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Peter Lawwell admits Rangers' absence from top-flight has left Celtic with a £10m black hole

PETER LAWWELL last night admitted for the first time that Celtic are being forced into selling players to make up for a £10 million black hole caused by the annual absence of Rangers from the top flight of Scottish football.

Peter Lawwell mounted a robust defence of Celtic's financial dealings in the aftermath of the club's Champions League exit
Peter Lawwell mounted a robust defence of Celtic's financial dealings in the aftermath of the club's Champions League exit

The Ibrox club, still attempting to stabilise themselves after administration and liquidation, are currently in their third season outwith the top division, with no guarantees of an immediate return next year. While Celtic have offset such losses with enough Champions League revenue to build up a modest cash reserve, Lawwell also concedes they must compensate for the annual shortfall through player transfers.

"When Rangers went down we took £100 off the season tickets," Lawwell said. "So that is £4m for two years. The Rangers games, that is at least another £3m. The fact there is a perception among our supporters that there is no competition and you are going to win anyway, and you don't go to the game, so it could be £10m. We could have lost £10m a year, quite easily, on the back of Rangers going down."

The Celtic chief executive has been the target of supporter criticism following the second leg Champions League qualifying defeat to Maribor at Celtic Park on Tuesday night, but it was typical of him that he should mount such a spirited defence of the club's operation in the shrinking Scottish marketplace. This relies heavily on John Park's recruitment arm to locate young talents at bargain prices then sell them on for greater sums.

The multi-million mark-up on Victor Wanyama is arguably their greatest single piece of business, and further profits - however reluctantly - may yet be gleaned before tomorrow night's transfer deadline by the sale of Virgil van Dijk to either Sunderland or Newcastle.

However, criticism continues to linger over the lack of Scottish signings. Leigh Griffiths, a £750,000 recruit from Wolves in January, is the only senior Scottish player the club have signed in the last three seasons.

"We'd love to have Scottish players," said Lawwell. "It's not like we are fascinated with going foreign all the time. But our guys don't think they are good enough. Stevie May, Johnny Russell...these guys aren't in the Scotland team. Then Callum McGregor comes along and he is in the Scotland team."

He added: "It is difficult to plan with the uncertainties, the risk.We don't think we are God's gift, we don't think the strategy is flawless."

While admitting the club have failed to adequately replace Gary Hooper - the incoming Stefan Scepovic may do so, albeit a couple of weeks too late - Lawwell remains convinced his club's strategy is the most sensible way in which to navigate these Rangers-less, times.

Yet while he rails against the club's inability to compete with Barclays Premier League or even Championship salaries without breaking his own wage structure, he cannot run away from the fact that the likes of Legia Warsaw and Maribor themselves are unable to compete financially with Celtic.

Rather than any systemic problem, Lawwell puts that down to plain old transition in the manager's office.

Neil Lennon, Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill all experienced identical traumas in early-season Champions League qualifying ties and lived to tell the tale. "It happened to Gordon, 5-0 against Artmedia Bratislava," said Lawwell.

"It happened to Neil Lennon, with Utrecht, Braga and Sion, and it happened to Martin against Basel and we never threw the towel in. It is transition. In big clubs, it takes time."

It has been a whirlwind 10 weeks for Ronny Deila so far, but the Norwegian will get the time he demands to put his stamp on things. as he now surveys a season in the Europa League, matches which pit the club against Dinamo Zagreb, FC Salzburg and FC Astra of Romania. "We played Astra with Stromsgodset in January and beat them 1-0 with youngsters, but they were a good team," he said.

First, though, comes the challenge of Paul Hartley's Dundee at Dens Park this lunchtime. Deila will name a full-strength team and is desperate to avoid a repeat of last week's humbling at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium. "We're going to go into that game with everything we have," said the Norwegian. "We're not going to do the same thing as we did against Inverness. We'll see how good Dundee is, we're going to attack them to try to win the game."

If Van Dijk leaves in the next 24 hours, it will be against the will of the club, who feel they could maximise their money by keeping him for another season.

There may be at least one other arrival, most likely a loan deal for a Premier League defender deemed surplus to his club's 25-man squad, while young players are likely to leave the club on loan for experience, as are the likes of Amido Balde who are too far out of the first team picture.

One area in which the chief executive is prepared to indulge his coach is over the creation of a full-size under-cover pitch at Lennoxtown.

"It is a big thing for the manager. We can't buy the best, we have to create it," said Lawwell. "So any facility which allows us to create better players then of course we will look at it."

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