Opinions: everybody’s got them. So let’s deal with facts – to get some clarity of thought and allow some depth of analysis at this critical time for the club we all care about.
Let’s start with where Norwich City are in the money league. That summer transfer spend of £23 million or so raised all our hopes and expectations, mine included. But where are we really placed, financially, in comparison with our Premier League rivals?
Not in the same ball park as the mega-wealthy super elite, obviously. But let’s put some numbers on that inequality.
The most recent survey of club finances by Deloitte covered the 2011-12 season. It said Manchester United were the third richest club in the entire world (behind only Real Madrid and Barcelona).
United raked in £320m. How’s that for a number? It was down a tad on the previous campaign, because of an early Champions League exit. But the poor lambs still had enough to get by.
Seven English clubs were in the world’s top 20 and four more in the next 10.
That season, Norwich City’s total turnover was a very healthy £75m – the 12th best in the country – but clearly a pittance to United and co.
And the flaw in Deloitte’s annual football rich list is that it does not factor in the generosity of oligarchs, sheiks and other unimaginably wealthy owners. It only deals with receipts from ticket sales, hospitality, commercial activities and – most importantly of all – TV companies.
If Deloitte included the largesse of Sheikh Mansour, Roman Abramovich and the rest, they’d say that clubs like Norwich are not only in a different ball park, they are in a different realm entirely and playing a very different game.
But what do we mean by “clubs like Norwich”? Where do our beloved City fit among the Premier League also-rans?
Again, let’s deal with quantifiable facts.
One measure of relative wealth is transfer spend. But you cannot look at just one transfer window. Well, you shouldn’t – but a lot of Chris Hughton’s critics point with glee to a published table of the net spending of Premier League clubs during the summer. It has Norwich in eighth place.
But it has Spurs in 19th place. Tottenham’s NET spend was relatively modest – because they flogged Gareth Bale for a world record £85m and then reinvested that sum, plus a bit more, in new players.
So only those so fed up with Hughton that they can’t think straight imagine that the Norwich squad should be on a par with Tottenham’s because our net spend was bigger last summer.
That’s like saying my house must be nicer than my neighbours’ because I’ve just spent a good few quid on having it painted. It takes no account of what our houses were like before I opened my wallet.
One more valid method of ranking clubs is to look at the total cost of assembling each squad. That is what a Swiss organisation did. It calculated that our 2012-13 squad cost £21.4m to put together.
On that basis, we got the best “value per point” in the entire Premier League last season under Hughton. Finishing 11th cost just over £500,000 per point. Compare that with Chelsea, who blew £5m a point!
And while we’re talking about finishing 11th, Hughton’s detractors dismiss that achievement, choosing instead to look at the results during the calendar year 2013. Well, on the same basis, we’re unbeaten in 2014.
But let’s return to sensible appraisal and some more numbers.
I have always believed the best measure of how competitive a squad “should” be is wages – because, time and time again, there is a co-relation between how much clubs pay players and where they finish in the table.
Again, the most recent figures for the Premier League are for 2011-12.
The clubs with the eight highest wage bills filled seven of the top eight places, with Manchester City spending the most and winning the title. The interlopers were Everton (10th biggest wages, finished seventh).
The failures were Villa (eighth highest wages, finished 16th). No wonder they wanted Paul Lambert, because, that season, Norwich had the 19th highest wage bill in the division. Yet, as we all remember, Lambert’s swash-bucklers finished 12th.
Despite the ill-blood which flowed because of his departure, I will always be grateful for that extraordinary feat in the Premier League – and for the peerless achievement of lifting Norwich City 54 places during three unforgettable seasons.
In the eyes of many people, Hughton’s biggest crime is that he is not Lambert. But we can’t know what would have happened to our team if Lambert had stayed.
So, once more, let’s return to facts. We know the wage bill went up last season (Hughton’s first). According to the club accounts, the players’ salaries were 39 per cent of turnover (up from 34 per cent).
Elsewhere, the accounts reveal that “wages and salaries” went up from £29.5m to £45.8m. But that includes all the coaches, academy staff, David McNally’s wedge and so on.
