Friday, 5 September 2008

Money's too tight to mention

In a week of madness the transfer window closes in a flurry of excitement, Curbishley has satisfied the bookies by being the first manager in the Premier League to leave his job, and Kevin Keegan has walked out on Newcastle, again. Sky Sports News have never had it so good, I don't remember seeing one re-run this week - it's been that exciting.

What has actually happened though?

Well Man Utd have continued to do what ever they want to, irrespective as to contractual obligations, FA (UEFA or FIFA) rules and regulations or moral decency; Man City have joined that exclusive club of institutions that are run out of the pocket of a rich man who has more money that he knows what to do with; and West Ham and Newcastle have raised the white flag in their war on a Champions League place.

In more detail Man Utd have continued to spend money they they don't have by remortgaging their future revenues to spend the money today. I have not looked at their accounts so cannot say for sure if they are able to continue to spend at this rate of if they will one day have to pay off the loans, but for now it doesn't really matter. The way in which they conducted the transfer of Berbatov (or the way Spurs did so) has, I believe, brought the whole game into disrepute. I added the Spurs comment as we will probably never know if Spurs were using the "Man Utd do not have permission to talk to the player" comment for their own personal ends. The suggestion is that Man Utd payed a higher fee (blood money) to buy Spurs' silence. It could, in reality, be any number of things; keeping fans appeased, making the player out to be the bad party, the list goes on.

One thing that it does signify is that Spurs have had to accept that they are not in the same league as the top four. What ever the 'reasons' are they have now lost Carrick, Keane and Berbatov to the teams that have Champions League Football and in so doing have massively reduced their chances of getting it themselves.

Man City are a revelation. I was quite enjoying seeing Shinawatra go under and was looking forward to the first lesson being learned about the horrors of foreign investment. I actually quite like City, well I don't hate them. I am certainly looking forward to seeing Man Utd being humbled by their rivals. Their splash in the transfer market for Robhino looks like a rushed gamble, but if you are worth billions £32.5m plus wages is a drop in the ocean.

What interests me much more are the shenanigans that took place at both West Ham and Newcastle. If we put aside the emotional interests in Curbishley being involved with Charlton for so long, and the irrational belief on Tyneside that Keegan in the saviour there seems to be a consistent thread.

It was not that long ago that Newcastle were a top four side themselves, 4th in 2002, 3rd in 2003 and 5th in 2004. Bobby Robson was well past normal retirement age and not in great health, but was pushed out the door in a disrespectful fashion - not something that surprises me about Newcastle. Since then they have been nowhere near the Champions League, and this at a time when it was most financially beneficial to be involved.

Sam Allardyce was brought in to turn Newcastle from a glamorous team to a winning, functional team. He lasted eight months. It was clear that he either had to play lovely football or start winning immediately. January 2008 and the return of the Saviour. I have no idea what conversations Keegan had with Ashley before he came in, but there was speculation that the only reason he didn't spend £50m in January was that the transfer window closed too quickly.

This summer Newcastle have spent nothing like that, and Keegan has gone. The justification for his departure has been put down to a lack of being able to manage, but either way it is clear that there was not £50m available to spend on players.

West Ham are a slightly different situation. Richard Murray suggested in June that the owners at Upton Park had run out of money, and from the little interest I have had in them this summer they have, like us, been net sellers. Curbishley is not the best wheeler dealer in the transfer market, but he makes few howlers. The signings he made in January 2007 were all over price, the wages were all way too high, and none of the players could be off loaded for what was paid. However, it is not easy to sign players when you are in trouble and desperate. It is not helped when you have a new Charmian that is bragging about how much money he is going to throw at it. Thus I would say that Curbishley, by avoiding relegation, can be excused those signings.

Last summer Curbishley over spent on several players, but he was still working under a regime that was aiming for Champions League football and 'had money to burn'. The players did not manage to achieve what you would have expected from that level of investment, but 'Rome wasn't built in a day'.

Clearly there has been a change in the thinking at West Ham, and even though I don't want to get bogged down with the day to day events it is clear that they no longer genuinely aspire to a top four finish.

The balance of power in English football is changing. Arsenal are the only club in the top four that are not owned by 'foreigners' and they could well be the most at risk if Man City are going to step up to the plate. Newcastle and West Ham have both had significant injections of capital in recent seasons yet both have now at least postponed their drive for the Champions League.

It suddenly makes our summer seem a lot less depressing and our sabbatical in the second tier of English football much more palatable.


Anonymous said...

38million pound loss at WHU is the reason they have become a selling club again.Wages at a level only sustainable by a club in the Champions league.Curbs has to take some responsibilty for bringing in players on such huge wages.How can you pay your best centre-back 15,000 a week because he came through the Acadamy and a tired old winger from Arsenal on 85,000.It does not make sense

Anonymous said...

One of the most depressing aspects of the football world (you might even say the world at large) is that you can't really believe anything you read or hear. There is so much skillful spin and so much media "stir" that the "truth" can, at best, only be inferred. My interpretation of the West Ham situation is not that Curbs reacted badly to the budget he had or the direction he was given, but rather that the "Board" sold players without telling him and yet continued to hold him accountable for results. That is clearly an untenable situation. How people who are so wealthy can have so little grasp of the basics of people and business management is something of a mystery. Perhaps they've just been so lucky they've never needed or bothered to learn, but the consequence is that some of the wealthy owners are quite dysfunctional. What a shame West Ham happen to have one!!

More generally, the Abu Dhabi purchase of Man City is clearly bad news. By introducing another owner with no "capital discipline" it will further undermine football economics. This will have three consequences. First, it increases the chances of another major club (i.e. after Leeds) imploding as they strive to compete. Candidates include Liverpool and even Man Utd post Fergie if they continue to borrow and "invest" ever more aggressively and then get "unlucky" on the field of play, i.e. miss out on the Champions League. Second, the dilemma for the next tier is heightened, i.e. do Villa, Tottenham, Newcastle and Everton "gear up" and risk implosion or "give up"? If they give up, what are they then worth to Ashley, Lerner et al? Answer? Much less than they paid and, by the way, than these clubs were ever worth on a rational economic assessment. Third, for clubs hovering between the lower end of the Premier League and upper end of the Championship, the financial dilemma is even more acute than before and Watford's strategy (i.e. they decided not to bother "investing" in the vain hope of survival) may become more popular, rendering the Premier League even less competitive and, ultimately, less interesting.

The proposed solution to all of this, which is to stop relegation, is so retarded it is hard to credit. Without accompanying proposals to weaken the strongest clubs (and you can just see that happening can't you) the Premier League would generate into a farce with most owners focusing on cash flow and caring-less about results on the field, i.e. most matches would become defacto friendlies. If anybody thinks the public would watch that, either live or on TV, they really don't even begin to understand what "gets us all out, week in week out, year in year out". This will be a long cycle, but it is hard to see it ending well, at least as far as the "real" fan is concerned.

Kings Hill Addick said...

Anonymous, I agree with your comments re Curbishley. I was aiming (and clearly failed) to avoid making any real attempt to uncover the truth about what happened at West Ham. I was merely trying to provide a summery of their transition from Champions League Pretenders to a team that is probably happy to now just avoid relegation - just like the other thirteen teams in the Premier League.

The number of teams (and I also include Newcastle in that group now) that just want to ensure survival is growing.

Your comments about the end result are unquestionable; there can be no happy ending. Even the teams with all the money will not, ultimately, be happy if they win everything.