Monday, 16 December 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls Part II

Steve Clarke in happier times.
My last post (here) concerned the almost rhythmical nature of being the Premier leagues "crisis club" and the fact that being manager of the crisis club was likely to be a job with very few long term prospects. At the time of writing it appeared to be Norwich's Chris Hughton who had the dubious privilege of being that man. I did point out that a couple of good results could place another manager in the line of fire and Martin Jol at Fulham being the obvious candidate. As things turned out Jol was indeed sacked shortly after losing to West Ham in what was deemed a must win game.
 
What I did not anticipate was the next managerial sacking would happen at the Hawthorns and in truth despite a poor run of form Steve Clarke was fired without ever really becoming the designated Manager under pressure at the crisis club. He was facing a must win game against Hull but the board decided that enough was enough following a pretty dire performance at Cardiff and showed Clarke the door.

In my earlier post I suggested that whoever was going to be next manager fired would not be last as the scrap to avoid relegation hotted up as the season progressed. I also suggested that not all of the sackings would be justified but in a situation when a club's owners are under pressure to do something and unable to go into the transfer market to freshen things up boards tend to axe the manager.

In Steve Clarke's case was the sacking justified ?  During his first season he got off to a blistering start which faded quite badly but none the less took the Baggies to their highest league finish in years by finishing 8th. Unfortunately for Clarke he rather lost his way and in spite of a few highlights this season has witnessed a sharp decline in his team's performance to the point he was operating below expectations.

The National Media and football pundits have been quick to condemn the club for being over hasty but largely on the back of form that is nearly a year old and without having much insight into the increasingly frosty relationship Clarke had with his employers. The better informed commentators have been slower to condemn the club or at least not been surprised by the dismissal

In his departing statement issued through the LMA Clarke suggested that expectations at the Hawthorns had  become unrealistically inflated in part because of his own performance the previous season. This might hold true for some fans but the board at the club is realistic almost to a fault. The bottom line is simple survival in the Premier League is the number one expectation as it is most clubs in the league. To achieve this a manager needs to see his team average a minimum of 1 point a game failure to do that over a sustained period of time and most managers are in jeopardy. The same applies to teams with loftier ambitions of Champions League qualification but here the average is 2 points. Coincidentally across all those teams that are currently averaging less than a point a match in the Premier League only one West Ham have not changed their manager.

In Steve Clarke's case he had dropped below the point a game average for the season but even that might not have been critical particularity as his team was only one win away from getting him back across the right side of the line. Aside from the slump in the team's form and a feeling of drift that was starting to envelop the club what did for Clarke more than anything else he or people close to him had briefed journalists to put pressure on the board on a few issues concerning transfers and Clarke's own future.

Some may argue that it is the modern game and media savvy coaches use briefings to fight their own internal battles over contracts and resources but this is something that is frowned upon at the Hawthorns. Chairman Peace took over in the wake of a power struggle between the then manager Gary Megson and Chairman Paul Thompson which in effect Thompson lost. Peace learnt the lesson well and the management dog does not wag the ownership tail at West Brom and any manager who plays silly buggers in the press had better deliver the goods or else.

Ultimately when a team is under performing and Albion have been for sometime the Head Coach will be given time to put things right but how long rather depends on the goodwill that he has with the club's owners if there is mitigating circumstances and an understanding fan base. In Clarke's case there was little by the way of mitigation he has a big squad and was backed as best as the club could in the most recent transfer window and while the fans were still generally behind him there was a growing sense of unease, however some of his earlier actions had eroded the critical goodwill of his employers.

Unfortunately we will never know whether it was the right decision or not. All football appointments are subject post-hoc rationalisation along the lines of Albion do well for the remainder of the season it is the right move if they do badly and it will be condemned as over hasty. The appointment of  Mauricio Pochettino at the Southampton is the blueprint, roundly condemned by most pundits at the time but now hailed as a masterstroke as Southampton now sit happily in the top half of the Division.

I will stick my neck out and say the decision was the right one the team was on the slide and not to act would be wrong however a lot now hinges on the next appointment and getting the right man in will be critical.

   

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

During the first quarter of the Premier League season the Di-Cannio era at Sunderland  has predictably ended in tears and Ian Holloway has departed from Palace. The hunt is now on for the next Premier League Manager that to use the cliche is under pressure and it would appear Norwich's Chris Hughton is the name in the frame. 

The Canaries have just been on the wrong end of a 7:0 thrashing at Manchester City and are currently sitting third from bottom of the Premier League so there is a certain logic given the team's mixed fortunes. It is almost pointless to ask if it is it fair. Ditching coaches in the Premier League has an almost inevitable rhythm there is a cycle where there is always a club in crisis and that club's manager is just a handful of games from the sack.

 Going into the weekend there were a number of candidates for being the crisis club Fulham and Newcastle being among the alternatives . All were playing clubs that were far stronger than themselves and could suffer heavy defeats. Unfortunately for Hughton, Newcastle managed an unlikely win against Chelsea and while Fulham lost it was not a complete rout. So Norwich are this weekend's crisis club and Hughton has to face questions from the Match of the Day interviewer about whether or not he is the right man for the job.

What has happened at Norwich? Having survived in the Premier League for two seasons with a relatively modest squad mostly recruited from the Championship Norwich spent big in the summer to kick on to the next level. Unfortunately for Norwich they cannot compete with those teams with £100m plus wage bills and there is an absolute limit to the quality of player they can attract and it will never be enough to lift them out of the Premier League's mid table mix. For teams like Norwich the reality is they will never be more than about 3 defeats away from a flirtation with the relegation places and that is their lot. The summer's activity has raised expectations but equally the turnover in players has disrupted what was a tight nit unit and the newcomers are still adjusting to life in a new league and in many cases a new country. All of which has probably had a negative impact on results.

However Norwich's position is far from dire they lie 18th but are only three points adrift from 13th placed Swansea albeit with a much inferior goal difference as a consequence of their recent drubbings. Hughton is a canny and experienced coach who is used to managing in far more difficult situations than those he is currently in and frankly there are no obvious better alternatives waiting in the wings.  

Next week Norwich face West Ham at home and it will no doubt be labelled a must win game. If Norwich win they will swap places with West Ham and in all probability Hughton can pass the baton onto Sam Allardyce who will be managing the new crisis club. At the end of  November West Ham will have a must win fixture against Fulham and provided they win that the crisis club is likely to be Fulham Martin Jol then will be facing an uncertain future.

The point is that the bottom half of the Premier League is very tight all the teams are a pretty evenly matched and giving a coach a handful of games to save their job is unfair and irrational. At the moment it looks like Sunderland and Crystal Palace will be lucky to escape the drop but the third relegation spot will be a tight run race between anything up to 5 or 6 teams so a few poor results will see a lot of managers looking over their shoulders and boardrooms will be wondering if they need to make a change. The crisis club will change almost weekly and I am sure not all the managers will survive to the end of the season and those dismissed will have the right to feel a little aggrieved.  

       

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Level 5 Meltdown Alert



Thanks to Lisa Marshall for the above graphic
I don't do seething or at least I try not to certainly about events that are totally and utterly beyond my control and as such I think the most I have ever mustered on the fan meltdown-o-meter was a one which was back in the days of Gould when the Baggies fans in general were off the scale. Maybe I view current events through that prism and cannot get worked up about an owner who is reluctant to spend money on transfer fees while the team is in the Premier League and enjoying sustained success.