If we take the percentage of turnover declaration at face value, the amount allocated just for paying players was only £29.3m last season – but that is still up from the £25.2m which this calculation gives us for 2001-12.
We don’t know yet how our players’ wage bill compared with other clubs. The certainty, however, is that everyone increased what they were paying players. They always do. So my educated guess – and it has to be a guess until Deloitte publish their report in March – is that Hughton’s cheaply assembled squad were paid less than most in the division.
I can furnish a few more facts, though – about what happens, generally, to clubs who clamber up from the Championship.
In every Premier League season bar two, at least one promoted club has gone straight back down. One of those exceptions was 2010-11 when Swansea, us and QPR stayed up – although QPR only survived because Bolton failed to beat Stoke on the last day.
Second season syndrome doesn’t really exist. In the history of the Premier League, only eight clubs have been relegated in their second season. Nevertheless, it happened to that club in Suffolk, it happened to QPR last year but it didn’t happen to us.
The real “syndrome” is that clubs outside the top bunch continue to find Premier League life a constant struggle. Even those who, to our minds, are established, do not have a steady upward graph of improvement. They have seasons when the struggle is desperate. Even when, as is the case with most of them, they are bankrolled by multi-millionaires.
Once more, I offer actual facts in evidence.
Fulham arrived in the Premier League in 2001. Mohammed Al Fayed had given them a total of £212m by the time he sold up. But their finishing positions have been as follows: 14, 14, 9, 13, 12, 16, 17, 7, 12, 8, 9 and 12.
Modestly successful, I’d call that. Pertinently, they built that long period of survival by chiselling out points at Craven Cottage. In their first decade in the Prem, they won only 23 away games in total, or fewer than three a season on average.
This season they’re in the poo.
Sunderland are owned by Ellis Short, who runs an £8bn private equity and hedge fund. He lets the club operate at a loss of more than £25m a year. They finished 20th, went down, bounced back and have since finished 15, 16, 13, 10 and 17th. They are currently rock bottom.
Stoke did reach a level of consistency, thanks in no small measure to the generous support of their chairman, BET365 multi-millionaire Peter Coates (he’s given them £86m so far). They reached a Cup Final. But their League form got marginally worse during the Tony Pulis years (12, 11, 13, 14, 13).
What conclusions do you draw from all this? I’d invite you to share my view, that Norwich City did spectacularly well in their first two seasons back in the Premier League, punching well above their financial weight. But we should not have expected a continued, uninterrupted improvement.
Of course we hoped for one. I did, definitely. My heart skipped when we signed the Wolf. £8m! Crikey! But that is loose change to most Premier League club. Malky Mackay spent £35m at Cardiff, for instance.
Our chairman and chief executive were still talking about a top ten finish at the recent agm.
But that is seldom, if ever, the way the Premier League works. Every season is difficult for all but a handful of clubs. And every so often there is a brutally grim campaign thrown in. Even for clubs as big as Newcastle, who had an awful time last season.
For us, things will always be harder than for most. We have no Fayed, Short or Coates – no Vincent Tan or Assem Allam either, thank heavens. Our squad has only benefited from one biggish window spend. It is still cheaply assembled compared with almost everyone else. We don’t pay top wages.
So we’ll always hope other clubs have bigger troubles than us. We’ll pray for survival, hope for a decent run of results, and – step by step, window by window – try to get better.
Call that defeatist if you like. Call it the little ole Norwich mentality. But, again, here are some more facts.
In the 112 years the club in the Fine City has existed, it has spent more seasons in the third tier than in the top division. Of the 22 seasons the Premier League has existed, Norwich have been in lower divisions for 15 of them.
So although the bloke behind me at Sunderland was shouting that our draw there was “effing sh*te”, I celebrated a valuable result. Although there were folk on message boards whinging about the draw at Palace, I took considerable cheer from talking to home fans – all of whom were devastated by not beating “teams like Norwich”.
We could sack the manager. We could drive the board out. But we cannot change the fundamentals of our resources relative to others in our division.
The only thing we, as fans, can do is decide whether to boo or cheer. I have no facts as evidence about that. But we all know which helps and which damages.