I loved the 90s.
The music was better, City achieved their highest ever league position, they played in Europe for the first (and so far only) time, I was younger, could run all day, had more hair and could drink like a fish with minimal hangovers. And football was still about enjoyment and supporting your club through thick and thin.
There was no social media so, other than a whinge down the pub or in the playground, any moans subsided reasonably quickly – unless of course there was something really serious to complain about. Sky had yet to plunge quite the volume of money into the game that it has now and the super-rich hadn’t seen a football club as the latest must-have status symbol.
But alas time moves on and, as with everything in life, some of that change has been good; the diversity of football crowds and the change in attitudes to race are great – hopefully the same will happen for sexuality soon. Yet some is not good; the money in the game now plunged in by TV companies and billionaires has changed the landscape beyond recognition.
Take a look at this Wikipedia link – list of owners of English football clubs – and take some time for the net worth of clubs’ owners to sink in. And when you do you should come to the conclusion that we have been massively over-achieving in recent seasons; all against a backdrop of transfer fees that have been growing at an alarming rate; the Neymar transfer will increase that exponentially.
Put simply we do not have the financial clout to compete in this world. What we built with Paul Lambert and David McNally was incredible, but both knew it was unsustainable.
The board tried to invest as much as it could, the spending under Chris Hughton was at a scale I’d not witnessed at Norwich but it resulted in a familiar outcome – relegation. And worse still, it resulted in players on big contracts who the club then found difficult to move on. We still have some of those players.
Alex Neil was still also well-funded, but with parachute payments diminishing, the reality of not getting promoted at the first time of asking is now upon us.
The new model is as much about survival as a club as it is success on the pitch. We can’t compete financially with our existing owners so have to do something different; we’re attempting to invest in young players when they’re cheap and hope some of those do well and can be sold on to fund the next batch.
Southampton have proved that model works if you get it right, albeit their starting point is a much stronger financial base than ours (plus they have Liverpool as a major benefactor!).
The harsh truth is, without changing owners we don’t have much choice but to try this and it is going to be a bumpy road.
The new model relies on us being able to attract and develop players on a global scale; foreign-based players offer better value for money, that’s just a reality. But that will take time and it may even be that a relegation is involved in order to bounce back. I don’t think it will come to that, but it may and we need to be prepared for that.
Which brings me to my next point, given all of the above: why are so many fans unwilling to give the new regime the time it requires? My personal feeling is that a new head coach (or manager) needs three seasons to make a team his own. It’s really only that third season that allows for player movements and playing mentality to be installed properly.
I think it’s a combination of several factors; the money in the game, social media, a change in society for instant gratification. Sadly what it has resulted in is a lack of realism.
That’s not to say there are not legitimate concerns and complaints; there are, for sure. I do wish, however, they were channelled in a way that helped the club. After all, we all want the club to be successful, even if we differ on what success means.
Without new investment and being objective, mainly due to location, there are better options out there than us. We are currently a mid-Championship club. The tide is turning quickly too; the vast majority of clubs in the Championship and some in League One now have more investment than us. That’s a harsh reality.
So we have three choices:
- Change the model to a sustainable one and attempt to punch above our weight.
- Attract new investment – which is not easy and doesn’t come without something in return.
- Find new owners – something fraught with danger and relies on a will to sell and indeed to buy.
We’re attempting the first of these and it needs time to sink in and settle. Yes, that does mean that this season, at least, may need to be written-off – or at least the first half of it – but you simply cannot make so many changes in staff (both playing and otherwise) and ethos and still expect a team gelling together to play well every week. It’s unrealistic.
When you couple that with the fact that we’ve never been an established top flight team, ever, in our entire history as a club, why should we expect to be so now, at a time where the gulf between our funding and others is greater than ever? I guess that’s one of the things that makes football great; that it defies logic at times.
What I would say though is this: booing players has never helped the club. Neither has moaning about every decision to make yourself feel better, and nor has abusing players, staff and owners. These things only serve to make things worse.
I do understand the frustration, believe me I do, but let’s give it the time it needs and not do things that make it worse.
So what do I recommend? Well, chill out, enjoy your life, sing at games, have a laugh and accept that the Premier League is not the be all and end all.
Sure all of this is easier when we’re winning and Ipswich are not, but surely no City fan is following us for that winning feeling alone? If so it must be a torturous existence.
For what it’s worth I still think we’ll finish above our local rivals even though it may not feel like it right now.
Now what was I saying about realism and logic…..