Football/Soccer

Still much money needed and work to be done to ensure Celtic retain SPL title

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his players celebrate with the fans after winning the Scottish Premiership league title with a 5-0 thrashing of Hearts at Tynecastle Stadium, Edinburgh on Sunday April 2 2017.
Stephen O'Reilly

CHELSEA raked in almost £160million in prize and TV money when winning the English Premier League last season.

Celtic took in less than £3million in prize money and a share of the £15million in television payments.

The growing disparity in financial rewards on either side of the border is gradually accentuating the gap between the leagues when you look at the quality of the product on display.

This has never been more evident than the past season and half, when Brendan Rodgers took over.

His team of invincibles in Scotland were far from it in Europe.

A real heavy thumping from Barcelona in the group stages of the Champion's League last term was rescued somewhat by a couple of unexpected draws with Manchester City – the side currently racing towards this season's English title.

This European campaign thumping came at the hands of PSG, although a 3-0 win over Anderlecht means that Rodgers has worked another minor miracle by ensuring European football, albeit in the Europa League, after Christmas.

So what's to be learned from these figures?

Quite simply this disparity in financial returns will make it more and more difficult for all Scottish clubs to make any sort of a dent in European competition.

I've heard the odd Hoops fan say 'we'd be better not qualifying for Europe, if we are gonnae get humped like that most seasons'.

A nonsensical approach to any sport where the ambition must be to aim higher every game – no matter what the difficulties.

The more pragmatic supporters would also realise that qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League might mean going to watch your team getting royally thumped – but the club pulling in roughly three to four times the money made winning the SPL for the privilege.

The other major source of finance generated by Celtic in recent years has been the buying of promising players at a relatively cheap tag and then selling them on for a healthy profit.

Virgil van Dijk is the latest of these examples.

He came to the Hoops in 2013, costing a reported £2.6million. Two seasons later he was off to Southampton for around £13million. The Dutchman is now a Liverpool player with Celtic believed to be getting in the region of 10per cent of the £75million fee.

Much to the chagrin of some Hoops fans that buy-to-sell strategy will remain a key part of the Parkhead plan for the foreseeable future.

And that means Celtic will have to keep on unearthing gems to sell on south of the border – unless the fabled place in the English set up becomes an unlikely reality at some point in the future.

On the pitch this past year Rodgers's team clinched the treble in May with a stunning last-minute winner from Tom Rogic consigning Aberdeen to the role of also-rans.

The Dons took second place in the league as well as Rangers continued to struggle for consistency on the pitch – and with plenty of rumours all was not well off it.

The new season saw another new manager at Ibrox – Pedro Caixinha.

The Portuguese brought in a raft of new players but failed to sufficiently improve performances.

During his record short term as manager Caixinha oversaw the club's knockout from Europe by Progres Niederkorn, a Luxembourg side which had never won at the level before; led Rangers to a record 1-5 home defeat by Celtic and was finally given his P45 in late October after a 1-1 draw with then bottom club Kilmarnock.

Attempts to lure Derek McInnes from the Dons were unsuccessful and Graeme Murty was eventually given the manager's role until the end of this season.

The Englishman has had mixed results but his most encouraging was the December 30 0-0 draw at Celtic Park, a draw celebrated as a victory by the visiting support and as a defeat by the home fans.

Celtic lost there Invincibles tag courtesy of an 4-0 thumping by Hearts and in truth they have looked vulnerable even before then.

Rodgers's men were lucky to survive a comeback from Neil Lennon's Hibs to only concede two points.

Another couple of unconvincing draws were only overshadowed by a 3-0 win over their nearest rivals, once again Aberdeen, going into the winter break.

Hoops fans will be hoping for a rejuvenated side, rather than the jaded outfit which has been the norm of late.

They will be hoping to see a convincing return to form from the likes of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair.

And some semblance of solidity is badly needed in the backline also.

Manager Rodgers has recently moved to make that happen, especially with the acquisition of 32-year-old German international defender Marvin Compper and the impending departure of Erik Sviatchenko.

The 26-year-old Denmark defender told Danish TV3 this week that Rodgers "has told me to find another club."

Sviatchenko had not featured in the Celtic manager's plans despite being fit for two months after recovering from a knee injury picked up in a Champions League qualifier against Rosenborg.

A healthy eight-point gap, 51 to 43, separates Celtic from nearest chasing rival Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership table. Rangers lie in the rear-view mirror, not quite out of sight in third spot on 40 points.

There may be 22 games gone this season, and only that one Hearts blemish on the Celtic defeat tally, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the SPL title is retained.

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