Celtic's £20m budget and the quest for Champions League credibility
This season, Celtic enter the Champions League group stage automatically for the first time in 13 years and with it, gain the associated financial benefits of guaranteed European revenue.
It’s a luxury the club have had to operate without in recent years, operating speculatively when it comes to transfers so as not to be left short should the club fail to make the group stage of Europe’s premier European competition, as has been the case each year since Brendan Rodgers second season in 2017-18.
As such, the club have spent significantly, and much earlier than fans are accustomed to, recruiting Cameron Carter-Vickers, Alexandro Bernabei, and Jota, all for significant fees before the full squad returned for pre-season.
As reported by Kieran Devlin for The Athletic, the Celtic top brass see £20m as a guideline budget of transfer spending for a single summer, a figure that the club have eaten into substantially already. Although it’s not a hard cap and the club could still shell out for the right player, with the existing outlay, there’s potential that Celtic won’t make another significant purchase this summer, with Postecoglou himself re-affirming the need for a “robust” squad.
There’s remains a pretty salient argument that the club are yet to directly improve on their starting eleven from last season. The squad has doubtlessly seen significant improvement, making an injury crisis like last December’s unlikely to reoccur, but of the summer recruits, only Bernabei to looks to have the potential to unseat one of last year’s title heroes, with the obvious caveat that even that would most likely be a gradual process.
A club in Celtic’s position should always be looking to come out of each summer transfer window stronger than they entered it, not merely by bulking the numbers or by pulling the squad’s floor up but by pushing the starting eleven’s ceiling along with it, too, particularly with guaranteed Champions League football.
The Champions League is a huge draw for signings, and Celtic should absolutely use their natural advantages of basically guaranteed European participation as a way to sell the dream to sought-after stars. However, there’s a danger of over-promising and being left with agitated players after repeated failed European campaigns that neither reach the biggest stage nor go far enough in the Europa League to justify the drop-down.
Whilst the club should be wary of this, it should never be an excuse to not attempt to push the boat out on players who are good enough to raise the entire level of the team – inadequate preparation in recruitment is a pretty consistent theme of Celtic sides who exited European competition early.
Not resting on laurels
Last season’s January window was very much a case of plugging the gaps from the summer recruitment, that had left Celtic an estimated £9m in the black in transfer fees following the sales of Kristoffer Ajer, Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie, in addition to the £12m netted from Jeremie Frimpong’s sale to Bayer Leverkusen the previous winter.
The signings of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, and Yosuke Ideguchi were evidently planned out over a number of weeks prior to the window opening, as Postecoglou raided the best available talent from his old stomping ground in Japan.
Matt O’Riley was a more opportunistic signing following the breakdown of Riley McGree’s proposed transfer, but he too turned out to be an essential purchase in the charge to the title with both David Turnbull and Tom Rogic missing for crucial games after the winter break.
It was the club’s most immediately successful series of January transfers in recent memory, but it remained one that largely amended the errors of the previous window, rather than one anticipating the next, which is fine in a one-off instance, but should not be allowed to become habitual.
For too many recent seasons, Celtic have rested on their laurels in these summer windows, investing too late or investing the correct overall outlays on multiple lower valued players, rather than spending confidently and decisively on proven, if more expensive talent.
There’s undoubtedly a balance to be struck, and sustainability should be the priority above all else, but the Celtic board should not be afraid to speculate to accumulate when it comes to participation in Europe’s biggest club competition, especially with the luxury of not having to run the qualification gauntlet.