June 2017 has been something of a landmark month for the Canaries.
Not only has it been the 115th anniversary of the club, it’s also seen the formal arrival of its first overseas head coach plus his chosen backroom staff, four new players (almost unheard of in these parts in June), the end of the nine-year main commercial sponsorship deal with Aviva and the announcement of a new ‘main sponsor’.
However, that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg of potential changes, in what will almost certainly be a huge year, if not the biggest ever, in the club’s history.
Recent seasons have seen the frequent usage by the Board of the seemingly interchangeable phrases; “debt free” and “self-funding.” Both, in my opinion, are perfectly achievable objectives, with one hugely important proviso, Premier League cash.
Such is the huge differential in TV monies between the “top 20” and the Championship (£100 million minimum against £6 million per annum) that those suffering relegation face huge financial challenges. Or, in more succinct terms – losses.
It’s something nearly all Championship clubs do regularly; not assisted by some bizarre Financial Fair Play rules. (But that’s a completely different matter for another day!) And, for those suggesting that help is at hand in the form of parachute payments, forget it; that £30 million income for next season has largely already gone.
The combination of City spending “big” in January 2016, plus legacy issues of a Premier League wage structure, almost certainly means, we’re burning cash far quicker than it comes in – even after relegation clauses, player releases and sales kick in.
To put the revenue reductions in context, the £98 million received in the Premier League, will be about £60 million this season and just £30 million the one after, assuming promotion isn’t secured in May 2018.
The contrast couldn’t be more stark; promotion equals £130 million minimum – staying put just £30 million. Literally the whole dynamic of the club will hinge on the next 46 League games. All of which probably means, more out of financial necessity, going forward, it won’t be just about how much cash we have, but, critically, how well we actually spend it.
The cynical will, undoubtedly, refer to “doing things on the cheap”, but, the club has to cut its proverbial cloth according its means. It literally has no choice as things stand. And this comes down to the “R” word (not relegation – that’s for “that lot”) of recruitment.
More than enough has already been written on this topic since Stewart Webber wandered into this parish but what’s often overlooked, is the other side of the equation – moving players on. Fans usually focus on acquisitions – and why not; as we all want to see the squad improved.
However, given the finite resources, especially in the Championship, the club simply can’t afford to carry too big a squad, with a significant number deemed surplus to requirements; the proverbial “dead wood” – often the legacy of previous transfer window woes!
Players running down contracts and releasing them isn’t either financially beneficial for the club or of much use to the Head Coach, especially if those involved are contributing very little from a playing perspective. There’s an alternative: player sales – something which the club has been fairly limited with in recent seasons.
This may, viewed cynically, be because no one actually wants them, (any takers for a 35 year old one-footed player?) or a natural reluctance to dispose of players with value because of the associated accusations of “lack of ambition.”
Steve Stone has already touched on the need for the club to get creative, to assist the process of squad development. This undoubtedly means sales. This isn’t advocating mass player disinvestment. But, thinking logically, if you’ve got a first-team squad of 25 to 30 players, most on three year deals, you’re naturally going to have around 8 to 10 out of contract each year.
Some you’ll obviously want to keep, but, by the same token, you certainly don’t want all of the others going on frees. Perhaps, therefore, with this in mind, fans should become more accustomed to four or five out-of contract releases, each summer, with a similar number of player sales?
Whatever your thoughts on how to deal with squad development, one thing is absolutely certain – after four of the past six seasons in the Premier League, the mindsets of both the club and its fans are going to have to change. Big money purchases and wages belong, for now at least, in the past.
This club has to reinvent itself. Stand still in football and you’re in danger of going backwards and, to paraphrase my favourite snippet of the close season, no one, surely, wants to “dine out with Messrs Wilkins and Brazil in the Dinosaur Club” do they?