Peter Lawwell insisted Celtic's prudence has allowed them to cope with Scottish football's economic downturn as losses of £7m for the year up to the end of June were announced yesterday.
The club's net bank debt rose to £2.77m and the £5.24m outlay on players in the 12 months to June 2012 was just over a half of the £10.29m spent in the previous year. The losses and bank debt figures in the results are already out of date, though, given the club subsequently made millions by selling Ki Sung-Yueng for £6m then qualified for the Champions League, in which they face Benfica tonight.
Lawwell said that Celtic's finances were robust despite the impact of Rangers' being in the third division. "We said months ago that we had our own strategy for particular outcomes," the chief executive said. "We are keeping to that and coping well. Our fans have re-engaged with the club. Our season-ticket sales have been fantastic. The Champions League games are sold out. So we are doing okay."
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Lawwell dismissed claims he had an undue influence on Scottish football given his new role on the SPL's Professional Game Board as well as his involvement in negotiating a new television deal. "There is a whiff of paranoia," he said. "There is nothing covert in terms of what is happening. I don't have an undue or inappropriate influence. It's been extraordinary in terms of what has happened to one of its biggest clubs. That leads to a number of dynamics and accusations or people looking to blame others."
He said Celtic and Rangers held meetings at executive level when they were both in the SPL but there was "less relevance" for that now.
In his opinion the SPL would be better served by making the entire division more commercially attractive than by redistributing the "meagre" income the clubs share at present. "There is no point in weakening Celtic, who are trying to participate in Europe and go as far as we can while putting £1.5m back into the pot [from Uefa]," he said. "We need to be innovative, radical and look at more ways to bring in money and increase the 'GDP' of the game."
Celtic could have eliminated the £2.7m net debt by selling players in January, he said, but the club opted to maintain the squad in order to win the title. "We gave ourselves a path to the Champions League so our debt level looks more manageable because of the revenue from the Champions League and a bit of player trading in the summer. We have a very good foundation, a stable basis to face challenges going forward." The club's revenue was down slightly from £52.56m to £51.34m.
Lawwell said that Celtic's established strategy was to buy younger players, develop them and sell them at profit. The club continues to lobby for changes to UK immigration laws which put British clubs at a disadvantage against those from Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands when trying to sign youth players from overseas. Celtic have suggested to the Scottish Government the country's universities be used as some form of centre of excellence so that footballers could be educated and developed here, then given contracts.
Lawwell also dismissed the issue of Juninho being paid by an Employee Benefit Trust. "In some quarters people have tried to drag us into the debate and it's nothing to do with us – it's a red herring."