There seems to be a consensus forming that Premier League player prices are getting out of hand, both in transfer fees and wages. That the exorbitant amounts being demanded and exchanged exceed what is affordable and shrewd clubs will not join in the insanity.
This belies all the evidence I can see though. The amounts being spent are of course extraordinary but the amounts that top flight clubs receive now is also extraordinary. As such they have a duty to supporters to reinvest that income to give them the best opportunity to maintain it.
Premier league clubs receive a combined £2.5 Billion every year in UK and worldwide broadcast rights. That is £125m for every club on average, before any commercial deals or match day income. That’s enough to pay every member of a 25 man squad £100,000 per week. The agents of above average players would be failing in their duty to their players not to ask for at least that much for their clients. The club finishing 20th receives £100m from TV alone, as Sunderland did last year. Even this would allow £77,000 a week for every one of the worst group of players in the division.
There’s a famous story from back in the 90s of Seth Johnson walking into contract negotiations with Leeds United, whose opening gambit was to offer Johnson double what he had hoped for in his wildest dreams. Since throwing money around so flagrantly in those days, Leeds has become a byword for profligacy and hastening financial failure. But few of the clubs spending massive amounts in 2017 are getting into dire straits to cover these salaries and fees. Profits are on the increase in the top flight. This would not be the case if too much was going to players and agents. Clubs would be going under. As it is though, most clubs in the top flight, other than the most appallingly managed or highly bankrolled, are profitable. They can afford to spend more than they have previously on their playing staff.
The issue for Mike Ashley is that these other clubs are a year into the current TV deal. The always excellent Swiss Ramble produced a graph last month to show how much additional TV money each club got last year compared to the season prior and the minimum was an additional £22m.
— Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble) June 6, 2017
Newcastle United not only missed out on the increase but received tens of millions less than they had the year before, by spending a season in the championship (thanks to Ashley), so there’s at least a £50m deficit on other clubs, mitigating why the club can’t spend what others are this summer.
Unfortunately, the impact of this handicap seems to be exacerbated by a continued policy of (so far) only spending what is already in the bank. Season ticket income, fun88 payments, instalments from player sales and media receipts are all certain to arrive throughout the season, but rather than accruing some debt that can be paid off with this income on the horizon, Newcastle seem to be stringing Rafa along with half-hearted efforts to secure the players he identifies, hoping he’ll make do until further income is banked. Our hope apparently, to be able to match other clubs only in future seasons, if we can stop up.
Another consideration for Ashley and Charnley might be the possibility that the next TV deal doesn’t grow or even match the current deal. Contracts offered this summer will usually go beyond the end of the current TV deal in 2019 and if TV companies feel they did not get value from the current deal, there might be a drop off in income that leaves some big investing clubs high and dry. Ashley’s prudent approach could pay off in the long run if clubs are required to offload costly millstones in two years. I’m not sure anyone would envisage the media income dropping off to a massive extent if it did at all though.
The question on everyone’s lips is whether Rafa Benitez will go along with what we’ll generously call, the prudent approach. Will he continue to push for everything he can get while accepting whatever the result is, or will his frustration boil over and result in him walking away unsatisfied with the commitment the club hierarchy are willing to make to what he wants to build immediately?
Publicly, he’s spoken of his frustration with the “crazy” market rather than his employers. Respected reporters tell us that privately he has a stronger feeling that the club could have done more for him, especially where targets were available for free or on loan, with no fee attached whatsoever.
The comparison has been made with Kevin Keegan’s “constructive dismissal” after the summer of 2008 and the similarities are clear. Like the start of this summer with Rafa, May 2008 saw clear the air talks between Keegan and Ashley that both claimed to have been constructive.
June 2008 saw Keegan reported as powerless to give a contract to coach Steve Round and July saw him publicly state: “I’m not involved in [contract] talks, it’s down to Dennis Wise and Tony Jiminez,” which chimes with reports this week that Benitez is not involved in budgeting for signings and does not know how much the club are able to spend.
Craig Hope reported that Benitez left Tammy Abraham to talk to the club assuming he had laid all the ground work, only to find the current iteration of Wise and Jiminez couldn’t get him over the line (that phrase we’ve heard so much it’s become a cliché). These reports are as alarming as they are familiar.
There were frequent stories of Keegan’s despair as Newcastle missed out on his targets like Aimar, Modric & Digard, if anything, this summer has only seen more reports of that nature about Benitez. The final straw for Keegan came when he publicly implored the club not to sell James Milner. Two days later Milner was sold and two days after that Keegan walked, having not seen the replacement he’d expected materialise.
I have no evidence for it, but my personal opinion is that Rafa is less likely to walk away than Keegan, even if he’s enraged by the close of the window. I may be clutching at straws but my perception is he’s not as emotional. I think there’s few clubs with as much potential for him in his eyes, especially within as short a commute to his family, there’s been nothing (as yet) about players he wants to keep being sold from under him and he played this game with Hicks and Gillett for a long time, his eventual departure “by mutual consent” perceived more as a dismissal than a resignation.
That said, worrying about Rafa’s position being tenuous is not a pessimistic response to click bait mischief making, it’s logical scepticism of Ashley who has done nothing to warrant any confidence. History is repeating in terms of the frustrations of a very popular manager that has been given very little to placate him.
Rafa may get everything he wants from here on in…but you have to see a change in behaviour before you give the benefit of the doubt to Ashley.
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