How any transfer dealings put Celtic at PR risk this month - it may be unfair for club

By Euan Davidson

January 14, 2021

Celtic are constantly linked with new players. From young stars to experienced campaigners, there’s always speculation and gossip.

Most recently, names like Filip Benkovic, Mark McKenzie and Alfie Doughty have been linked to Celtic. Fees of as much as £5m have been mooted for new players, with the Bhoys languishing far behind our city rivals in the Premiership. Neil Lennon’s side were also out of Europe and the Betfred Cup by the Hogmanay bells rang for 2021.

According to Transfermarkt, Celtic’s combined 20/21 spending has totalled £11.43m. Yet, the Bhoys are far, far worse than they were only last season.

It’s clear the club need reinforcements. They’ll come at a cost, regardless of whether players arrive permanently or on loan. That much is obvious.

However, today’s news regarding the furloughing of academy players puts any transfer activity in a different light. Celtic might be on the cusp of another PR disaster.

"Carl Starfelt to Celtic is a big possibility" | Swedish journalist Anel Avdić

Today, a family member of an academy player told the Daily Mail:

“People are struggling to understand why Celtic would go to Dubai during a pandemic and squander all that money on warm-weather training and then put young boys earning a fraction of the sum of the first-team players on the government scheme.

“That doesn’t seem right.”

Celtic fans protest at Celtic Park / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic risk another PR disaster, no matter what they do

Let’s get this out the way: the Dubai debacle is the preface to everything here. No matter what the Bhoys do next, it’ll be in the shadow of that expensive, ill-advised trip.

The club have already apologised, to little effect. In doing so, Peter Lawwell claimed that the club followed every protocol, and that the club’s moral’s remain as they were. We’ve debated that already.

If Celtic spend money in the January transfer window, there will be many asking how ethical it was to put the academy players on the furlough scheme. The academy talents are on minuscule wages compared to first-team players, and it seems unlikely that the Dubai trip couldn’t have covered the U-18s earnings for at least a few months.

Were the Bhoys to spend £5m on Taiwo Awoniyi, for example, what kind of light would it put the club in? Can a football club use state mechanics to pay wages, but also spend millions on footballing talent?

Celtic have already stretched the patience of the Scottish Government. Taking on the ire of Westminster and its furlough scheme is the last thing the club needs at this stage.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon and CEO Peter Lawwell / (Photo by Gary Hutchison / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Overblown? Why criticism may be unfair

The thing is, though, Celtic pay plenty of tax, as shown by the club’s Stock Exchange announcement. Therefore, as a corporation, the tax they pay entitles Celtic to state benefits where appropriate.

The club’s effects on the Scottish economy are extremely impressive (BBC), so surely the club can have its cake and eat it, too? Why then, should any Celtic transfer activity be looked upon as morally dubious?

We only need to look south of the river Clyde to see a club spending considerable amounts on players while owing money to the HMRC. That’s an incredibly well-trodden point, though.

Certainly, Celtic offer a great deal to the national coffers. They’re entitled as taxpayers and economic contributors to use state benefits as they see appropriate. We can’t change that.

However, it feels more than a little distasteful. When so many of the Celtic support, like all clubs, are suffering financially. As the economy continues to shrink, and public services are under immense pressure.

For Celtic, it just seems like such a catastrophic PR move, especially as the first big Scottish club to take the measure.

That’s why adding to the squad, at a cost of millions of pounds, could be seen as another Public Relations nightmare. When we’re using state apparatus, critics will rightly point to the furlough decision when the club tweets out a “Welcome to Celtic” post.

Yet, on the pitch, the club aren’t performing, and freshness is needed. It’s a headache for both club and supporters, whose money has been pumped into ventures they don’t approve of, namely Dubai.

Celtic must be careful where they tread, here. Although you might say we’ve past breaking point in the board-fans relationship, regardless.