'Celtic spent £30m-£40m.' The critical factor needed for Hearts to compete with Rangers and Celtic
The financial gulf between Celtic and Rangers and the rest of Scotland’s football clubs widened this season with both clubs earning around £30million for Champions League involvement.
Ahead of Celtic’s visit to Tynecastle Park on Saturday, the Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is clear on what his club need to try and compete: Regular qualification for European group stages. His team are currently competing in Europa Conference League Group A, which will bring in several million pounds in revenue. Neilson is eager that Hearts push towards third spot in the cinch Premiership before the World Cup break and then cement that position during the second half of the campaign.
“The Champions League money makes a massive difference for both [Glasgow] clubs,” he stated. “Celtic have invested heavily – £30-£40million. Obviously Rangers haven’t invested as much but they have that historical group that’s there. Our objective is to get as close as we can. We’ve said all along that to try and get closer to them you have to have consistent European football that brings in the revenue.
“We have to make sure this season we do well enough in the league to try and get us back into that stage again. The league will be tight this year. You will have Rangers and Celtic in the top two positions but it is the job of everyone else to get close to them. If you do that then you will come away from the rest of the group.
“I knew with the European games and going into the World Cup break, it was always going to be difficult for us due to the amount of games and travelling. A lot of the teams outside the Old Firm have a great season and get into Europe, then they have a bad season. Our job is to make sure we have a good season, get into Europe and then have another good season. That’s our objective.”
Hearts sit three points off third-place Hibs with a game in hand ahead of this weekend’s fixtures. “The objective was to be in third position when we got to that point,” added Neilson. “At the end of the season we want to be in a position that we get group-stage football again. We’ve probably not picked up the results we wanted but we are still in that area and in contention to be there.”
The immediate task is daunting. Celtic lashed ten goals in two games against Hibs and Motherwell since losing their previous Champions League tie 2-0 to RB Leipzig. “I know but it’s one we are looking forward to,” said Neilson. “There have been games this season where they’ve faltered, where they’ve lost. The last two games domestically they’ve done well. It’s going to be a tough game but there’s areas we can get at them.”
“Celtic’s squad has been brought together with a lot of money spent. Our players come into these games and have to believe they can challenge and be better than these players on the day.”
Saturday will be Scotland’s first live television match to use the Video Assistant Referee system. “Boys have been watching it on TV for the last two years. We all understand how it works. We’ve just been waiting on this moment,” said Neilson. “We understand the intricacies of it. Things will be played on until their conclusion and it will come back. It’s not like we are going into something blind.”