I know I am in the minority that looks at the bloated fees in the English transfer market sees no value just risk and is quite happy that the club has been extremely cautious in a market that makes tulip mania seem rational, it can only end in tears all bubbles do. However at the death two hefty fees (for WBA) were paid for Anichebe and Sessegnon however I am reliably informed by the legion of  Football Manager experts that they are wrong big money singings. So maybe I should join them at meltdown level 3 or more likely I won't.

Take the hype away and the reality of Albion's transfer dealings are as follows

Out
Odemwingie, Jara, Lukaku, Thomas and Fortune

In
Anelka, Sinclair, Vydra,  Lugano,  Amalfitano, Camp, Sessegnon and Anichebe

Across the summer we have increased the squad size so it is hard to argue from a purely numerical perspective that the squad is any weaker than last season. From a perspective of quality and balance that remains to be seen I won't rush to judgement either way. Too often players with burgeoning reputations have arrived only to disappoint whereas more modest signings have flourished so the jury ought to be out. Those fans who wanted the club to splash the cash are disappointed and many are rubbishing the new signings to prove their point that a transfer fee somehow reflects the quality of the player, it does not.

Personally I would have liked the club to seize the initiative this summer and overhaul the squad by trading some of the senior players whose form dipped in the second half of the year and used the funds to bring in a new generation of players. However it was not to be and given that I don't run the club my opinion counts for very little so there is no point in working myself into a lather over it.

The media is obsessed with the transfer window and whether it is the idiot Franks on radio WM whipping up a storm or the over hyped Sky Sports News understanding that something might be happening somewhere, it creates a sense of desperation amongst the fans who get the impression that everything hinges on who a club can sign. It does not. The cohesiveness of a team the coaches tactical awareness and dumb luck count for as much as a marque signing here or there.

The window is now closed the whole circus has packed up and left town. It is time to get over what might have been and get behind the Baggies  

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Season of the Coach

"I thought we had United today so what is young Moyes doing here?"
At the start of this season no fewer than 16 of the Premier League Managers will not have had two seasons with their current clubs. Of those 5 will be taking charge of their new clubs for the first time this weekend and uniquely 3 of the top 4 finishers from the previous campaign start with new men at the helm.
 
Hence every triumph or failure will be viewed as affirmation or disaffirmation of the decision to appoint Moyes, Pellageni or Mourhnio. Can Moyes fill Sir Alex's shoes? Can Pellagreni succeed in Europe? Will the return of the Special One propel Chelsea to a new golden age? I don't have the answers but I will humbly suggest the four richest clubs in England will have a private battle for the seasons major honours. There is a possibility one of their appointments will derail their club's season to a degree that will let Liverpool or Spurs gate crash the party but wouldn't bet on it.
 
In terms of financial firepower the biggest clubs are too far ahead of the rest for all but the most disastrous coaching appointment to make much of a difference. At the margin i.e. between the top four it might so Arsenal could view the coming season as an opportunity to finish somewhere other than fourth and let one of the others sweat on fourth in final few weeks of the season.      


Arsenal

Manager Arsene Wenger
Last Year Okay, but not great finished fourth but as with the previous campaign it was only achieved with a late sprint to the line after a fairly indifferent start.

Transfer Activity 
signed Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre, free)

sold / released Andrey Arshavin (released), Denilson (Sao Paulo,) Sebastien Squillaci (released), Martin Angha (Nuremberg), Craig Eastmond (Colchester, free), Conor Henderson (released), Jernade Meade (Swansea), Sanchez Watt (Colchester), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, loan), Vito Mannone (Sunderland ), Francis Coquelin (Freiburg) Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace), Ignasi Miquel (Leicester,loan), Gervinho (Roma)

Prospects The summer saw a host a departures many of whom had hardly covered themselves with glory during their time at the Emirates but significantly no high profile departures. It also saw some heavy duty posturing in the market but to date no actual signings of note. The net result is an Arsenal squad that is shallower than last year and one that is need of reinforcement. Whether they recruit the right players remains to be seen and even if they do will they make significant in roads in the gap between themselves and the three teams that finished ahead of them? 

Where they will finish 3rd to 6th

Aston Villa

Manager Paul Lambert
Last Year  Another battle with relegation but Lambert's brave decision to stick with his younger players came good in the end.
 
Transfer Activity
signed Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznan), Jores Okore (Nordsjaelland), Leandro Bacuna (Groningen), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg), Antonio Luna (Sevilla), Jed Steer (Norwich) Liam Prynn (Torquay) Jed Steer (Norwich).
sold / released Richard Dunne (QPR,), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Jean Makoun (Rennes), Andy Marshall (released), Derrick Williams (Bristol City),Courtney Cameron (Torquay), Brett Holman (Al Nasr) Samir Carruthers (MK Dons loan), Graham Burke (Shrewsbury, loan) Stiliyan Petrov (retired)

Prospects This window has seen Villa have been trying to jettison some of the more costly mistakes from previous regimes and Paul Lambert's new model army is starting to take shape. Whilst the youngsters who struggled to retain the club's Premier League status will have learned a great deal from the experience it remains to be seen how far they can move forward. Obviously Benteke's U-turn on his contract is a significant boost however I don't think it is enough to take them off relegation watch altogether.
Where they will finish 12th to 18th

Cardiff City
Manager Malky MacKay
Last Year   Won the Championship at a canter after years of disappointment in the play-offs.
  
Transfer Activity
signed  Steven Caulker (Tottenham), Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen), John Brayford (Derby County), Simon Moore (Brentford) Gary Medel (Sevilla, £11m)
sold / released Stephen McPhail (released), Heidar Helguson (released), Nat Jarvis (released) Jese Darko (released) Elliot Parish (released) Robert Earnshaw (released)

Prospects No amount of investment will banish the possibility of relegation for a newly promoted club. The board have broken the club's transfer record three times during the window and given MacKay every chance to succeed but the squad really lacks Premier League know-how and could struggle as a consequence.
Where they will finish 15th to 20th

Chelsea


Manager Jose Mourhinio
Last Year business as usual bought some expensive players sacked the coach and won a trophy.  

Transfer Activity
signed Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse Arnhem), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham) Cristián Cuevas (O'Higgins) Stipe Perica (NK Zadar).
sold / released Jeffrey Bruma (PSV), Yossi Benayoun (released), Florent Malouda (Trabzonspor), Hilario (released), Ross Turnbull (released), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, loan), Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Oriol Romeu (Valencia, loan), Paulo Ferreira (retired) Cristian Cuevas (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Lucas Piazon (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Todd Kane (Blackburn, loan), Marko Marin (Sevilla, loan), Gael Kakuta (Vitesse, loan), Patrick Bamford (MK Dons, loan) Wallace (Inter Milan, Loan)

Prospects Part of the division's elite likely to finish top four almost regardless of which manager comes in through the revolving door. This season it is Mourhinio who will probably win something although it might not be either of the Champions League or Premier League. The squad bristles with talent but is yet moulded into the clinical unit that characterised the Special One's first spell at the Bridge.
Where they will finish 1st to 5th

Crystal Palace

Manager  Ian Holloway
Last Year  Emerged from the Championship mid-table melee as underdogs to win their place in the Premier League via the play-offs.

