Why Scottish Football Will Never Compete with the English Premier League

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Why Scottish Football Will Never Compete with the English Premier League
(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

What happens when you involve an English club, a Scottish club, a Welsh club, and a Spanish manager? 

Well, it's interesting, to say the least, specifically if you're a Celtic supporter. Wigan Athletic’s imminent appointment of Roberto Martinez as manager is fascinating on many levels—not least because Dave Whelan, their chairman, said recently that he “wouldn’t go near” a foreign coach—but it is what the deal says about Celtic and, by extension, Scottish football that is most intriguing.

Martinez did not turn Celtic down. Celtic, having identified the talented Spaniard as a candidate to replace Gordon Strachan, could not even talk to him because, unlike Wigan, they were unable to meet the compensation figure (£2 million) demanded by Swansea City.

West Bromwich Albion hope that a Celtic approach for Tony Mowbray will fall down for similar reasons. On the face of it, it is mildly shocking that Celtic should be unable to compete financially with Wigan, a club that was playing non-league football in England until 1978.

Celtic’s average attendance of 56,677 is the eighth highest in Europe and the third highest in Britain, with Rangers 15th. Never mind worldwide, both clubs almost certainly have more supporters in the Greater Manchester area than Wigan, whose heartwarming rise from mediocrity has, sadly, not caught the imagination beyond a town where football has only recently begun to share top billing with rugby league.

It all get's a little confusing when television revenue and sponsors are concerned but West Brom, a team who finished bottom of the English Premier League, took in a whopping £31.6 million. Compare that to Celtic's estimate that the winner of the SPL earned a laughable sum just above £2 million, which is absolutely shocking.

Despite direct entry into the UEFA Champions League, Celtic's advantage over their domestic rivals may be significant, while competing with English clubs for players or managers is a losing battle. It's easy to see why Scottish football comes a poor second to it's English counterparts.

Some people might say Celtic don't want to pay a lot of compensation and don't want to give managers a £30 million transfer kitty. The board do that by choice because the business model is completely different to the Premiership. Celtic are practically self sufficient in that the fans pay up and the club make the Champions League year-in, year-out and that the whole balance sheet is determined by these two factors.

Teams like Wigan are successful by association. Parachute payments from relegation alone are incredible compared to the "handouts" Celtic get. It's also worth noting that the collective debt in the Premiership reaches some figure close to three billion. Of that, 2.1 billion is attributed to the "big four".

Celtic, on the other hand, have no debt and, in a business sense, are probably the best run club in the UK. The board room could have used multi-million pound overdrafts and loans which would have given the likes of Moyes something to think about. Overall, they're a product of their own environment and will be there long after the Wigans of this world have had their taste of the big-time and are counting the cost, i.e Newcastle United.

One topic up for discussion is talk of the Glasgow giants moving south and joining the Premiership. It's a tantalising prospect in many ways, even if it would appear unedifying from a traditionalist’s viewpoint, not to mention hypocritical in the era of political devolution. For now, it is a non-starter.

Peter Lawwell, Celtic’s chief executive, said the club are “reconciled to our future being in Scotland”, adding that “we have to be clever” and Celtic are indeed clever during a recession that is gripping Scottish football in a way that the leading English clubs cannot begin to contemplate. 

Perhaps if they were to televise their home games instead of the away games, then Setanta would have had a lot more subscriptions. Either way, I cannot see the other SPL clubs agreeing to a bigger slice of the TV pot for Celtic and Rangers, regardless.

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