The Seventh Day : Doomsday
by Shane LeRoy(Soccer)
Posted on March 29, 2006, 9:21 AM
For one club the day will engender a myriad of emotions, ranging from disbelief, to joy, to relief. For two more, the day will bring only darkness. That day is May 7th, and upon that day we will be assured confirmation of the identity of the club given a stay of execution and those who are not so fortunate. That day is Premiership relegation Sunday.
While the other 17 clubs in the 20 club league battle for titles, European places of one form or another, or just for pride, 3 clubs are battling for their Premiership lives. These are the South Coast's Portsmouth FC and the West Midlands duo of West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City. Like the relegation candidates of any other season, these three have cemented this lowly position through a blend of poor managerial decisions, lack of quality players, and the lack of any results away from home. They also share a burning desire however. A desire to claim that one remaining place available for next seasons competition and that one last ticket to immediate financial security.
While fans of any team threatened with relegation may despair at the sporting side of relegation, it is the financial cost that troubles the brain-trust of each club the most. On the face of it a season or two out of the top flight may not seem like the end of the world. A team, who goes down a division, should in theory have enough quality to come back up again in a year or two at most. However, as fans of Nottingham Forest, Watford, Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, and many more can attest, this theory is deeply flawed. The reason for this is that relegation triggers off a domino-like effect within the 3 clubs each year. At first, the manager – The man who ultimately must take responsibility for his team's failings, be he the root cause or not – may well be sacked by a Chairman who rightly or wrongly believes this is the correct course of action to take. Certain players loyal to said manager may decide to follow him to any new club he may have taken charge of, or may simply be unable to see a future for themselves at the club any longer due to the sacking of the man who brought them to the club in the first place. International players will almost certainly feel the need to move to a club who has Premiership status for the following year to preserve their chances of being involved with their International teams. Other players, particularly young players, may try to engineer a move to a club who has just been promoted. This is common, due to most newly promoted clubs lacking the funds or appeal to attract players with Premiership experience from surviving teams. Even players who are happy to stay and help fight for promotion, out of loyalty or love for the club, may have to be sold as their wages will usually be too high for a club with such an unclear financial future. To give a clear indication of just what a financial black hole relegation is, we must turn to the cold hard figures.
Premiership status really is a financial gravy train that has few rivals in world sport. Clubs can earn anywhere from £15 million to £40 million from TV monies (Deloitte & Touche report) , and up to £10 million from prize-money, as clubs recieve £500,000 for finishing one position higher in the final table, with the champions earning £10 million and the bottom-placed side a mere £500,000. Most sponsors, - be they shirt, stadium, or advertising sponsors- usually insist on a clause in any long-term contract which lessens the sponsors' financial obligation considerably, to a collective tune upon relegation conservatively estimated to be in the 4-6 million pounds range. This however is just the tip of the financial iceberg. The sale of replica shirts – a lucrative business for clubs- , particularly in foreign countries fall dramatically due to the lack of the television and print exposure that goes with participation in the Premiership. Attendances at home games will almost certainly diminish, as even clubs with notable support like Manchester City have found upon relegation, and even a drop from 35,000 to 25,000 fans can have serious financial consequences. Further, the price fans will be willing to pay to attend a Championship game will bear little resemblance to Premiership rates; a further blow to go with the diminished attendance. Finally, players who were purchased for sizable sums of money will now almost certainly lead to a significant net financial loss on sale. Most clubs gamble on players with high wages, for inflated fees, and will go into debt to entice them to come. These players will not be happy to play in the state of the art new stadium you have recently acquired at great expense if it is a Championship venue, and the transfer value of a relegated team's player who wants to leave will bear no relation to the original or even the true value. To sum it all up, it is probably not exaggeration or hyperbole to place the gross financial loss of relegation in the region of £25 million. The £6 million "parachute" payment paid to clubs by the Premier League to soften the blow is just a drop in the ocean. For all these reasons, not to mention the purely sporting reasons, all three clubs are desperate to remain in the League, but only one can. To speculate on which club may achieve survival, we must weigh up many things, taking one club at a time.
West Bromwich Albion (WBA)
Strength of Team: As relegation candidates go, WBA have a fairly decent squad of players. They have a fine young goalkeeper in Pole Tomasz Kuszczak who has had a slew of man of the match performances this season between the posts. In defense they have some experienced players like Neil Clement and Paul Robinson, but they do lack pace. While neither are what you would class as quality Premiership players, they have looked worse than they truly are this season due to a lack of a quality midfield in front of them. The midfield has desperately missed the guile of Zoltan Gera for most of the season and is neither robust enough in defence nor creative enough in attack. This can be seen in the lack of goals from a striking foursome of Kanu, Nathan Ellington, Kevin Campbell, and Diomansy Kamara, which, all things considered, is not a bad set of strikers. Team spirit is also important, and I feel that out of the three, WBA's squad is the most together and united as we saw in their late heroics last season. They will need all that spirit and more to avoid the drop this time around.
Injuries: As mentioned above, the loss of playmaker Gera has been notable this season. In the second half of last season, he –along with the on-loan Kieran Richardson- sparked the unlikely rise from bottom of the league at Christmas, to Premiership survival. He has made only 5 Premiership starts this season and may not play again this term after a hernia operation. Other than this however, WBA are relatively injury-free for the remainder of this season and manager Bryan Robson should be able to rotate players to ensure freshness right to the end of the season. In a battle with such small margins, this advantage could prove invaluable.
Past-Experience: WBA went through this exact situation just last season. Written-off early in the season, they defied all critics –and logic- to become the first team to ever avoid the drop after being bottom of the table on Boxing Day. Most of that team remains and the survival experience of players like Campbell and Clement will be crucial. Having tasted relegation as recently as 2003, WBA will be keen not to do so again.
Manager: Having enjoyed a very mixed managerial career during his time at Middlesbrough and Bradford, including 2 relegations and 2 promotions, Bryan Robson resurrected his career at West Brom last season masterminding their survival against all odds. Robson has been in this position before and won't be found wanting for desire or experience. A motivator rather than a tactician, only time will tell whether this is to be another peak, or trough, in his career.