Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dead Money Walking

Dead Money is a phrase used to describe money put into a poker tournament by players who because of their ineptitude have little or no chance of seeing their money ever again. In recent days it has struck me that there is a huge amount of  Dead Money in football. 

Consider the reported transfer of the 22 year old Gylfi Sigurdsson  recently purchased by Swansea City for £6.8m. To make the example work I need to make a few assumptions but I feel they are realistic let us assume that he has a 4 year contract and the cost of employing him is £1.5m p.a. At the end of the contract Sigurdsson at the age of 26 is a free agent and has zero residual value. Therefore over the lifetime of the contract the cost to Swansea is £12.8m or over £3.25m a year which is no small matter to a club whose income even in the Premier League will be no more than £60m p.a. 

Obviously Swansea hope that he continues to be a success and that his value grows rather than diminishes. However this only happens if Swansea can extend the contract or sell when it still has 2 years or more to run. Either the cost to Swansea grows (players only ever sign new & improved contracts) or they sell a key player and thereby diminish their chances of survival in the Premier League. The alternative is a lot worse of course, the form of last year was a flash in the pan and in 2 years time they have an expensive white elephant that they are trying to hawk round world football in a desperate attempt to get him off the wage bill and recoup even a small fraction of the transfer fee (whatever did happen to David Bentley?).

Due to the possibility of a resale the Sigurdsson transfer is not strictly dead money it is just a little bit poorly compared with the pushing up the daises money that changed hands for Peter Crouch. At the tender age of 31 he has been given a 4 year contract and had a fee of £10m. Total cost of lets say £22m and there is virtually no chance that Stoke will be seeing any of it  any time soon.

However for the true Norwegian Blue of dead football money look no further than the compensation paid to clubs for the services of Head coaches. The daddy of them all has to be Andres Villa Boas at Chelsea or better still the ill fated appointment of Alex McLeish at Villa. Both clubs sacked their managers within 12 months of appointing them  so neither could be argued to be a success. Could either club done worse than appointing a manager from the pool of unattached managers last summer? 

In a culture where head coaches have a life expectancy of less than 18 months with virtually no chance of recouping the money the compensation paid for a coach is the stiffest of stiffs in the graveyard. For those of you wondering why the Albion will not be paying £2m for Chris Hughton's services there is your answer Dead Money walking      

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Premier League Managers as Oliver

"More you want more!" Will be the cry from Premier League boardrooms as  managers inform the owners that in order to make a serious challenge for the Title, Champions League spot, Europa League qualification, survive in the division, keep up with fierce local rivals or match his own ambition they need to invest in new players during the summer.

The owner will point to the countless millions already invested in various players some of whom spent the season on loan with Dynamo Unpronounceable with the club paying most of the wages. They will point out that in the real world there is a recession they will say that the banks are extremely reluctant to lend, attendances are down, they will plead they have families to feed and bills to pay.The manager will just look a little forlorn and say pitifully "yes I know but if only we could sign Carlos Kickaball from Athletico Paella for £10m it will transform our prospects".

The sane will just say no, or sell before you buy, this what the club can afford and no more and mean it. However there will  be those in spite of all the evidence to the contrary will buy the dream get the cheque book out and away we go for more football transfer madness.  

This summer QPR will back Hughes, Sunderland will be O'Neilled* Liverpool will have one last throw of the dice to get back in the Champions League. Chelsea's new manager will be given money to overhaul an ageing and increasingly fractious squad, the monster that is Man City will buy yet more expensive talent in pursuit of world domination and Man United will invest tens of millions to wrest the title back from City.

Amongst all the ballyhoo West Bromwich Albion will get on with their business in a quiet but effective manner. Firstly there will no marque signings i.e. a signing that announces to world we are here. It is not our style and for the most part marque signings are about the owners ego rather than a rational approach to team building. Secondly we will squeeze every ounce of value out of all our transactions, deals will not get done quickly and if deal does not get done at the right price it will not get done at all. Finally all our signings will be have been thoroughly scouted and not bought purely on the basis of one man's judgement.

