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Lawwell: there is no pile of cash...every penny brought in is reinvested

"We are all sharing the pain."

 

This initial message from Peter Lawwell, Celtic's chief executive, was given in a dressing room in Lennoxtown yesterday. It was one of acceptance, of recognition that the club had sustained a serious blow on Tuesday night with dismissal from the Champions League.

However, Lawwell, in a wide-ranging interview, said investment had been made in the team and there was no "pile of cash" just sitting in a bank, admitted that mistakes had been made in the transfer market, pointed to the serious state of Scottish football and promised his long-term support to Ronny Deila, the club manager.

He addressed the protest by some fans on Tuesday by saying: "I think the accusations and the push for spend, spend, spend is just too simple, too superficial and you need to be cleverer especially in the Scottish football environment."

He insisted there had to be a "better understanding" of the financial realities surrounding Celtic and Scottish football.

"It is tough and there are real challenges. In terms of investment, our policy, our commitment is that every penny that comes into the club will be reinvested, it will go back into the club. I do not think we can be clearer than that," he said.

"There is no pile of cash sitting there that we could look at, watch, feel and touch. It doesn't exist. It is fantasy. We have a wee bit of cash reserve, which gives us stability, and we have money we can invest on the right players. We can do it at the right time and we have a track record of doing that."

He said Neil Lennon has spent more than £30m, Gordon Strachan £38m and Martin O'Neill more than £40m. "The frustration is that these facts do not get through or people do not want to listen and are not taking them in. But those are the facts. Three years ago we were being told Celtic need Rangers, disaster, Armageddon, the whole thing is going to fall apart.

"At the time I said we won't because we have a strategy that is not dependent on any other club and we are independent. That strategy is what we are doing and part of that is to bring players here and sell them to make a profit."

He addressed a range of questions and here are his answers (edited for reasons of space).

ON the financial situation

We have lost millions over the period in terms of Rangers not being here and the way Scottish football is at the moment. It is straightforward. You cannot put the club - by going reckless - into jeopardy in the long term. We do not have too look too far to see what happens. If you get away from this madness, this frenzy in the west of Scotland, we are recognised, wherever you go in Europe, as one of the best run clubs in Europe. If not the world.

ON recent history

On the pitch in the last 10, 11 years - my time, I have been here 11 years - if we win the title this year, we have won it eight times, we have been in the Champions League group stages seven times, the last-16 stage three times, and at the same time Rangers and Hearts have gone bust.

ON investment in players

It is very thin margins. We qualified last year because the ball hit the bar. It didn't hit the bar this time. We invest the money, it all goes back in. We can accept the challenge is replacing the players who leave with the same quality. That's a constant challenge - you get some right, you get some wrong. Over the piece, we've got more right than wrong. For Fraser Forster going, we've got Craig Gordon. For Kelvin Wilson, we got Virgil van Dijk. For Gary Hooper? Have we replaced him? Good question. But it's not for the want of trying or investment. That's judgment and you do get some things wrong. Every club does. We could buy a £4m, £5m or £6m player who is value. But the consequences of that are he would want the £50k to £70k a week he would get elsewhere. That screws up your wage structure when you already have great players here who would make a case [for the same]. In the context of Scottish football, a £50k-a-week player would actually be more than Aberdeen, Dundee United or any other Premiership club's wage bill by himself.

ON what he would say to a season ticket holder

Number one, a Celtic supporter supports the club through thick and thin. He is supporting a team which is the best in Scotland by a mile, a club which has ambition and which is one of the best run clubs in the world. What's the benchmark? When you compare it to every other club in Scotland, in every aspect, Celtic are miles ahead. In very difficult circumstances, we are still on the right track.

ON whether he would spend more if Rangers were challenging

Our income would have been different, yeah. Rangers going out has taken a lot of money out, not just for Celtic but out of the game. No question. With Hearts going out of the league too with Hibs that's taken money out of the game. We have a strategy, we know where we're going and we've delivered on that. We've been in the Champions League in the last two years, we've won the league by a canter in that time. Hopefully this year we'll continue in the league and strengthen the squad.

We invest when we think there is value. Selling players now, in effect, pays the bills. It keeps Celtic Park at the level it's at. It keeps us at, I think, a Champions League level. In my time very, very rarely have we said no to a manager.

Once or twice we have said no in terms of buying players. The manager buys the players. It's not me and it's not John Park.

ON the difficulties of buying the £6m player

Let's take Steven Fletcher [Sunderland] who would cost £6m to £7m and is on £37,000 a week and is 27. That is a huge investment. You would go for Fletcher if there was a deal to be done for him on loan or such like.

ON whether such players want to play in Scotland

We have had knockbacks from much lesser players than that level. If they want to come and play here there is then the difficulty of their salary. You sign them and then the consequence of that is an unhappy dressing room with unhappy players.

ON signing record of strikers

There are errors we have made and the striker is the most important position. We do our work, we do our diligence then we come to a decision. You either get it right or you get it wrong. For all the wrongs we've had [Victor] Wanyama, Ki [Sung Yueng], Hooper, Van Dijk, Adam Matthews, [Mikael] Lustig. You could go on and on. But the striker is a fair criticism. When Hooper went you would think that with what we brought in could have done better than we have done.

ON the meltdown of Rangers

The consequences of Rangers going bust and starting off in the bottom is that it has taken millions out of the game. The consequences are that every club - Celtic more than others - has lost out short-term, financially. We have bridged that gap by selling players. That's the consequence of it.

ON Rangers' continuing financial woes

I worry about the game. There is a colonisation of the game in Scotland by the English Premiership. You are beginning to see the kids now with Manchester City, Arsenal tops.

In Ireland we were strong, that was a Celtic stronghold. But we have lost that to the EPL. We played Liverpool last year in the Aviva. There were 52,000 there and we were outnumbered three to one.

On what can be done

That's for another day. It's not Rangers and Celtic. It's the game as a whole. There are huge challenges there and my frustration is that we have done better than most, if not everybody, in trying to maintain a standard in a difficult environment and yet we are getting slaughtered for it.

ON the manager

He's coped well. I think he is following a great Celtic manager, a Celtic legend, which brings its difficulties.

He is young. He has a lot of fantastic ideas. He's progressive, he's intelligent and he develops players, which fits what we're trying to do here. Nothing prepares you for Celtic, nothing. Even Lenny, nothing prepares you for that job. That's number one.

Number two, he's got the transfer window to deal with, speculation about players coming, players want to go. He's got in his own mind a change of philosophy, a change of systems and ways of doing things. And he's got to qualify for the Champions League. So it's a bit of a s***storm.

It is a baptism of fire. He is now going to go on and build his team and do what he wants to do without that short-term pressure [Champions League qualification].

ON where Celtic will be in five years

It's dependent on how well we do what we are trying to do at the moment. I don't think there is an alternative to our strategy. Somebody said Scottish players, but we've said no.

Johnny Russell's name was mentioned but he is not in Gordon Strachan's team. We looked at Stevie May - no. We had the boy [Andy] Robertson, but you make a decision. Now Callum McGregor is in the Scotland pool and Craig Gordon.

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