Transfer Activity
signed Dwight Gayle (Peterborough), Stephen Dobbie (Brighton), Jerome Thomas (West Brom)Kevin Phillips (Blackpool), Elliot Grandin (Blackpool)Jose Campana (Sevilla) Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal)  Neil Alexander (Rangers)
sold / released Jermaine Easter (Millwall), Alex Marrow (Blackburn), Jason Banton (MK Dons, loan) Andre Moritz (Bolton, free), Ryan Inniss (Cheltenham, loan)

Prospects. Bleak, although no worse than Blackpool's who Holloway guided to the Premier League in similar circumstances and was a little unfortunate not to keep in the division. The weakest of the promoted teams and it could be argued that Palace were punching above their weight to finish sixth in the Championship and no amount of reinforcement will give them a realistic chance of beating the drop. 
Where they will finish 17th to 20th

 

Everton

Manager Roberto Martinez
Last Year .Finished sixth without ever really threatening to break into the Champions League spots

Transfer Activity
Signed Arouna Kone (Wigan), Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan), Joel Robles (Atletico Madrid), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)
Sold / released Thomas Hitzlsperger (released), Jan Mucha (released), Jake Bidwell (Brentford), Phil Neville (retired)

Prospects  After over a decade with Moyes in charge Everton will be adjusting to a new man at the helm who has a very different philosophy to that of his predecessor. Martinez inherits a squad that has talent although it remains to be seen how the players will respond to his more expansive style and whether or not he can retain the defensive solidity that was associated with the Moyes era.
Where they will finish 6th to 10th

Fulham

Manager Martin Jol
Last Year  Trundled through the season in lower mid-table without ever being in real danger of relegation.

Transfer Activity
signed Sascha Riether (Cologne), Derek Boateng (Dnipro), Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao), Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma) Ange-Freddy Plumain (Lens) Derek Boateng (Dnipro), Ange-Freddy Plumain (Lens), Adel Taarabt (QPR).
sold / released Chris Baird (released), Simon Davies (released) Mahamadou Diarra (released), Mladen Petric (released), Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea), Tom Donegan (released), Alex Smith (Swindon, free), Dan Burn (Birmingham, loan)


Prospects There has been quiet transformation going on at  Fulham's this summer and while the signings have not been eye catching they are solid and will add a little bit of steel to a Fulham team that sometimes was a little bit to easy to beat last year. A combination of Taarabt and Berbatov will be enthralling to watch although the other 8 outfield players will have to be prepared to put in a shift. 

Where they will finish 9th to 15th

Hull City Tigers

Manager Steve Bruce
Last Year managed to secure promotion to the premier league as runners up to Cardiff in the most dramatic of fashion.

Transfer Activity
signed George Boyd (Peterborough, free), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan, free), Curtis Davies (Birmingham, undisclosed), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland), Allan McGregor (Besiktas), Steve Harper (Newcastle),Yannick Sagbo (Evian)  Steve Harper (Newcastle United), Jamie Devitt (Chesterfield), Danny Graham (Sunderland, Loan)  Yannick Sagbo (Evian, £3m)
sold / released Sonny Bradley (Portsmouth, free), Danny East (Portsmouth, free), Mark Cullen (Luton, free), Andy Dawson (Scunthorpe, free), Jamie Devitt (released), Paul McKenna (released), Seyi Olofinjana (released), Jay Simpson (released), Jack Hobbs (Nottingham Forest, loan)Tom Cairney (Blackburn, loan)

Prospects It is going to be a tough season for the Tigers. They have added a little bit of quality to last season's squad but it still looks relatively weak. Steve Bruce is an experienced manager and it will take every bit of his nous to keep Hull in the division.
Where they will finish 17th to 20th

Liverpool

Manager Brendan Rodgers
Last Year Consolidated in seventh place under new manager Brendan Rodgers

Transfers Activity
signed Kolo Toure (Manchester City), Luis Alberto (Seville), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)
sold/released Andy Carroll (West Ham), Danny Wilson (Hearts), Jamie Carragher (retired), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea), Suso (Almeria, loan) Pepe Riena  (Napoli, loan), Jack Robinson (Blackpool, loan)

Prospects Deprived of their talismanic striker Suarez at least for the first few weeks of the season it remains to be seen whether Liverpool without the distraction of the Europa League can challenge for a top four spot. If they have unearthed some real talent in their transfer dealings this summer then it is possible but too often last season they were let down by a porous defence which the addition of Toure does not significantly improve.

Where they will finish 5th to 10th

Manchester City

Manager Manuel Pellegrini
Last Year Finished 2nd in the league, runners up in the FA Cup failed in the Champions League a dream of a season for most but not for City

Transfers Activity
signed Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), Jesus Navas (Sevilla) Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina)  Alvaro Negredo (Seville).
sold / released Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Wayne Bridge (Reading), Ryan McGivern (Hibernian), Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga), Karim Rekik (PSV, loan), Jeremy Helan (Sheffield Wednesday)Maicon (Roma, free), Reece Wabara (Doncaster, loan)

Prospects A very different team will kick off this season under Pellegrini compared to the one that embarked on last seasons ill fated title defence. The wayward talents of Ballotelli and Tevez have been replaced by players new to the Premier League if they adapt quickly to their new environment then this could be City's year.  
Where they will finish 1 to 4

Manchester United

Manager  David Moyes
Last Year Easily won the league and were unlucky to exit the Champions League at the 1/4 final stage

Transfer Activity
signed Guillermo Varela (Penarol)
sold / released Paul Scholes (retired)  Ryan Tunnicliffe (Ipswich, loan), Frederic Veseli (Ipswich, free), John Cofie (Barnsley, free), Reece Brown (Watford, free), Sean McGinty (Sheffield United, free)

Prospects This is the season when a group of talented youngsters must step up to the plate if United are to have realistic chance of retaining their title. The long running hunt for a new midfield fulcrum to replace Scholes has yet to come to fruition and the Rooney saga remains an unwelcome distraction so on the eve of the season it is difficult to see Moyes landing the title at his first attempt but equally United will be one of the contenders. 
Where they will finish 1st to 4th

Newcastle United

Manager Alan Pardew
Last Year  Dropped down the league to such a degree they managed to get themselves embroiled in the relegation battle.

Transfers Activity
signed Olivier Kemen (Metz) Loïc Rémy (QPR, Loan).
sold / released James Perch (Wigan,), Danny Simpson (QPR), Steve Harper (Hull) Shane Ferguson (Birmingham, Loan)

Prospects  Without a Europa League campaign and given January's signings have had time to settle Newcastle's league form should improve although probably not to the point where they are challenging for a Champions League place. The squad is probably stronger than last season and should be finishing in the top half of the division.
Where they will finish 6th to 12th

Norwich City 

Manager Chris Hughton
Last Year  Started poorly recovered and then slumped back towards the trap door.

Transfers Activity

signed Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Javier Garrido (Lazio), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham), Martin Olsson (Blackburn, undisclosed), Carlo Nash (Stoke), Leroy Fer (FC Twente) Javier Garrido (Lazio) Gary Hooper (Celtic)
sold / released Grant Holt (Wigan), James Vaughan (Huddersfield,), Jed Steer (Aston Villa), Chris Martin (Derby), Marc Tierney (Bolton), Simeon Jackson (Eintracht Braunschweig), Korey Smith (Oldham), Elliott Ward (Bournemouth), Tom Adeyemi (Birmingham), George Francomb (AFC Wimbledon), Lee Camp (released), Declan Rudd (Preston), Andrew Surman (Bournemouth, loan)

Prospects Following a very mixed campaign last year Norwich have spent heavily this summer to add quality to their squad. A lot will depend on how quickly the new arrivals gel and adopt to life in the Premier League but they still cannot be removed from the relegation watch list.
Where they will finish 10th to 18th
 

Southampton

Manager Mauricio Pochettino
Last Year After a dismal start came to terms with the Premier League and stayed up comfortably.

