correctly sacked after failing to secure a Premiership win 4 months into the campaign, but the nature of his departure was despicable. Hughes was sacked, and his successor named all the space of 24-hours. What a cold and pre-meditated way to run a business, especially a football club. But before anyone begins to feel a modicum of sympathy for Hughes, let us remember that his appointment at Loftus Road to replace Neil Warnock was conducted in a similarly horrible manner.  When ‘loveable’ cockney rouge and purveyor of many a brown envelope bung deal, ‘Arry Redknapp’s phone rang about the QPR job, he must have been elated. How this man hasn’t been convicted for his abundantly clear dodgy dealings is beyond me, but for him to be appointed another Premiership job with a fortune to spend on players in January is almost laughable.

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Sacked – Mark Hughes was shown the door after no wins in 4 months

Surely nobody has forgotten that this man drove Portsmouth to the brink of obliteration? But has everyone forgotten his failure at Southampton? The man took over Saints on December 8th  2004, picking up just 12 points from 16 games. He relegated the club without a whimper, finishing bottom of the English Premier League. Watch this space for yet more comical spending and ‘unproven’ allegations of irregular financial conduct this season on ‘Arry’s watch. Of the 3 aforementioned exorbitantly spending clubs, QPR concerns me the most, as it’s the one that would stand the least chance of survival if and when the money men catch the next train out of town.

The irony is, stability at these clubs isn’t an impossibility. The correct application of corporate branding, developing your own talent, living within your means, and having a clever man pulling the strings is all that’s required to succeed on all fronts in England.

Look at Manchester United. Despite the challenges of having to battle against these big spenders, being taken over by the Glazers, and the huge changes in the game over the last 20 years, Fergie has ensured that his team are successful.

Sir Alex has outlasted 5 British Prime Ministers, 5 American Presidents, 10 Liverpool managers, 18 Chelsea managers, and 19 Man City managers, while picking up 37 trophies  along the way.

To hark back briefly to Chelsea as a comparison, during the Abramovic era, the London club spent more money (approx £90m) hiring and firing mangers, than Man Utd have spent on players (Net transfer spend). Everton too show themselves to have a successful model. Davie Moyes receives plaudits year on year, not least for his current team that plays exciting and endearing football. The Merseyside club’s attention to financial detail is in stark contrast to that of Chelsea, having spent less money on players in their entire Premiership existence, than the European champs have spent hiring and firing gaffers in the last 8 years. Wenger’s Arsenal are another great example of how it can be done, but the pressure is certainly mounting on the Frenchman to adopt the seemingly trendy, reckless approach to spending.  I hope for the Gunners’ sake, they keep their faith in the Arsene’s approach.

We could analyse the dichotomy between the spending styles until the cows come home, but as I initially stated, it’s clear that the Chelsea, Man City and QPR approach isn’t a morally objective one, and leaves those clubs with a finite lifespan.

North of the border, we’ve suffered in silence. Never really having the power to compete for their players (with the exception of the O’Neill years at Celtic, and the Advocaat years at Rangers) in modern times, but we’re certainly on the right track. Whether they like it or not, Rangers have been forced to start from scratch, and they’ll do anything to avoid a repeat of the strategy that led to the club being liquidated. In the coming years, they’ll adopt the same approach as Celtic, which is proving as successful as could be hoped for. Don’t count on TV money, as it could disappear tomorrow. Count on a good scouting and youth system that allows you to sell players on for exponentially more than it cost to acquire/produce them. Count on a clever global and European marketing strategy to expand your brand and tap into new revenue streams. And finally, focus on keeping the product entertaining for the fans. If the fans can buy into what your club is trying to achieve, then a prosperous future is secured.

At this point in time, Scotland has an exciting league setup. Every team in the top flight is taking points off everyone else. The honours are very much up for grabs, and the relegation battle will likely go to the wire. This, together with the ongoing work to restructure the league to be more commercially viable, Celtic’s impressive form against Europe’s elite, and the opportunity to appoint a new Scotland manager with fresh ideas, puts Scottish football in a very good position indeed.

So let the English media poke fun at the SPL and the national side if they wish. We’ve identified the problems and are working to fix them. All this, while our friends on the other side of the border sit blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb that is their current league setup; as they pompously preach about the ‘best league in the world’, truly believing theirs is an infallible football industry. How wrong they are.

How would the Old Firm fare in the English Premier League?

by Johnny Connelly

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How would this look South of the border?

For as long as Celtic and Rangers have held their seemingly relentless stranglehold on Scottish football, fans both north and south of the border have speculated as to how the Glasgow giants would handle themselves against the top clubs in the English Premiership. The Old Firm over the past decade to 15 years or so have regularly met with English opposition in European competition. These battles of Britain have rarely led to the Glasgow clubs taking a real heavy defeat, which does indicate that they can rough it up with the best, but how would the Old Firm do if English opposition was on the fixture list on a weekly basis?

The truth is we can only speculate, as there is little we can do to identify any kind of common denominator to allow a clear, direct comparison.

The first, well documented factor that puts the respective leagues at polar opposites in terms of stature is TV and prize money. Celtic or Rangers can expect a paltry £2.7m for winning the SPL title this year, while the teams who’ll suffer the cruel fate of relegation from England’s elite division can be comforted by a ‘parachute payment’ of £48m over 4 years. The same disparate revenue totals are echoed when it comes to TV money. The Old Firm will pick up a reasonable few million pounds per year for their troubles in the SPL; but some of the top English clubs are raking in up to £4.3m per televised game!

