08 November 2015

A quick word on "financial doping"

by Dougie Wright | Guest Contributor

It’s a cold winter’s night in the East End of Glasgow. Temperatures have plummeted and a stiff breeze swirls around the Parkhead car park.

However, that has failed to dampen the cheer of the small group of supporters who turned up on 1st February 2010.

“Absolutely magic! That’s just won us the league so it has.”

Grinning furiously, it was clear to this punter that something rather significant had happened. Something that would see his Celtic team overcome a ten point deficit to beat Rangers to the title. No doubt about it.

On the final day of the 2010 January transfer market, Celtic signed Irish striker Robbie Keane on loan until the end of the season from Tottenham Hotspur. Keane had come with some pedigree. Already Ireland’s all time international goalscorer, the Dublin native had forged an illustrious career for himself with Inter Milan, Leeds, Tottenham and Liverpool, amassing over £90m in transfer fees. This was quite the coup for Celtic.

While unable to take Celtic to any silverware, it was not through Keane’s lack of trying. Sixteen goals in nineteen games is a superb return by any estimation, and throughout Scotland, Keane proved himself as a cut above the rest.

Over the past few days, the Big Tax Case ‘result’ has seen a familiar line of argument from a familiar list of writers. One such phrase that has populated such articles is “financial doping”.

Usually followed with a reference to Lance Armstrong, the inference is that the EBTs allowed Rangers to pay players more than it could otherwise afford, and thus gain a sporting advantage. Similar to Armstrong, any success was said to have been gained artificially; “cheating” some call it.

Back to the East End. Celtic in February 2010 were a club in trouble. They had failed to qualify for the Champions League, and with new manager Tony Mowbray at the helm, they were not only ten points behind Rangers, but just two clear of third place Hibs at a pretty advanced stage of the season. There was a real risk of the team finishing third in the league. How could Celtic afford a guy like Robbie Keane?

They couldn’t.

Keane’s £65,000 a week wages were funded not by the club, but by its major shareholder Dermot Desmond. With Desmond footing the bill, Celtic were thus able to secure the services of a player they could not otherwise afford. Similarly, five years earlier, Celtic had been able to sign the Manchester United captain Roy Keane from under the noses of Real Madrid - again thanks to their Irish benefactor.

To talk about “financial doping” is to speak of gaining an unfair, artificial injection of funds. The bold moral crusade has had Rangers guilty of this well before any tribunal could decide for themselves. While more talented writers than myself have dealt with the actual “advantages” gained by Rangers during the EBT years, I feel the following questions are pertinent:

Did Robbie Keane’s goals lend Celtic a “sporting advantage”? Could Celtic afford to pay his £65,000 a week wages? Is it moral that Celtic’s owner can fund such luxury signings regardless of the club’s balance sheet?

Dealing with morals in football is a dodgy business. Throwing around terms like “financial doping” is dodgier still. 

And when you focus the lens on certain clubs and zoom in, not all of them are as moral as they would have you believe.