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Danny Stewart: Will changing business model haunt Celtic?

© SNS GroupChief executive Peter Lawwell and the Celtic board  have backed boss Neil Lennon financially for the bid to land 10-in-a-row.
Chief executive Peter Lawwell and the Celtic board have backed boss Neil Lennon financially for the bid to land 10-in-a-row.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a handy rule of thumb for football bosses, as it is for the rest of us.

Four-and-a-half months ago, Celtic fans had every reason to feel good about their club’s battle plan for winning 10-in-a-Row.

They had just watched their team kick-off their Premiership defence with the 5-1 dismissal of Hamilton Accies.

It was not so much a victory, more a swaggering statement of intent.

Odsonne Edouard, linked with seemingly every English Premier club over the summer, was in his usual place, and smashed in a hat-trick to advertise form and fitness.

So was Callum McGregor, the Celtic player coveted above all others by former boss Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City.

In front of him, too, Ryan Christie, looked very much the type of attacking talent on who English clubs love to take a punt.

For Christie in 2020, think Stuart Armstrong in 2018.

On the substitutes’ bench, Neil Lennon had a mix of old favourites.

Olivier Ntcham had been retained when he was expected to move on, and the manager had new additions to his armoury.

Polish striker Patryck Klimala, brought in for £3.5-million in the summer, got just a handful of minutes when brought on for Edouard, yet he still managed to score.

An even more-expensive buy, the £5m Greek goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas, watched his smooth introduction with interest.

Speed forward to the current day, however, and anyone arriving back from having been away – as if that was possible – would be startled to find where things now sit one-third of the season in.

Celtic are nine points behind Rangers in the table (albeit with a couple of games in hand), out of the Champions League and floundering in their Europa League group.

And Lennon has been talking in terms of his team having faced a mini crisis. Barkas dropped, after a decidedly underwhelming run, in favour of Scott Bain.

Shane Duffy, the high-profile and expensive loan recruit from Brighton & Hove Albion, has suffered the same fate.

Edouard is a sluggish, at times strangely disinterested-looking, figure on the periphery of the team.

McGregor, so reliable for club and country, has been looking tired and in need of inspiration.

And, sitting above them all, there is a board concerned about the potentially heavy financial consequences of having rolled the dice in search of 10.

Which is exactly what they did.

The usual rhythm of recruit/develop/sell-on was interrupted to allow Neil Lennon every advantage in the pursuit of a historic achievement.

An achievement craved as much by the men who manage Celtic’s financial well-being, as much as those who wear the jerseys and fill the dugout.

Clubs who made inquiries about their key assets soon learned the Hoops had, effectively, no interest in cashing in.

That is not the normal way of business. Players have their price, and deals can be struck.

There are exceptions.

Kieran Tierney’s £25million departure to Arsenal last summer torpedoed any chance McGregor had of departing for the EPL in the same window.

This time, though, everyone who counts has been retained, with an additional £15m shelled out on Barkas, David Turnbull, Klimala and Co to strengthen the squad.

Remember, too, this comes against the backdrop of Covid-19, with the pandemic estimated to have hit the Hoops to the tune of around £15m.

The fear for Peter Lawwell and the Celtic directors is that the policy may turn out to have been counter-productive.

That the diversion from the usual routine has somehow resulted in a group that lacks its usual dynamism.

Of course, there is still lots of time for Lennon’s men to catch and overtake their ancient adversities, whose formidable form may not last the course.

Thomas Rogic’s eye-catching return from cold storage is an individual reminder of how things can change.

If they do not, Celtic fear a five-figure fall-off in season-ticket renewals for 2021-22, and a loss of several million in revenue from hospitality and merchandise sales.

In addition, when they try to return to the transfer market, the value of their assets may have dropped sharply.

Should that happen, Celtic’s strategists will be left to ponder whether the unbroken treasure best left unfixed was not the team itself but rather the business model that helped deliver the nine.