April 27th, 2019: Champagne corks popped and the party began. With sighs of relief aplenty, the board ensured not just one successful season, but two (2018/19 and 2019/20). For the goals of “the project” are clear and by all measurable standards this season the project has been a success.
The board were forthright on their targets at the AGM:
“I can assure the supporters that our focus is to remain in the Premier League.” Stuart Webber.
“We are very pleased with these sets of results because it is just another step for us to take to achieve our objective to become a self-sustaining, established Premier League club.” Ben Kensell.
Optimistic, inspiring, and with real intent. Except those quotes weren’t from Webber and Kensell. They were from David McNally and Alan Bowkett in 2012.
At the AGM this year, Zoe Ward stated, “Ideally we’d be top 20, but how we see it is to aim to be a top 26 club”. Achieving top 26 was never in doubt. Day one, job done. In setting success lower than the current position, Webber and co. have inferred it was okay for this club to go backwards.
The lack of commitment to progression has been reflected in budgets, signings, communication to fans, players, and staff. It’s reflected in Farke’s referring to winning matches as “miracles”. It’s reflected in Webber stating we had “38 free hits”. We’ve had our Premier League vacation and now we’re headed home and that’s ‘okay’.
Part two of the project is to be “self-funding”. Buying cheap, nurturing youngsters, and selling talent to cover our large operating costs (compared to Championship revenues). While recent performances may impact some transfer fees, Webber will certainly cash in. He may have little choice with players facing a relentless season in the Championship, a devastating pay cut, and a belief they’ve outgrown the club.
All reasons to leave.
According to Webber, the project is three years old and it’s time for a shake-up. So the clear out will happen and the wheel begins another turn. Again, we’ll be plundering lower and lesser known leagues for gems.
The final part of the project, the unspoken part, is to secure those vital Premier League parachute payments. A quick nip in-and-out of the Prem earns the 40-50million quid in parachute payment per year to keep City solvent. Selling a player for £10million is nice, but it’s not all profit. The player needs replacing, and other parties grab their stake. In comparison a parachute payment is all gravy.
So, where does this leave the project? Next season our goal is to finish top six. Not win promotion. Top six. We’ll nurture some talent for sale. We’ll bank the parachute payments. But should we return to the PL (Promised Land) don’t expect anything different. Webber has been clear, he has no intention of pushing the boat out, or risking the club (despite a £38million deficit last year).
For me, the most depressing part is the project’s lack of commitment to staying in the Premier League. Consider this – if we don’t earn any more points, then we were effectively relegated in Week 21. That’s when 17th place passed 21 points and a reasonable goal difference. Game Week 21 happened on January 1st.
That’s how awful we’ve been, yet it’s all fine within the parameters of the project.
The other heartbreaking factor is that with Alex Tettey entering his final season, we’re witnessing the end of long-standing squad members. Everyone is now a product for us to sell. One or two good seasons and the player is gone.
That’s the project. Promotion, great! Relegation, no problem. Please buy our players.
If nothing else, this season has exposed the club’s real intentions. There is no interest in being a Premier League team. They don’t want to risk the purchases or paying the wages. We are simply a machine for selling talent.
Sadly, it’s entirely in the interest of ensuring Delia’s position as a non-investing owner remains secure. Nothing is in the interest of the fans.