Transfers Activity
signed Dejan Lovren (Lyon), Victor Wanyama (Celtic)
sold / released Vegard Forren (Molde), Frazer Richardson (released), Danny Butterfield (released), Danny Seaborne (released), Ryan Dickson (released), Ben Reeves (MK Dons), Sam Hoskins (Yeovil) Richard Chaplow (Millwall), Steve De Ridder (FC Utrecht,)

Propspects With more expensive signings arriving at St Mary's the club would hope to improve on their previous showing and chase a place in the top half of the division. Again a lot will depend on how quickly players arriving from other leagues adapt to their new surroundings but they should be strong enough to consolidate in the mid to lower reaches of the division
Where they will finish 9th to 16th 

Stoke City

Manager Mark Hughes
Last Year  A desperate second half to the campaign saw Stoke have an anxious last few weeks of the season.

Transfers Activity
signed Erik Pieters (PSV, £3m), Marc Muniesa (Barcelona) Alex Grant (Portsmouth)
sold / released Dean Whitehead (Middlesbrough), Carlo Nash (Norwich), Matthew Upson (Brighton), Rory Delap (Burton Albion), Matthew Lund (Rochdale), Mamady Sidibe (released), Michael Owen (retired)

Prospects New manager Mark Hughes needs to improve a Stoke team that has been on the slide for the last 2 seasons as their hoofball style became to look ever more threadbare. The challenge facing Hughes after a disastrous spell at QPR is to change a deeply engrained style of play without losing the defensive solidity that characterised Stoke under his predecessor.  

Where they will finish 13th to 18th 

Sunderland

Manager Paolo Di Canio
Last Year A desperately poor season which resulted in the club avoiding relegation by one place and 3 points.

Transfers Activity
signed Modibo Diakite (Lazio), Duncan Watmore (Altrincham), Valentin Roberge (Maritimo), Cabral (Basle), David Moberg Karlsson (IFK Gothenburg), Vito Mannone (Arsenal), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), El Hadji Ba (Le Havre), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus)
sold / released Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull), Titus Bramble (released), Matthew Kilgallon (Blackburn), Ryan Noble (released) James McClean (Wigan) Alfred N'Diaye (Eskisehirspor, loan), Danny Graham (Hull, loan)

Prospects New manager Di-Cannio has supervised a mass clear out at Sunderland and has assembled what amounts to a new squad. It is a similar approach to that adopted by Mark Hughes at QPR last year and that didn't end well. Anything could happen at the Stadium of Light this year, well anything that does not involve a top 6 finish.  

Where they will finish 10th to 17th 

Swansea City

Manager Micheal Laudrup
Last Year  Team of the season won the League Cup and finished nineth

Transfers Activity
signed Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem,), Jose Canas (Real Betis), Jordi Amat (Espanyol), Jonathan De Guzman (Villarreal), Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis), Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool), Gregor Zabret (NK Domzale), Alex Gogic (Olympiacos), Jernade Meade (Arsenal)
sold / released Mark Gower (Charlton, free), David Cornell (St Mirren, loan), Kyle Bartley (Birmingham, loan) Alan Tate (Yeovil, loan), Dwight Tiendalli (released)

Prospects Everything in Swansea's world looks serene. They have invested heavily in the squad which in theory makes them an even tougher proposition this year. However they do have the curse of Europa League football and that might disrupt their progress on the domestic front however it should not be enough to drag them into the relegation battle.
Where they will finish 9th to 15th

Tottenham Hotspur

Manager Andre Villas Boas
Last Year Fifth again missed out on Champions League qualification by a couple of points

Transfers Activity
signed Paulinho (Corinthians, £17m)Nacer Chadli (FC Twente), Roberto Soldado (Valencia) Etienne Capoue (Toulouse)
sold/released Steven Caulker (Cardiff), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), William Gallas (released), John Bostock (Royal Antwerp), David Bentley (released), Jake Nicholson (released), Massimo Luongo (Swindon, loan), Adam Smith (Derby, loan), Ryan Mason (Swindon, loan), Bongani Khumalo (Doncaster, loan), Alex Pritchard (Swindon, loan), Ryan Mason (Swindon, loan), Grant Hall (Swindon, loan) Tom Huddlestone (Hull) Jake Livermore (Hull, loan)

Prospects Villa Boas continues to mould a team that should be capable of again challenging for a Champions League spot but again is undermined by the potential sale of one of his star players to Real Madrid. There are very few players that can truly make a difference to a team's season but unfortunately Gareth Bale is one of them with him Spurs have a great chance of breaking into the top 4 less so without. Until the window closes we will not know how Spurs will do.
Where they will finish 3rd to 7th 

West Bromwich Albion

Manager Steve Clarke 
Last Year  Spectacular first half to the season poor second half overall eighth which is the highest the club has finished in 30 years.

Transfers Activity
signed Nicolas Anelka, (free agent) Goran Popov (Dynamo Kiev, loan) Matej Vydra (Udinese, Loan)
sold / released Jerome Thomas (Crystal Palace), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marc-Antoine Fortune (Wigan)
 
Prospects Now in entering their fourth straight season in the Premier League whilst it is never possible for a club of Albion's stature to completely banish the spectre of relegation it is looks less of a possibility, although Steve Clarke will do well to replicate last years eighth place finish.
Where they will finish 8th to 16th

West Ham United

Manager Sam Alladyce 
Last Year Solid never in any real danger of relegation job done.

Transfer Activity
signed Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk), Adrian (Real Betis), Danny Whitehead (Stockport County) Stewart Downing (Liverpool)
sold / released Rob Hall (Bolton), Carlton Cole (released), Gary O'Neil (released)

Prospects Too hard working to be relegated not good enough to trouble the upper reaches of the division. Alladyce's mission is to keep the Hammers in the Premier League until they move to the Olympic stadium which may provide the revenue to change their long term prospects and he will succeed but it will not always be pretty.

Where they will finish 11th to 16th

Tips

Champions Man City if I keep tipping them to do it eventually I will get it right although Chelsea will run them close.

FA Cup It was refreshing to see Wigan win the trophy to break the near monopoly the elite have had over the competition in recent years however normal service will be resumed this year and Chelsea will run out winners in May

League Cup The Cinderella competition the elite hardly take it seriously so the likely winner is a mid table club with a bit of momentum and no European commitments maybe Fulham

Champions League Bayern again they just seem to get stronger each year although if Pep tries to tinker too much with the machine maybe the juggernaut might be stopped short of the final.

Europa League  Maybe the Swansea story has another chapter to add but I don't think they are strong enough to cope the twin rigours of Premier League and Europa League. I would chose one of the bigger Italian or Spanish clubs I reckon Lazio are as good as bet as any.

Relegation Crystal Palace Hull City Tigers and Stoke City. Think Hull and Palace are the two weakest of the promoted sides and Stoke looked poor again last year and I don't think Hughes is the man to turn it round.

