Rebus offers some thought provoking words on how Celtic can adapt to our position in the new world order of football….
Is Experience Enough: The Case of Bate Borisov
FC BATE Borisov are the current champions of the Belarusian Premier League. BATE have a particular way of conducting their soccer business. Could Celtic take a lesson from BATE?
Bate are by far the most successful club in Belarus, having won a total of 12 titles, and having achieved the much sought after ten titles in a row. Is there anything to be learned from their approach to running a club? Let’s start by examining their domestic performance.
Domestic Record :
As of July 18, 2016 BATE are sitting top of their league with a lead of eight points over their nearest rivals and are well on track to make it eleven championships in a row. To date they have accumulated a total of twelve titles plus numerous national cups. This may not seem like much when set against our haul, but a quick look at the history of the club proves that it is impressive. The club was first established in 1973 and, although they won three championships, they ceased to operate in 1984. This was not due to poor financial management, unlike some, but they were originally a factory team, and when the Russian Economy went pop they lacked the funds to continue. The club was re-established in 1996 and has won the league twelve times since then. They play out of a modest stadium with a capacity just over 13,000 in the city of Barysaw which has a population similar to that of Aberdeen. The national team also plays out of this stadium.
Whilst, BATE have an enviable domestic record, it is their performance in Europe that provides food for thought. Can we learn anything from their European experiences?
BATE are the only Belarusian team to make it to the group stage of the CL. They achieved this in the following years:
During their lean years when they did not make it to the CL, they qualified for the group stage of the Europa (2009–10 and 2010–11). Examination of the UEFA club coefficient shows that Celtic are ranked 41st whereas BATE are in 54th position. However, these rankings hide the fact that BATE are increasing their coefficient at a far faster rate than Celtic. Overall, a very creditable record, especially for a new club.
Basic Comparison between Celtic and BATE:
The following table compares Celtic with BATE. Celtic’s value is nearly three times that of BATE. We have a younger squad, or to put it more accurately, a squad containing fewer older(experienced?) players.
BATE’s squad is comprised, mainly, of local players and they have never broken the bank to buy a player. Their highest transfer fee is well under a million pounds. So, all in all, a more modest operation than Celtic, but not in terms of its performance in Europe.
Squad Value(£m) 43.61 15.64
Squad Size 30 22
Ave. Age 24.7 27.1
Record Transfer(£) ? 680K
Foreign Players 17(57%) 5(23%)
Continuing to analyse their transfer policies we see substantial differences. Celtic have earned far higher sums from their transfer activity. The following table illustrates Celtic’s greater dependence on net transfer revenue. For example, in 2013/14 Celtic earned £14 million more in transfers than they paid out; BATE earned less than 1 million.
£m 12/13 13/14 14/15 15/16
Celtic 4.3 14.0 11.3 3.4
BATE 4.3 0.8 1.0 0.8
Over the five year period in the table Celtic’s transfer revenue ranged between a low of£ 7.3 to a high of £27.2 million; whereas BATE’s ranged from £ 1 to 4.7 million. Clearly, Celtic use transfers as a major revenue source whilst BATE look to another source for additional revenue.
Interestingly, BATE most valuable player is a 27 year old Serbian international CH, Nemanja Milunovic valued at £2.13 million…definitely within our price range.
Why have BATE been so successful? Well, that is a tricky question to answer. If it were otherwise others would have duplicated BATE’s success. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that may have accounted for their performance.
Since their establishment in 1995, BATE have only had 4 managers. The first manager was there for 8 years whilst the one before the current manager remained for 6 years. Even the manager who stayed for 2 years served 4 years managing the reserves before moving up.
Over the same time period Celtic had 10 managers. So, BATE have had a much more stable management environment. This does not happen by chance. Several of the former managers are former players for BATE. They raise their own.
Take one of their managers, Viktor Goncharenko. Goncharenko was a BATE player whose career was cut short at 25 by injury. He became a part of the coaching staff at Borisov. Over the next two years he developed his coaching skills to the point that, in 2007, he was offered the manager’s job at age 27.
Goncharenko was in the same age group as many of the players and younger than one or two! He was left to his own devices to coach the team since the ownership of the club adopted a hands-off approach.
So, Goncharenko could experiment with new tactics, and he turned BATE into the premier club in Belarus, even although Minsk has a much larger population. Probably, the highlight of Goncharenko’s time at BATE was in 2011/12 when he guided BATE Borisov into the group stage of the CL. More success was to follow the next season when Goncharenko coached BATE to a shock result over Bayern Munich, winning 3-1.
He was just 31. Revenue from the CL campaigns has allowed BATE to build a new stadium which acts as a magnet for young players from Belarus who want to be spotted by a big club from Russia or Western Europe.
Celtic has a much higher proportion of foreign players in their squad than the Belarus club…57% versus 23%. In fact, 6 of the starting eleven against the Imps were foreign players. Four of the seven subs were foreign.
In contrast, in BATE’s last game in the CL qualifying round only one player was foreign.
BATE focus on homegrown players.
Age of Squad
On average, the BATE squad is older than Celtic’s…27 years vs 25. However, these averages do not reveal the true distinction between the two squads. BATE’s last game in the CL was on July 12 against the Finish team, Seinjoki. The result was a 2-0 win for BATE. Only two of the starting eleven were under 25. In addition, there were 3 outfield players over 30 in the starting lineup, the oldest of which scored the second goal.
Probably their most famous player is Alex Hleb who started with BATE and went on to play for top clubs in Europe(Barcelona, Arsenal) before returning to play for BATE in the twilight of his career. Many former players take this career path, starting with the club, moving to more lucrative leagues and then returning to play in their home country. This, of course, can only work if you start with a strong base of local talent in your team.
BATE’s relative success has meant that the club has to contend with the fact that its most talented players will move on to bigger teams in Russia, Ukraine, and Western Europe.
BATE’s chairman, Anatoli Kapski has outlined the club’s strategy:
“every year some homegrown players emerge and we count on them… About half of the first team came through our youth academy. We are a successful team, but to stand firmer on our feet we need to capitalise on our achievements. That is pretty difficult to do in the current market climate in Belarus, but we try to get stronger every year anyway.”
BATE is seen as a shop window by young players to display their talent. This attracts talent from Belarus but also from other small post-Soviet Republics such as the Baltic States.
Kapski has indicated that the club will not pay large transfer fees for players by European standards. He fears that such stars would look down on his youth players and disturb team harmony. Rather than pay transfer fees he prefers to develop the club’s infrastructure.
BATE Borisov are an example of a club from a small footballing country that has succeeded on the European stage consistently. Their 2015 campaign in the CL brought almost 13 million euros into their coffers. Their European success allows them not to be as dependent on the” buy low, sell high” model employed by Celtic. Whilst the latter may satisfy financial objectives, it causes difficulties in producing a consistently successful team. BATE realise that their better players will move on but they have a highly effective youth academy that is geared to provide replacements. The performance of the team is maintained by bringing in older players (often former players) to provide necessary experience. These players are brought in, at little outlay, purely to provide experience and with no thought of realising a profit through future transfer. Each part of the organisation(Executives, Managers, players and youth) understands the culture that has been developed and how they fit into it.
Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from BATE is that a small club from a small nation can craft a successful strategy that satisfies both financial and footballing objectives.