Writing about a transfer window before it closes should probably carry a health warning, not least because you can’t be certain just how many players will be signed between now and when the transfer window finally “slams shut” late on Wednesday evening.
Nevertheless, as transfer windows go, this one can, so far, only be described as disappointing.
Back in May, following relegation, I was far from alone in thinking that this City squad needed a complete overhaul. Frankly, at the time, I could name at least half a dozen players towards whom I’d be totally indifferent if they never donned a yellow shirt again because many had just suffered a second relegation in three seasons.
Alex Neil, in his post season analysis, seemed to be on a similar wavelength, touching on the fact that the age profile of the squad was, in footballing terms, relatively high and that a number of players had been here already for several years.
“Refresh” was the word on the lips and a summer of wheeler dealing seemed inevitable.
Except it hasn’t – not yet anyway.
Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, after the post relegation inquest, the initial signs were far from good.
On 10 June 2016, the headline on the club’s website read – “Nine out-of-contract players to leave City.”
“The cull has begun” me thinks – except, again, it hasn’t.
Eight of the nine are academy players, with barely a handful, if any, appearances to their names and the only two senior players out of contract were Gary O’Neil – who subsequently left – and Steven Whittaker – who had just agreed a one year extension.
Whether I agree, or not, with the Whittaker extension – or the club’s decision to defer announcing the automatic contract extensions to Tettey, Wes and Turner (which were actually agreed back in 2014 and conditional on going straight back up in 2015) – is largely irrelevant and the not the point here.
The key factor, post relegation, we had virtually the same squad, many under contract until 2017 and beyond.
And this is where I really start thinking. What will be the key drivers behind this summer’s transfer window, its success, or otherwise?
For sure, the resignation of the CEO, especially one who was so “hands on” on transfer activity, just prior to the end of last season, wasn’t helpful, but I cannot believe that it was a one man show. After all, how many times were we told that, when one transfer window closed, the planning for the next one began immediately? And that’s before we start talking about the recruitment board – or whatever the term is.
Dropping a division clearly impacts on both the budget and potential targets, for sure, but do we not have A-lists and B-lists? Sorry, but I’m not buying that one either.
So, is it down to money?
Undoubtedly, yes it is, but, this is where perception and reality may just differ, because, for all the talk of transfer budgets, wage caps and being uncompetitive on transfer fees, just consider the last time City were in this league in 2014/15.
Not only did the Club have the highest revenue (£52m) it also had the highest revenues excluding parachute payments (£29m) highest commercial revenues (£12.9m) and, more importantly, highest wage bill (£51m). *
So, okay, those figures are already out of date – it’s now 2016/17 and the Championship also contains Newcastle United and Aston Villa, both of whom will generate higher revenues and spends than City, but are we really financially uncompetitive? Personally, I don’t think so.
And this is the nub of the issue. Football, just like any other business is ruled by cash flow. Yes, there are – and always have been – other clubs with wealthy benefactors, ready to lend a hand with another soft loan to assist with meeting a shortfall of income over expenditure.
But let’s not use that as an excuse for City being uncompetitive in the transfer market, because, when the financial figures are released for the current season (rather than for last) in some fifteen months’ time, City will be in the top three, for certain.
Which, rather neatly, brings us full circle – with apologies for those who I may have lost along the way.
Given that we will undoubtedly have one of the largest revenues in the league to play with this season, is the club hampered by its current wage bill? And, by that I mean, do we actually have too many players on wages that are relatively high for this league, thereby making them difficult to move on, even if the manager wants to?
Was having too many players under contract at the end of last season actually a hindrance, rather than an advantage, in terms of freeing up wages for this season’s budget?
If you’re still uncertain, consider this: last time we were in this league our wage bill was actually 97 per cent of our total turnover, even having regard to the then relegation clauses and the subsequent promotion bonuses. Yes, that’s unsustainable long term without Premier League football and, if it was a problem last time, you can bet it will be again this season.
More importantly, is it a liability which actually restricts the manager’s ability to wheel and deal now?
Aiming to spend every surplus penny on the football budget is undoubtedly the way to go – after all, football clubs are not here to make a profit, or pay dividends to its shareholders. But I can’t help but wonder, whether, in aiming to be competitive in the Premier League, we’ve somehow let the wages genie out of the bottle in terms of too much money being directed towards wages for what are, effectively, mainly, top end Championship players?
Now, there’s an interesting thought and, perhaps not the conclusion many were expecting when reading this.
* Figures sourced from @SwissRamble