Champions League Qualification The usual bun fight between Arsenal & Spurs  for the fourth spot with Chelsea, Man United and Man City taking the other three places. Think I will go with Spurs to edge out their local rivals although Bale's departure and new faces at Arsenal might make that prediction look a little foolish come September

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Economics of the Madhouse

Perez waving goodbye to 80 million quid
Real Madrid's pursuit of Gareth Bale is one of the long running saga's of the summer and if the deal is to be done it is likely to result in a fee in excess of £80m. He is not worth it or anything close to it nor will any player be worth it in the history of football ever certainly in real terms. There is an argument which I rather like for its simplicity if nothing else is the value of an asset in this case a footballer is the price that that a willing seller and a willing buyer agree it is worth. However that does not really help anyone who might want to analyse whether the seller or the buyer has the better end of the deal or as I will argue should be carted off to the nearest asylum for the economically insane and detained indefinitely.

There is little point in even trying to compare Bale to any other player and use the lower fee as a benchmark. For starters that fee might not have been any more rational that the one that will lure Bale from White Hart Lane. Besides which the circumstances of the sale would almost certainly be different and that is without straying into the wonderfully subjective argument as to whether or not  player a is better than player b.

In search of a starting point it is possible to quantify the value of his contract at Spurs (which is in effect what Real Madrid are buying). Bale has 3 years left to run on a £3.9m p.a. contract which is worth £11.97m. That is the bottom line price to pay more or demand more implies that there is an economic worth to the seller and buyer in this case of £68m or £22m per season. If the price is a rational one the purchasing club should be able realise £22m additional value from the transaction. For the sake of argument I will set aside the slightly inconvenient fact that the player will demand and get a pay rise on joining Real so the true break even point might be set even higher.

There are three ways a club can recover the fee:

a) Sell the player to another club. If Spurs sell this is what they are doing and is the justification for their original £10m investment in the player when he was a teenager with nothing much more than bags of raw potential. Whether it really justifies the original investment is debatable although it will now be cited as the rationale for every inflated fee that is paid for a promising teenager. However like all long shots clubs tend remember the ones that succeed spectacularly but overlook the slow bleed of the those that do not.

Spurs are fortunate in one respect that they can sell to a club that typically pays bigger fees than itself there are probably about 10 clubs in Europe who could reasonably be expected to be potential customers although that number dramatically decreases when a fee of £50m or above is demanded, but Real Madrid are not. Put simply if they buy Bale they will never make a profit on the deal because there is no other club to whom they could sell him although there would be plenty to take a chance on a cut price deal should they be unloading him in a few years time.

The key flaw in this approach aside from the vagaries of form or injury is the player is perfectly at liberty to not sign a new contract and walk away for no fee thus reducing their value to the club to zero.

b) Generate additional income through the signing. There are players that are so iconic that there presence at a club generates additional income through commercial deals, additional ticket and merchandise sales. However the player has to be the unique talent of his generation and have a global appeal that is greater than the club he is joining. Beckham to LA Galaxy springs to mind as the type of deal that might just work on this level. However it is very easy to overestimate the value of such spin offs claims that Manchester United would make the £22m they spent on Van-Persie in shirt sales are laughable even given the well oiled commercial machinery at Old Trafford.  Bale will have zero impact on any of Real Madrid's income streams.

c) Generate additional income because of the signings impact on the pitch.
The only thing that Bale can achieve on the pitch that makes the slightest bit of difference to Real's income is to win the champions league. With a potential windfall of £60m for winning it the Champions League offers a route to recouping the money, although that only represents a £40m net increase on a final 16 place that Real can pretty much count on regardless of what they do in the transfer market. The fact that previous expensive forays into the transfer market have not delivered the Champions League Trophy or even a final appearance since 2002 might sow a few seeds of doubt that the formula works at all.

 Conclusion

If Bale is a success, stays at Madrid for four years during which time Real win the Champions League twice the fee makes perfect sense. That is of course assuming that those victories are in large part attributable to Bale' s presence. If any of that seems unlikely then perhaps someone should send the men in white coats for Real President  Florentino Pérez. Equally if Daniel Levy turns down an offer of £80m then perhaps they should stop off at White Hart Lane unless of course he knows that Perez  really is barking mad and will go higher.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

How to Pacify an Angry Polar Bear

Waiting for the winter, seals be afraid be very afraid
The beginning of  July is a bad time for football junkies it is 6 long weeks before the season starts and it has been six weeks since the last one closed. There has been a little bit of international action but all that does is heighten the sense of longing for real club football to start again. Right now football fans are like polar bears in summer waiting for the sea to freeze, they are hungry scavengers feeding off any morsel of news, they are bit crotchety and likely to attack if provoked.

It is into this desolate football free landscape that West Bromwich Albion  Chairman Jeremy Peace gave one of his few press interviews. Peace does not do much media these days he is somewhat more forthcoming than  Abramovich who has barely uttered a word in a decade but has a far lower profile than say Dave Whelan.  So when he gives  a state of the nation address via local journalist Chris Lepkowski it is always going to provoke some reaction amongst the fans.

Mr Peace seemed quite downbeat although much of what he said he had said before. He reaffirmed that the club would be operating prudently in the transfer market although he acknowledged that the club would be having a busy summer given the number of players that had left the club at the end of the season. He also rubbished FFP and the FA's youth development scheme, it has subsequently emerged that two of the brightest starlets from the Albion's academy have been poached by Liverpool and Chelsea for relative peanuts which might explain why the Baggies owner was a little bit disillusioned.

So far so good the bulk of fans are with him. Those hoping for big money signings might have been disappointed but after a decade of moaning about his tight fisted ways most fans acknowledge that Peace has delivered what Albion fans would have only dared to dream of at the start of his tenure. Then he said it
We're a mid-table Championship club that is massively over-performing.
Cue twitter meltdown. All of a sudden Peace was surrounded by angry Polar Bears outraged at his overly downbeat assessment of where their club was at. Even if he had said the club was over performing most would have nodded in agreement. In a world where the only thing that matters is money (history is something that is in the past and does not pay the bills today) Albion had the 15th biggest wage bill in the Premier League but managed to finish 8th the very definition of over achievement. However to label Albion a mid-table championship club angered fans to a degree I have rarely seen. Why? Logically if we are overachieving today we will regress toward the mean at some point in the future I guess the only debate is what is the mean and how quickly do we regress to it?

There are a handful of clubs who pretty much will never be relegated maybe the top seven or so sides. Clubs as wealthy as Newcastle and West Ham have both contrived to be relegated in recent years so it is a real possibility for at least half the Premier league .Ten clubs are in effect trying avoid finishing in the bottom. three spots. Assuming that one of the spots is nearly always occupied by one of the promoted teams so one or two established premier league clubs will be relegated every year or the chances of getting relegated for a club like Albion are about 20% to 25%  we would therefore be doing well if our current tenure lasts more than 6 or 7 seasons (next year is season 4) although should we still be in the league in 20 years time it might be time to reconsider the assumptions I have just made or it is a sustained period of good fortune.

On relegation we are a championship club with parachute payments and that gives us three shots of getting out of the division before we revert to being just another ex premier league club in championship. The current roll call is Leeds United, Nottingham Forrest, Leicester City, Charlton Ipswich, Middleborough and Sheffield Wednesday. All those clubs with the exception of 'Boro and Ipswich have spent time in the footballing gulag of Division One so mid table Championship might not be the worst place to regress to.

