I suspect the same game will have been played across pub tables the length and breadth of the Norfolk Nation.
Or, more likely, message-boards the world-over. Anyway, the game is quite simple. You have £40 million to spend and dressing room spirit par excellence to sustain. All yours…
The £40 million figure was the one that crossed the chairman’s lips on Sunday night at the club’s end of season dinner.
The fat part of which will now be handed to Canary chief Paul Lambert by way of a Premier League transfer kitty. Bits and bobs will be ear-marked to pay off this or that, but to the nearest £10 million, that’s what will be burning a hole in his back pocket between now and August 31 – and, again, from January 1st to the 31st.
We won’t be doing that ‘emergency loan’ thing anymore; that’s for the also-rans in the Football League.
The only other point to bear in mind is the fact that players wages and agents fees have to come out of that figure.
The devil will – as ever – be in the detail of that commitment, but let’s throw some numbers on to the back of the nearest fag packet.
Let’s put a ‘ceiling’ in place of, say, £20,000 a week. That whoever arrives this summer dressed up as a Premier League certainty will have to ‘make do’ with that kind of salary. Lambert has already stated quite categorically that Norwich won’t be operating in the £60,000-£70,000-a-week market.
They’re not a West Ham.
So let’s say £20,000. Roughly. Which – by equally rough – measurement, means £1 million a year in wages. Over a four-year deal; that’s a £4 million commitment. With potential bonuses and agent fees coming in over and above that, let’s call it a £5 million touch.
For one, Premier League ‘star’; on the basis that he arrives on a free transfer.
So, on those numbers, you could add eight players to your squad. But you won’t. Because some are going to come with a transfer fee attached – and bringing in eight fresh faces at £20,000-a-week per pop assumes that you are about to rip up this current ‘Band Of Brothers’ and start with a wholly new team for the start of the 2010-2011.
Which won’t happen either. Lambert’s back-to-back promotion campaigns were based on evolution, not revolution.
It is almost team (re-)building by stealth when you recognise that bar the likes of Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan, Adam Drury and Russell Martin, everyone else was a recent invention – a child of 2010-2011.
It was a team built within the flexible frame-work offered by that ‘emergency’ loan market; get a lad in for one-month, then two… see how he ‘fits’, bed him in and then roll out the big deal.
That level of sophistication isn’t available next season; it is the brute certainty that comes with working up to August 31st and then – and only then – again through the month of January.
By when injury and form will have shaped your thinking again; you will have recognised the weakest links and will have reacted accordingly.
Already, it is clear that handing Lambert a cheque book with £40 million to play with is but the start of the matter. It is not easy to get this ‘right’ – not when you have an existing chemistry within that dressing room that is so, so right.
As tonight’s ‘Promotion Parade’ around the city will only confirm again.
You play with that at your peril.
Of course, there may be one, big bit of the jig-saw that demands you go the extra-mile wages-wise.
What price, for example, would you put on a Premiership keeper? One whose ability could be ‘worth’ an extra five or six points over the course of a season if he out-performs his counterparts?
Would you go to the £9 million lengths that Sunderland paid for a Craig Gordon in the summer of 2007?
Has Lambert’s magic not been lost on Fraser Forster? What price his return to Carrow Road this summer after his latest, season-long loan spell at Celtic confirmed that the kid is destined for big things?
But then will Alan Pardew want to get shot? What price will Newcastle slap on his head? It would appear that either Forster or Tim Krul will be out on loan again next season; the Dutchman is the man in possession right now – but has Forster done enough to get the Toon gig full-time next August?
Or would £4 million do the talking – as one report north of the border suggested? And a £4 million keeper would expect what in wages? If he had both Celtic and Norwich on his trail?
And so it will continue.
Where do you draw the line? Where do you stop?
Players aren’t stupid. If you get a Scotty Parker in on £50,000-a-week and it goes on to be Sportswriters Player of the Year and all-but single-handedly keeps you in the top flight of English football, then the dressing room will nod their approval…
‘Money well spent, Gaffer…’
But for every Scotty Parker there are five or six Mark Viduka’s. Who do nothing but raise eye-brows and sink spirits with every tweak and twang of their precious frame.
It is a minefield out there. Being handed £40 million can be both a mill-stone and a God-send and will require a special kind of manager to get the balance just right.
Fortunately, when it comes to a special kind of manager Norwich already have one of those….