An SPL independent commission is looking into alleged illegal registration of players by Rangers as part of their EBT scheme over a decade period, with stripping of SPL titles one of the potential punishments that could be handed out, if found guilty.
Rangers chief Charles Green had claimed that ‘powerful representatives’ from SPL clubs were ‘hell bent on inflicting as much damage as possible’ on Rangers, following their liquidation and entry into the Scottish Third Division. Manager Ally McCoist also rounded on the SPL for their decision to clear Celtic of their use of an EBT to pay off Brazilian midfielder Juninho in 2004.
Lawwell stated: “It’s absolutely straightforward. We know we operated one single EBT. HMRC know how we operated that EBT. The football authorities know how we operated that. We’ve no case to answer. I don’t know how Rangers operated their EBT. HMRC know. The football authorities know and there appears to be a tribunal and a commission set up. So it’s straightforward. In some quarters, people have tried to drag us into the debate. But it’s nothing to do with us. It’s a red herring. It’s my understanding that it’s not about EBTs, it’s about dual contracts but, again, I don’t know how they [Rangers] operated it and I can’t comment. But I know how we operated it and so do the football authorities, so I think it’s quite straightforward and there should be no muddying of the waters.
He also laughed off comments made by elements of the Rangers support who claim, the Celtic chief ‘now enjoys an improper degree of power’ in the Scottish game.
“There is a whiff of paranoia around somewhere. I don’t have an undue or inappropriate influence on Scottish football. There is nothing covert in terms of what is happening.
“It’s been extraordinary what has happened to Scottish football and what has happened to one of its biggest clubs. So that leads to a number of dynamics and a number of accusations or people looking to blame others. My job is to do the best for Celtic and maximise the potential of Celtic. That’s my sole concern. Well, not my sole concern, perhaps, because I would love the game here to develop and, as part of the PGB at the SFA, I have a responsibility for the rest of the game. That sort of input, hopefully, will help.”
At the same time as quashing comments from Rangers and their supporters over Celtic’s use of an EBT, Lawwell also spoke about the club’s financial health after they published their annual accounts yesterday. With Rangers’ demise and the lack of revenue from the four Old Firm games that would have taken place that has impacted all SPL clubs, Lawwell is still happy over Celtic’s current position financially.
He added: “We said months ago that we had our own plans, our own strategy for particular outcomes. We are keeping to that. We are coping well. Our supporters have re-engaged with the club. Our season ticket sales have been fantastic, taking account of the economic conditions. The three home Champions League games are sold out.
“So we are doing okay and I’d rather just concentrate on us. In terms of Rangers at the moment, we would be saying that we would give them the same amount of respect we would any other club in Scottish football.
“We would give them that respect and not interfere with their affairs or business. We would expect that same respect back. We are just getting on with it. I think there‘s less relevance now. When Celtic and Rangers were in the SPL, I said before that for two clubs who were so highly competitive that the relationship was good.
“The relevance of that now, with Rangers in the third division and Celtic in the SPL, is probably less so but we would give them at this particular time as much respect as we give any other club and we would like to see that reciprocated.”
Despite the annual accounts showing a further debt of £2.77 million, an increase of £530,000 from 12 months ago. However, the recent sale of midfielder Ki Sung Yeung to Swansea City for £5.5 million and the club qualifying for the Champions League group stages means that the debt could be wiped out in one go and have money left over.
Lawwell continued: “It is difficult to forecast and there are stock market rules. But I think you can safefly assume, by doing the numbers, we would be in funds at the moment. The prospect of remaining that way is there. We have a duty to re-invest that at the right time going forward.
“Five or six years ago, we were maybe ahead of the curve. We saw that we could no longer compete with the big markets in Europe in terms of transfer fees and wage inflation. So we set about this new strategy.
“We could have eliminated the loss we have just posted by selling players in January. We had interest in one or two and we could have reduced our wage bill. However, we decided not to do that to go on and win the league and we were able to make that decision because of the financial strength we’ve built up over the years. Our debt level is really manageable.
“It’s about the importance of the Champions League and also player trading – finding good, undervalued talent and developing your own and giving them a stage. If they want to stay – fantastic – but if they want to move on to England or elsewhere, the path is there. That model has been built over the last five or six years and we’re beginning to see the green shoots of that policy. We have a good foundation today. There are huge challenges ahead for Scottish football, but we’re in good shape to face them.”