The harsh fact is strip away the income from the Premier League and most clubs are championship clubs. They may have fancy stadiums, first rate training facilities and excellent academies that would not look out of place at a higher level but none of it is worth a mess of beans when they are slogging through a Championship season against a minimum of three sides who have you at a fairly significant monetary advantage. It takes a huge effort and more than a little luck to escape via the front door and as Wolves well know there is a different route out of the Championship.

Maybe the Chairman was being overly cautious maybe he down played expectations a little too much maybe you could explain his comments but the Polar Bears were having none of it, they were angry and baying for blood. This is an uncomfortable position to be in however the Chairman managed to deploy that well known polar bear pacifier, the marque signing in the form of Nicholas Anelka holding the new WBA away shirt.
"I don't want to worry you but is that a Polar Bear behind you?" 

This had a remarkable effect. The polar bears stopped growling and pretty much just went back to waiting around for the winter. It seemed to escape their notice that Anelka might not be quite at his peak and that he had been away from top level football for the best part of 18 months but I guess if you have not seen fresh seal meat for a while a bit of left over caribou looks pretty appetising.

Personally I am left a little bewildered by the reactions of my fellow fans both to the chairman's statement and the unbounded joy that greeted the news that Anelka had signed. It is a good signing and one that has been de-risked as much a possible by the club but it absolutely will not make or break the club next season. There are at least four more signings to come this summer getting those right and getting some younger legs into an ageing squad will be far more important. Although Anelka seems to be keeping the bears at bay for the time being.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Can WBA spend £10m on a player?

The Baggies have been linked with a number of high profile players in recent days one of whom Wilfred Bony it has been suggested might cost up to £10m. Most fans me included who are well used to Albion's prudent approach instinctively dismiss such rumours as nonsense because we know who we are as a club and know that is not how we roll. However my perceptions of what West Brom can aspire to in the transfer market have been shaped by the current financial climate and that is about to change dramatically with the new Premier League TV deal

Budget

The club's income is set to rise because of the new Premier League TV deal assuming that all other elements of the club's income remain constant the deal will guarantee about £15m in additional income. However that is only guaranteed provided the club stay aboard the Premier League gravy train.

Whilst it is safe to assume not all of the additional funds will be available to sign players as there are a number of new contracts in the pipeline. However this is offset by the departure of a number players from the current squad and there will be some additional income generated by transfer activity. 

The new income is certainly sufficient to cover the additional the first year costs of a £10m player. Assuming they are bought in on a 4 year contract and earn £2m a year the cost of the deal is roughly £4.5m in the first year. If spent entirely on players the additional funds could cover the purchase of three players on that basis. I would concede that it would cause havoc with the club’s cash flow position because although the fees are accounted for over the lifetime of the player’s contract they fall due in much shorter order therefore to balance the books in the short term we would have to borrow the money against future earnings. So three is totally unrealistic but one would be possible providing not much else was spent on fees.

Before anyone gets excited about who that means will be heading for the Hawthorns this summer I think it might be worth pointing out that every agent and club can do what I have just done and work out that even quite a modest Premier League club is loaded and adjust their demands accordingly. The Van Wolfwinkel deal at £8m might set the tone, real value for money in the market might be difficult to find. 

Equally the club needs to be mindful that importing talent on higher wages will lead to higher wage demands in the future from the current squad so it is not just the current deals that need to be funded but any future deals that will be impacted by them.

The club might be wise not to throw all of their new found wealth at one transfer window and as ever it will operate prudently but there is no doubt money will be available.

Wages v Fees

Over the last few years Albion have been successful in building the squad by using free transfers and loan signings supplemented with the odd big money signing. To do this most of the player budget has been spent on wages. Ultimately being able to offer competitive wages is the only thing that will allow us to bring in the players we need to maintain our top flight status.

In general Albion will not spend significant fees on players in their late twenties and early thirties because if the deal does not work out the club will struggle to recoup the fee. For the club to be willing to pay a significant fee the player would need to be an established first team player and under the age of 26.

One key advantage of focusing on wages rather than fees is that in the event of relegation wages flex down but the fees don't.

Paying a fee of £4m for a player on a salary of £1.5m a year over a 4 year contract gives an annual cost of £2.5m. If Albion dropped into the championship the players wages might fall by 50% to £0.75m but the fee would still be amortised at £1m a year so the cost would be £1.75m.

Paying the same player on a free transfer £2.5m a year with a 50% flex down clause in the championship would cost £1.25m in the event of relegation. 

Buyer Beware

No purchase in football comes with a guarantee beyond the poorly researched, overpriced panic buy, at the end of a transfer window nearly always fails and if you bet your house on a marque signing you will lose your house. The fee paid is a very poor indicator of success and in certain circumstances the fee itself adds pressure to the player and becomes one of the reasons for their failure.

The reality of being a mid-table Premier League side is that the best players in their position are drawn to the twenty or so richest clubs in Europe and the truly gifted are the preserve of an even smaller elite. By definition most Premier League teams are recruiting average to good players in effect there is a ceiling on the quality of player that a team like Albion can sign. However there is no limit to the money that can be spent on them in fees and wages as QPR and others have shown through the years. 

The key to success in the market is to mitigate the risks through a systematic approach to player recruitment and never invest so heavily in any group of players that their failure undermines the ability of the club to recover from the set back of relegation

I believe the Albion hierarchy have pretty much adopted the following as a blueprint. 

1. Build a team 

This might seem like the ultimate statement of the bleeding obvious but too often clubs sign players who are nice to have but have no clear role in the existing team, and surprise surprise the transfer fails. A new player must always add something to the existing squad and not just replicate what is already there and if he doesn't well don't do the deal. The Borja Valero deal springs to mind whenever I see a club buying a player that does not seem to meet an obvious need.

2. Research Research Research

This is an on-going process there is no point in starting to look for a left back only when you need one because yours has just broken his ankle in a preseason friendly and time to find a replacement is running out. To maximise the chances of success the leg work is carried out months and even years in advance so not only can the club identify targets for positions they know they will need but to cover for unanticipated departures or injuries.

In depth scouting is essential and not just in assessing the player's footballing ability but also his character which will be key to him settling into his new club and will also expose any off field problems which might undermine his ability to perform. It never ceases to amaze me that football clubs are surprised by some of the baggage their new signings bring with them. After all they are investing millions in the player a little bit of due diligence would not go amiss.

3. The Wisdom of crowds
Placing the recruitment process in the hands of one man particularly an old school British gaffer is a recipe for disaster. Obviously the Head Coach does have a pivotal role in identifying areas for improvement but no coach not matter how dedicated can cover the whole market and too often Head Coaches get trapped into the notion that they must have player x partly because they are unaware of the alternatives and partly because of ego, any challenge undermines their authority at the club. Equally managers will always over estimate their ability to turnaround wayward players and without a challenge from either a Director Football or an independent chief scout tend to overlook flaws that others might see.

4. Multiple Targets

This follows naturally from points 2 and 3. When negotiating a deal for a player it is a lot easier to walk away from a deal that is becoming too expensive if you have an alternative and in many cases there will be very little to choose between potential recruits, although the price will vary.