Of course none of the Albion's measured approach to transfer business is a guarantee of success some signings will work better than others however the key is not to make the big expensive mistakes on the scale of Nicola Zigic or Roger Johnson. Many fans crave the big headline grabbing transfer coup and make the mistake of equating the fee paid for a player is a indication of the player's quality.Yes there is a correlation but it is not as strong as one would imagine the history of football is littered with expensive failures and inexpensive successes.

I look forward to the transfer window and the signing that a premier league team will make that will have fans and pundits scratching their heads and saying "£20 million for Jordan Henderson? Really oh well it's Kenny Dalglish so he must know what he is doing". I know that it will not be one of the Baggies deals unless we are the selling club and that is no bad thing. Let the madness commence.

*Being O'Neilled take a mid-table club like Aston Villa with a wealthy owner appoint an ambitious if somewhat overrated coach spend a lot of money on fees and wages play turgid football achieve 6th place in the premier league spend more of the owners money the following year to push for the holy grail of English football, champions league qualification achieve 6th again repeat until the money and or the owner's patience runs out  .

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tallest Pygmy in the Village

No Movement1Man City386489
No Movement2Man Utd385689
No Movement3Arsenal382570
No Movement4Tottenham382569
No Movement5Newcastle38565
No Movement6Chelsea381964
No Movement7Everton381056
No Movement8Liverpool38752
No Movement9Fulham38-352
No Movement10West Brom38-747
No Movement11Swansea38-747
No Movement12Norwich38-1447
No Movement13Sunderland38-145
No Movement14Stoke38-1745
No Movement15Wigan38-2043
No Movement16Aston Villa38-1638
No Movement17QPR38-2337
No Movement18Bolton38-3136
No Movement19Blackburn38-3031
No Movement20Wolves38-4225
This season saw the Baggies finish the top placed team in the West Midlands comfortably clear of relegated Wolves and the increasingly shambolic Villa.  You have to be quite old to remember the last time we achieved this distinction it was back in 1978/79 over 30 years ago. During the intervening years we have often been ahead of the Wolves but never been able to finish higher than arch Birmingham rivals Villa and for many of those years we were quite literally not in the same league. As recently 2008/2009 I was beginning to think we would never beat the Villa yet alone finish above them sometimes we might join them in the Premier League but with Martin O'Neil in charge and being bankrolled by Randy Lerner's millions it looked like Villa were on the verge of gatecrashing the elite of English football and leaving their local rivals trailing in their wake.

Things changed last season we beat the Villa for the first time in ages and the post O'Neil decline has been spectacular. Crippled with debt and an owner who has turned off the financial succour which kept Villa top of the pile. To compound their problems Lerner made a disastrous management appointment in Alex McLeish which not only generated fan discontent but also led to a flirtation with relegation.

Wolves are in some ways stronger in that they are financially sound however a combination of mismanagement and poor performances from key players led to their relegation. They will regroup in the Championship under Stale Solbakken who will be under intense pressure to achieve a speedy return. Steve Morgan has invested heavily in the club and the cost base is a premier league one even if the team isn't.

Wolves join Birmingham City in the championship. Not long ago fueled by Carson Yueng's money Birmingham looked like they would be the challengers to Villa for supremency in the West Midlands however their star faded faster than you can say "lets sign Nicola Zigic".

When we were not top of the heap many an envious glance was cast particularly at Wolves and Birmingham.  Some fans saw the headline grabbing purchases of Roger Johnson, Scott Dann, Kevin Doyle, Jamie O'Hara and Nicola Zigic and asked the question why not us? In short we could afford neither the wages nor the fees. In fact neither could the Blues whose current position off the pitch is grave.

We now find ourselves at the apex of West Midlands football at the point when it is at a nadir. Blues and Wolves are licking their wounds in the Championship and Aston Villa are a mess. I do not want to decry the club's achievements and for a us a top 10 finish represents real progress but let us not get ahead of ourselves.Finishing above two poor teams is a bit like being the tallest pygmy in the village. Being ahead of Stoke and Sunderland feels like an achievement doing so again next year will ensure a solid mid table position finishing ahead of Villa might mean we are relegated in 18th.