This almost embarrassing difference allows teams who’re far smaller in stature than Celtic or Rangers to make significant inroads in the transfer market. I’m sure all readers would unanimously agree that the Old Firm dwarf clubs like Bolton, Fulham, Aston Villa or Stoke to name but a few – but just look at the money these ‘wee English teams’ can throw at players.

  • Bolton sign David N’Gog for £4.5m
  • Fulham sign Bryan Ruiz for £12m
  • Aston Villa sign Charles N’Zogbia for £10.8m
  • Stoke City sign Peter Crouch for £11.3m

The Old Firm, and Scottish clubs in general can only dream of these budgets. The truth of this hits home when you see Dundee United, one of Scotland’s biggest clubs, bid a miserly £25,000 for Hamilton’s Dougie Imrie, without the means to increase their bid to capture the player’s signature.

Another prime example is the once legendary Fernando Torres. Chelsea splashed an exorbitant £50m on their misfiring striker; a fee that if levied to Rangers in the ongoing HMRC tax case could be enough to force the club into liquidation (hypothetically speaking of course).

I firmly believe that if given the lavish financial buoyancy aids that come along with the Premiership, the Old Firm would be a force to be reckoned with, but again, it’s just a speculative thought in the seemingly infinite cyberspace cosmos that is the football forums of Twitter, Facebook and social media in general.

So, an alternative means of comparison is necessary. An altogether more simplistic one. The crystal clear comparison created by the monitoring of clubs’ ability to put bums on seats.

In Scotland, England, and across Europe as a whole, for decades upon decades, the clubs with the highest attendance figures tend to celebrate more domestic success than those with smaller crowds. This direct correlation is not relative to circumstance, and does stand up to our cross border comparison.

Celtic and Rangers, despite the shocking state of Scottish football, are still pulling in crowds at a remarkable rate, so much so that the average gates would currently put Celtic and Rangers 3rd and 4th in the English Premier League table in this respect.

Team

Average Attendance

Stadium Capactiy

% full

Man Utd

74,864

75,769

98.8%

Arsenal

59,927

60,361

99.3%

Celtic

49,462

60,832

81.3%

Rangers

45,943

51,082

89.9%

Man City

45,513

47,805

95.2%

Newcastle

43,388

52,339

82.9%

Liverpool

42,864

45,276

94.7%

Chelsea

41,439

42,449

97.6%

Sunderland

40,355

48,707

82.9%

Aston Villa

38,573

42,783

90.2%

Everton

36,725

40,157

91.5%

Tottenham

35,794

36,230

98.8%

Wolves

28,366

29,303

96.8%

Stoke

27,162

27,500

98.8%

Norwich

26,515

27,033

98.1%

Blackburn

25,428

31,154

81.6%

Fulham

23,909

25,478

93.8%

West Brom

22,199

26,500

83.8%

Bolton

21,881

28,101

77.9%

Swansea

19,822

20,532

96.5%

Wigan

18,006

25,133

71.6%

QPR

17,024

18,360

92.7%

However, the statistics also bare out that Celtic and Rangers would see a significant rise in attendance figures if they ever did play in the Premiership. Looking at the SPL as a whole, on average, a whopping 43.6% of seats are empty. This figure is heavily skewed by the smaller clubs in the league; if we judge it purely on matches at Celtic Park and Ibrox, the empty seats figure shrinks to just 14.4%.

The story in the Premiership is somewhat different as you’d expect. Across the board in the EPL, you’ll find just 8.8% of seats are empty. If we assume that by playing in the Premiership, the Old Firm saw a similar level of ticket uptake (conservatively estimating the aforementioned calculated 5.6% increase between the leagues) the approximate average attendance at Celtic Park would jump to 52,232 with fixtures at Ibrox being 48,007. These figures put the Glasgow clubs even further afield of the likes of Manchester City, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Chelsea; but still considerably short of Manchester United and Arsenal at the summit of the Premiership. Surely it’s more than just a coincidence that those clubs with the highest attendance figures are the clubs who, buy in large, are fighting it out for the illustrious crown that is the English Premier League title?

Supposing entry was ever granted to the Premiership, Celtic and Rangers would be given an equal share of the over inflated TV money, putting them on an even financial playing field with the rest of the teams. This would make the Glasgow clubs a much more viable option for the top players in Europe and beyond, as the Old Firm could engage in an evenly matched bidding war with any of the other English Premiership club, with the added draw of the huge crowds, legendary atmosphere, adoring fans, and largely incomparable history.

The international brand identity and marketable commodity that Celtic and Rangers possess perhaps may not be as grand in scale as Manchester United or Liverpool currently; but it dwarfs the bottom 10 clubs in the Premiership, and is at least on a par with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Spurs, and Arsenal in my opinion.

Given the opportunity to compete in what’s billed as ‘the greatest league in the world’ by many, would see the Glasgow clubs (after a few years of bedding in) replicate the attendance table positions in the actual league standings.

The Old Firm have everything that a global footballing giant would need, except the financial galvanising that a league like the Premiership offers. The remarkable history and the passion of the adoring fans who turn out in phenomenal numbers, together with the abundant budgets that come as part of the EPL, would almost certainly see Celtic and Rangers challenge for honours with the very best England has to offer.

Sadly though, it’s not as simple and as straightforward as this. Now, and for the foreseeable future, Sky television hold all the cards in this stagnant game of poker. As the Scottish game continues to dwindle and the English game reaches financial saturation, we can but hope that those who call the shots at the television companies come to realise that the royal flush they’re in search of, lies north of the border in the heart of Glasgow.

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