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May 7, 2008

The £60m question

Congratulations to West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City who by achieving automatic promotion from the Championship have reached the promised land of the Premier League and a guaranteed cash windfall of £60million.

The figure, based on a single season in the Premier League, is derived from £30million in TV rights, around £5million in extra sponsorship and merchandising and, perhaps best of all, £24million in 'parachute payments.'

These payments mean that even if West Brom or Stoke are relegated they will be handed £12million ahead of the subsequent two seasons to help cushion the blow of the drop, and particularly to help pay vastly-inflated Premier League wages on Championship income.

And there lies the quandary for newly promoted teams: Should they spend big on the calibre of players capable of maintaining their newly attained Premier League status, or do they accept defeat, take the long view and bank the cash to invest in the club's future and just enjoy the ride?

There is, of course, no guarantee that a newly promoted side can keep up with the big boys by bringing in new talent, after all players need time to settle in, to acclimatise to the league and gel with the existing squad. And if a club does gamble on new, expensive playing staff they will be saddled with them, and their salaries, for the length of the contract, unless a clause can be brokered that will see a player's wage dramatically reduced if relegation cannot be avoided.

While there's an undoubted risk in spending big it seems a little churlish to lead your supporters to the big time and do little more than sit back and await a season of merciless beatings, a la Derby County. There is no fun to be had as the league's whipping boys and the old adage that 'it's not the winning, but the taking part that counts' really has no place in sporting vernacular.

You could be forgiven for thinking that with £60million to play with a club could buy a new spine for its team and thereby ensure survival.

Sadly this is rarely the case because a set of variables come into play, chief among them being competition for players from rival sides and the relative attractiveness of the proposition your club represents. Just because you've got the cash to spend doesn't mean the latest wunderkind will want to spend all season in some cultural backwater scrapping to avoid relegation, particularly if a better offer is on the table.

Using Derby as an example, one can see that simply spending money does not result in safety; quality counts far more than the cost. The Rams' two big money buys ahead of the 2007/08 season were Claude Davies, a £3 million signing from Sheffield United, and Robert Earnshaw, £3.5 million from Norwich - these players might have had Premier League experience, but proved to be of Championship quality.

Spending £6.5million on two Championship level players, alongside a host of other lightweight signings, ensured Derby have become the single worst performing club in the Premier League era, who with just one final game left to play have thus far notched just one win in 37 games.

While it is impossible in the current climate to survive promotion to the Premier League without spending and spending wisely, the key to avoiding the drop is having the right manager in place.

It is vital that a club have a manager with the necessary tactical guile to mix it with Wenger and Ferguson, the pulling power in the transfer market to attract quality players ahead of established top flight sides and the canny ability to unearth a bargain or two.

Whether Tony Pulis or Tony Mowbray can fulfil that criteria remains to be seen, the one advantage the Stoke and West Brom managers have over their counterparts at Hull, Bristol City, Crystal Palace and Watford - one of whom will join them in the Premier League - is that they will have a month's planning and preparation time over the winner of the Championship play-off final, a one-off game dubbed the most lucrative in football.


When Harry Kewell's five-year spell at Liverpool comes to an end this summer, as now seems inevitable as part of Rafa Benitez's clean out of the Anfield dressing room's more peripheral members, few will lament his departure, particularly the club's thrifty bean counters.

The 29-year-old Australian left Leeds for Anfield in July 2003 on a £60,000 a week deal, which the number crunchers at The Daily Telegraph have worked out means that each of his 139 Liverpool appearances at a cost to the club of £157,554. Bargain.


Bad news for any linguistically-challenged mercenary footballers eyeing up a potential Premier League payday; under new tougher immigration legislation revealed by the UK government this week anyone who cannot speak English will be refused entry to the country.

As part of a new points-based system due for introduction later this year an English language test will be brought in for non-European footballers (and any other skilled migrant workers) to ensure they are able to hold simple conversations and understand key phrases in everyday use, presumably such as 'Switch to 4-5-1' and 'Play it square to the big man in the hole'...

The new legislation which will apply, for example, to players from South America and Africa, will not be retroactive, meaning that Middlesbrough's Alfonso Alves, Arsenal's Denilson and Chelsea's Andryi Shevchenko (Ukraine isn't in the EU) can put that Linguaphon brochure back on the shelf to gather more dust.


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.