5. Target Players on the Up Escalator

Albion along with other mid-table clubs should wherever possible focus their efforts on finding players abroad or from championship clubs who regard joining Albion as their big break. The problem with taking established players from the bigger clubs both home and abroad is that often the player concerned is on the downward swing and joining Albion from Chelsea Man U or Milan pretty much confirms it.

Very few players leave one of the bigger clubs for a mid-table team and subsequently return to a team challenging for a champions league place. I can only think of one and that is Scot Parker, which would suggest few recapture the form that got them their break into the elite in the first place.

There might be a whole host of reasons for this but there must be an element that the players have lost a bit of hunger or desire, it is not to say they are not dedicated and model professionals but nor do they think they have anything to prove.

6. Plan for Failure

There is no signing that a mid-table club can make that will guarantee their future in the Premier League so don't commit to deals that can only be sustained if the team is in the Premier League. This means two things. Firstly all players contracts have a flex down clause in them and if the players does not want to sign on that basis do not sign them, secondly if a fee is paid either there is a chance that it could be recouped or if that were not possible then club will not pay a fee that would cripple it if the fee had to be written off during a spell in the Championship.

The policy implication on fees is fairly straight forward in general terms once a player reaches his late twenties the less inclined the club is to pay a significant transfer fee for his services.

7. Never Shop at Harrods

Once upon a time following his team's FA Cup triumph someone asked Coventry manager John Sillet what the victory meant to the club he replied "Coventry City have shopped at Woolworth’s for too long, from now on we're shopping at Harrods" There is no virtue in abandoning a tried and tested modus operandi just because of a sudden windfall and in particular when mid-table clubs start to make one big marque signing at the expense of making a number of improvements across the squad it is a sign that the club is about to lose the plot.

Conclusion 

Many fans and commentators believe that it is a big summer for Albion because there are obvious gaps in the squad because of player departures. I would not disagree but I believe that the club has the systems in place to fill the gaps.

Those fans that are looking to the club to splash the cash on established Premier League players are still likely to be disappointed but it is no longer completely impossible. I would not be surprised if Albion break their transfer record this summer but I do not think we will break the 8 figure barrier, it would be possible if all we needed was one standout recruit but that is not the case this summer.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Narrative Fallacy and the Van Persie Myth


 
"The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Or put it another way Robin Van Persie might be the difference between Man United and Man City this season or he might not. To recap the narrative. Robin Van Persie was the outstanding striker of last season playing for Arsenal but with only one year left on his contract was coveted by both Manchester clubs. He chose United ahead of City, although it has been suggested that City's pursuit of the player was a bit half hearted much to the disgruntlement of their coach Roberto Mancini.

Having won a nip and tuck battle against their local rivals last year City have been left trailing in United's wake this season with Van Persie making a a noteworthy contribution to United's surge towards a twentieth league title. Football pundits in print and television make the immediate and obvious link that United signing Van Persie instead of City explains the 12 point gap that exists between United and  City at the time of writing. Often it is accompanied with a the sub text that the City board should have backed Mancini's pursuit of Van Persie at all cost regardless of the rather inconvenient fact that Man City lost £90m last year and by some miracle they need to get close to break even under UEFA's financial fair play rules.

However returning to the main hypothesis a superficial review of the facts gives some credence to the belief that the Van Persie factor is the difference, given that he has again been the stand out striker of the season and delivered 20 goals for the Champions elect, whereas none of the City strikers have scored more than a dozen.

In making the link the fallacy is created and doing so pundits become blind to any other explanation. The first flaw in the thinking is to assume that if Van Persie scored 20 goals for United he would score 20 for City which is by no means certain. Accepting that Van Persie comes with a guarantee of 20 goals it should be acknowledged that he plays at another  players expense so to assess Van Persie's potential impact you have to take that player's contribution out of the equation so the net gain might be 10 or 11 goals. Obviously another 10 goals across the course of a season could make a difference to the title race although it is entirely possible it makes next to no difference aside from helping City's goal difference if all the additional goals achieved was conversion of  1-0 wins into 2-0 wins then City's relative position would remain the same.

Even looking at things from the City side of the equation the string of assumptions is starting to stretch the creditability of the Van Persie is the difference myth but that disregards the United side of the equation. In an alternative universe where Van Persie opted for the blue side of Manchester it is far from certain that the outcome is any different. Had United failed to land Van Persie I am fairly sure armed with a budget in excess of £20 million and a wages of £200,000 a week United might have been able to find an alternative, who might have been something other than a complete failure.

I will be honest  I don't have a fully rounded  multi - factored explanation as to why this year's Premier League title race has turned into a procession or why City have tailed off so badly after last year but I know it is not solely down to Robin Van Persie's decision to join United ahead of City. Too often the football pundits looking for the glib easily digested explanation, create and the perpetuate the narrative fallacy of the star player being the difference between outcomes. in some cases they are but not as often as pundits and fans think they are.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Hung out to Dry


Is that the rustle of a wedge of fifties I can hear ? 

The sorry saga of Peter Odemwingie's on off transfer to QPR finished on a farcical note late yesterday evening. The player having decamped to Loftus Road without a deal being agreed, in an apparent attempt to force through a move. Hours latter he had to return home still an Albion player suffering a very public humiliation into the bargain.
 
 Setting aside  the completely bonkers notion that going to sit on QPR's doorstep waiting to be let in was in someway a smart move Odemwingie had the grave misfortune of turning up about twenty minutes after Tony Fernandes pulled the plug on the deal by vetoing Junior Hoillet's loan move to the Albion.
 
In typical hard boiled fashion Albion were grinding out the last drop of juice from the mug in the game and had got the point where they going for maximum value, £3.5m, Hoillet on loan for the rest of the season with QPR paying Hoillet's not inconsiderable wages when the mug woke up and decided to quit the game. It is a pity that by the time Albion got to Fernandes he had already been turned over by the Russians and was probably getting a bit weary of being taken to the cleaners.
 
Having been very public in their pursuit of Odemwingie and by whatever means turned the player's head to the degree that he burnt his bridges with his current club QPR were almost honour bound to cut a deal, not doing so has left the player high and dry. They seem to have wilfully ignored the circumstances that would make a deal very expensive. Firstly Albion did not want to sell and being well run and solvent were under no pressure to sell. Secondly even if Albion could be persuaded to sell they would only do so if they could line up a replacement and the less time they had to do that the less likely the deal was going to happen. To leave the final bid to deadline day was asking for trouble and trouble is what QPR got.
 
Frankly not signing Odemwingie is not going to be the difference between QPR staying up or going down, he's good but he ain't Messi, however the next time they unsettle a player in this manner that player would do well to remember Odemwingie's humiliation and be a little bit more cautious in their attempts to force a move. 
 
Throughout the saga the press have been very well informed about QPR's next move and the likely package that would be on offer to the player, Redknapp has strenuously denied any hand in leaking details to the press and I of course believe him what could he possibly gain from letting a transfer target know that there is a land of milk and honey waiting for him in West London?
 
All these shenanagins have left the Albion hierarchy with a bunch of awkard issues to address not least of which is what to do with the errant Odemwingie who is still a key member of the squad and top earner at the Hawthorns. Chairman Peace issued a strongly worded statement last night ( statement in full) which in itself is a rarity as Peace seldom comments on day to day matters at the club (he sure as hell does not have a twitter account) and it is plain he is personally very disgruntled with the player and by inference QPR.
 
