Could Celtic win the Premier League?
After achieving total hegemony within Scottish football this season Celtic have firmly entrenched themselves within footballing purgatory, too good for Scotland but not good enough for Europe. Could a move to England be viable?
The idea of Celtic and The Rangers moving to England is an old one and has been spoken about, and subsequently rubbished many times. Given Celtic’s total dominance of the Scottish Premiership this season though the question has once again surfaced, could Celtic play in England?
This season Celtic have set a series of records with their dominance, 23 points clear at the top of the table and 35 points clear of third as well as unbeaten this season (All statistics correct at time of writing). This total dominance of Scottish football, they have also just won their 6th consecutive title, has led people to wonder what is next for the Scottish giants. At this point they are firmly in footballing purgatory, far too good for the domestic game, but not quite good enough to challenge within Europe in any meaningful way. The club has also had to deal a frustrating new reality, having to sell their best players every year because they outgrow the league but not the club.
When looking at the current Celtic squad, there is some room for optimism about how they would cope within the Premier League, but only enough for tentative optimism. A major overhaul would be required in order to complement the handful of players already present that would cope in the Premier League. Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong, Mikel Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko, Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, and Tom Rogic have all had a good season as Celtic have made a mockery of the Scottish Premiership.
The transfer rumours, and alleged big money offers already made from Premier League teams for Kieran Tierney, as well as Moussa Dembélé show that they would easily adapt to life within a more competitive league.
Many additions would obviously be necessary for the club to survive at this level, and whilst Celtic did manage two draws against Manchester City in the Champions League group stage, doing that on a regular basis is a different test entirely.
Although additions would be necessary, a closer look at the club’s revenue potential would make that an entirely possible scenario
Unsurprisingly, the answer to the question really comes down to finances; can Celtic achieve the financial muscle to effectively challenge in the Premier League?
Given the recent TV deal, broadcasting revenue has become the lifeblood for many clubs within the Premier League, for example it is 76% and 68% of the total revenue for Stoke City and Sunderland respectively. Broadcasting is really what transforms clubs financially from average Championship teams into genuine Premier League entities. BBC reported that the current TV deal, which started this year, saw a 71% increase upon the previous deal which will see the league generate £5.14b over three years. This has lead to disparities both between revenue streams that clubs can generate, and also between leagues with Premier League clubs being able to significantly outspend their rivals from other nations.
The disparity between broadcasting income and other revenue streams is really what reinforces the notion that Celtic could absolutely thrive within the Premier League. Celtic’s revenue last season was £52m, a £1m increase on the previous year. When you take away broadcasting revenue Celtic has a significantly greater income than both Stoke and Sunderland; given that Sunderland have been in the Premier League for the past several seasons and Stoke have finished 9th for the past 3 seasons, this shows that the financial gulf between these clubs is purely down to the league in which the teams play.
Another key benefit for Celtic is, and would continue to be, their home ground Celtic Park. The 60, 411 capacity stadium in the east end of Glasgow is the third biggest club stadium in Britain. The intimidating atmosphere created within the stadium, as well as the huge revenue potential of a packed stadium weekly would undoubtedly help Celtic transition to the Premier League. Given the 20-30k extra capacity at Celtic Park to most other EPL stadiums, this would give Celtic a huge financial advantage and allow them to aim for a top half finish with the potential to fight for Champions League qualification regularly.
The other factor is the famous atmosphere generated by Celtic fans led by the club’s ultras the ‘Green Brigade’; the atmosphere has been lauded on a regular basis by footballing royalty.
After playing against Celtic with Barcelona Xavi said: “The atmosphere generated by the fans in Celtic’s stadium for our visit was the most impressive I’ve ever witnessed. The grounds of Liverpool and Manchester United are good and the hostile feeling of playing against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu is also excellent, but the atmosphere against Celtic was the best.”
Lionel Messi added: “”I’ve been fortunate to play in some great stadiums in Europe with Barcelona but none compare to Celtic. The atmosphere their fans create make it a very special European night of football.”
Being a big fish in a small pond makes finding lucrative commercial deals incredibly difficult, moving to a league with the level of international exposure as the EPL would help Celtic capitalise on their potential for commercial appeal. The Scottish Premiership currently has a limited international appeal outside of expats wishing to see their team play, this fact combined with Celtic’s complete dominance of the league puts a glass ceiling upon the commercial revenues that can be generated. Given that recent estimates have put the current global English Premier League international viewership at over 4 billion people, a move south would increase Celtic’s ability to exponentially increase commercial revenue. This would be aided by Celtic’s already sizeable fan base around the world through both the Scottish/Irish diaspora, as well as fans in East Asia thank to the remarkable success of Japanese and Korean players such as Shunsuke Nakamura, and Ki Sung-Yeung to name a few.
Celtic’s commercial revenue from last season was roughly £10m, which pales in comparison to Manchester City’s £178m, but is much closer to Stoke City’s £16.8m and Sunderland’s £21.2m.
The comparisons with Stoke and Sunderland are particularly telling as they demonstrate what clubs from relatively modest towns without a significant supporter base outside of their home can achieve in commercial revenue. Adding the viewership and subsequent international exposure that would come from moving to the EPL, combined with their already large supporter base internationally and marketable image would allow Celtic to generate the income necessary to thrive in the league.
The real question that would have to be asked of the Celtic hierarchy, and of the fans would be in regards to the Champions League. Would they accept not being an ever present fixture in the tournament, would they accept not being in the tournament at all for the first few season whilst they play the game of financial catch up? This question, for a club with such an affinity for the tournament, would not be inconsequential and may perhaps make or break the prospect. Whilst it has been demonstrated that Celtic would increase their finances dramatically by being entered into the EPL, the gap between themselves and teams such as Manchester City, and Chelsea would take time to bridge.
Despite the aforementioned concerns, there are also non-footballing reasons to consider (Surprising I know). Would Celtic be able to attract world class footballers to Glasgow? The simple answer is yes, of course they would.
The climate is not going to get any ringing endorsements from the locals, but it is a culture steeped in history, tradition, and culture; a city that was ranked ‘friendliest city in the world’ in 2016. Despite the city’s well documented social problems, it won European capital of culture in 1990 and has since continued upon that trend of becoming a vibrant cosmopolitan city that would be a favourable selling point to many footballers and their families.
Could it happen?
In a word, yes. It has been demonstrated that Celtic would absolutely be able to generate the finances in which they would be a permanent fixture within the league, winning would be much more difficult however not impossible. A definitive yes or no within this article would be highly improper given if this move transpired the landscape would look so vastly different. Given that the answer of could has now been addressed, the two questions I will pose upon finishing is should and can it happen?