I have no doubt Odemwingie will move on during the summer but he won't be joining QPR and it will be on the club's terms. In the meantime Odemwinige will either get his head down and rebuild his tattered reputation or he will sulk, my guess is the latter. Albion may have won the day in standing up to a greedy self seeking player and a wheeler dealer shit or bust manager but the victory is a  pyrrhic one. Odemwingie's relationship with fans has been damaged beyond repair and he will limp through the last few months of his time at the Hawthorns. It will be a sad end to his time as a Baggie but I don't think he really cares about how he will be remembered.  
 
 
 


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Are we all Wigan in disguise ?


The missus in her infinite wisdom bought me the excellent Soccernomics  Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski and I have spent much of my Christmas Break with my nose buried in it. In  essence it is an economics book about football written in a style that makes it accessible to the non-economist.

At one level the book is a wonderful statement of the bleeding obvious that the resources that a club, league or nation can draw on determines its relative success on the pitch. However the authors debunk one or two footballing myths along the way and critically identify wages as being the key determinate of success at club level rather than transfer fees. It is a rule that holds true across leagues and over time.

Prompted by this and a tweet from a fellow Baggie " A club without ambition is not a good thing. Don't want to be a Wigan."  I have penned a few thoughts on why Albion fans and indeed fans of most Premier League clubs should not sneer at Wigan.

Money Talks in Football

Whilst that is the general rule over the course of a season clubs with relatively large wage bills will under perform and those with relatively modest ones over perform. Wigan's limpet like grip on the Premier League is testimony to this, whereas clubs with much greater resources Newcastle and Southampton for instance have been relegated to the Championship. Actually Wigan's continued Premier survival is one of the greater mystery's of the Premier League era even allowing for the fact Dave Whelan has bankrolled the club for a number of years.

Within the Premier League there is a clear hierarchy with the contenders for the Champions League spots being able to have wage bills in excess of £90m in efffect form an elite cadre that is virtually impossible to break into over the course of a season. Unless a club is in the elite bracket then it is pretty much in the same boat as Wigan with their first target being survival.

PositionTeamWages £mPointsWage RankTurnover £mWages as % of Turnover 
1Man U152.9803331.446%
2Chelsea 189.5711222.385%
3Man City 174712153.2114%
4Arsenal 124.4685255.749%
5Spurs 91.1626163.556%
6Liverpool 134.8584183.773%
7Everton 585498271%
8Fulham 57.7491077.175%
9Villa 83.44879291%
10Sunderland 60.947879.477%
11West Brom37.4471859.463%
12Newcastle 53.6461388.561%
13Stoke 47.1461566.871%
14Bolton 56.1461167.783%
15Blackburn 49.9431457.687%
16Wigan39.1421950.577%
17Wolves37.9401764.559%
18Blackpool13.6392051.726%
19Birmingham City44391656.478%
20West Ham55.7331280.969%

The above table from the 2010/2011 which is the last season I can find a full set of financial results for demonstrates the point there is a clear gap between the top 6 and the rest. The gap between the median and upper quartile is £43m but the gap between the lower quartile and the median is £10m. In footballing terms a £10m wage gap can be closed by a combination of smart management and good fortune a £43m gap probably cannot.

It is not entirely surprising that the bulk of the division's prime objective is survival when few can pay sufficient wages to guarantee their future participation in the richest league in the world.  If West Ham can get relegated with a wage bill £55m then so can every other club, although it would probably take a special level of ineptitude to get a club with a £100m wage bill relegated, Newcastle managed it but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Some might say survival is Wigan's only aim but other clubs such as Newcastle and Everton can have realistically loftier aspirations such as Europa League qualification or a cup run and maybe in an exceptional year achieve the holy grail of 4th spot. However over the course of a season the extra resources that the likes of Arsenal and Spurs have eventually tell and generally this is reflected by the fact that since the Premier League had four champions league places only 8 clubs have qualified Man Untied, Arsenal, Chelsea Newcastle, Liverpool,Man City, Spurs and Everton. Moreover Arsenal and Man United have qualified every year and Chelsea all but one. Earlier in the decade Liverpool and Newcastle were frequent qualifiers the latter has long since dropped back into the pack and Liverpool have been usurped by Man City and it remains to be seen if they can get back in amongst the elite.

The thing that highlights the difference between the elite and the rest is the Europa League qualification for which is the pinnacle of most clubs ambitions. The extra burden placed on successful mid table clubs e.g. Bolton, Newcastle and Stoke often sees their league form diminish to the point they end up in a relegation battle. Here is the key difference between the rest and the elite. Whilst the elites second string is capable of picking up results against most the rest of the division's first elevens the mid-tables club's 2nd choices are not. Europa league football and the demands it places on mid table squads highlights this like nothing else. It is no coincidence that the team from outside the elite that sustains a challenge for a place in the top 4 is one that does not have Europa League football to contend with Everton this year and Newcastle last year.  

 Wigan are a Big Club

By Premier League standards they are minnows but because of the relatively even way the TV revenues are distributed by the Premier League they are not so out of touch with 75% of the division as to make it impossible for the club to compete. Critically Wigan might be the poorest members of the club but the Premier League is a very rich club and that is what matters because it allows Wigan to pay relative attractive wages in comparison to the vast majority of clubs both home and abroad. For instance Wigan's income is greater than all but 5 or 6 teams in both France and Spain and the only Dutch team to have more resources than them is Ajax.

Domestically the gulf can be demonstrated by the difference between Wigan a club who is often mocked for its poor attendances and the Championship powerhouse that is Leeds United. In terms of money (which is pretty much all that matters in the recruitment and retention of players) Wigan absolutely dwarf Leeds because of the TV rights. If Wigan did not sell a single ticket, pie, programme or have any commercial income they would still be better off than Leeds who are by far the richest club in the Championship if one excludes clubs that are enjoying the benefit of premier league parachute payments.

Provided Wigan do not get kicked out of the Premier League club they are about to get a lot bigger because the next round of TV rights could see Wigan's turnover jump to £70m which would be roughly double that of any Championship club bigger than Ajax and even more French and Spanish teams.

'Arry sees The Light

"There are a lot of players at this club who earn far too much money for what they are; far, far, far too much money for their ability and what they give to the club."

When Redknapp came out with that gem in reference to the players he inherited at QPR there were plenty of wry smiles from fans up and down the land and some names like John Utaka sprung to mind. However 'Arry makes a valid point (probably almost entirely by accident) given that the Elite clubs in the Premier League and elsewhere in Europe cream off the best talent, and by definition the rest are left with average to good players.

The players that might be one of the top 4 or 5 players in their position outside the elite tend to gravitate towards the top clubs, for instance it is debatable as to how long Everton can retain the services of Mario Fellani and Leighton Baines before one of the elite lures them away. Therefore when most clubs are  recruiting there is a ceiling to the quality they can hire and in point of fact the difference in ability between one average right back and another is pretty marginal, however there is no ceiling to the wages that a club might be persuaded to part with for an average to good player.

Conclusions

For a team like Albion operating in the mid-table mix we have very little to fear provided that we remain one of the smarter operators and our competitiors are to varying degrees badly run. However over the longer term we will struggle to dent the bigger teams for parts of seasons or even for whole seasons we might run ahead of our wage bill but sooner or latter the wage bill will find us out but the same could be said for pretty much every other team in the division.