Promotion to the Premier League is one of the highlights of a player’s career, being given the opportunity to go toe to toe with giants such as Manchester United and Chelsea.
Every football fan knows that you need to get the summer transfer window spot on and invest heavily in your squad if you want to stay afloat in the top flight, but just how do you do it?
Is there a common theme running in those who have stayed up? The teams promoted this year, who are Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City are all going about the market in different ways.
Eddie Howe of Bournemouth is looking to invest in English players to keep his side up, Watford are looking at a summer of recruiting foreign players, whilst Norwich’s style is similar to the Cherries, in that they’re looking for players proven in the English game. It’ll be interesting to see which way works.
Free agents, loans and permanents – how much to spend?
Well, whatever you do, don’t put your club into administration. But to any owners reading this, you really will have to invest in your squad to stay up. We’ll take a look at the clubs who were promoted to the 2013/2014 season, Cardiff, Hull and Crystal Palace. One of these sides went down, but we’ll first look at Hull, who stayed up.
Hull manoeuvred the market intelligently, bringing in three free agents and three loanees (one with the option of a permanent move) meaning they spent £13 million over five players, meaning some times the numbers can lie, as they brought in some real quality into their side.
Here’s a prime example of poor investment. Cardiff City spent a mind numbing £31.5 million over the summer, making them the seventh highest spenders in the league, whilst bringing in eight players. No free transfers, no loan deals, Malky Mackay’s ethos was just spend, spend, spend.
They ‘spent, spent, spent’ and average of about £4 million on each player, bringing in big names such as Steven Caulker, Gary Medel and Peter Odemwingie, but precious few were actually stars of their side, and they finished bottom.
We can also look to those promoted to the Premier League in 2013/2014, Leicester, Burnley and QPR. Only one survived. The signs began to show for Burnley when they spent a worryingly small £8 million on players over the summer, spread across 10 players, only one of whom had played in the Premier League the year before. They were relegated but showed fight and spirit during their stay.
And again, we come to the gross over spenders. Just trumping Cardiff, QPR made £36.5 million worth of signings, bringing in 10 players. Rangers downfall was that their signings were too old, were relegated last year but weren’t actually that good, had never played in England before or were being forced out of a top club and weren’t Premier League quality.
So, ‘how much do you spend?’ I hear you cry. Well nowadays I’d say it’s got to be north of £10 million, that is a must, but anywhere above £25 million and you’re overdoing it. You have to know you’re buying genuine quality, however. Don’t go for players being forced out of the clubs because they’re not deemed good enough, because (and I know this sounds obvious) but it probably means they’re not good enough.
Quality over quantity?
When it comes to promotion from the Championship, quality over quantity isn’t really a thing, but quantity over quality isn’t either. You need both, so here’s what I think: buy quality, sign quantity. I’ll explain, use the money in you’re transfer budget to sign the calibre of players needed to stay up. And, again, I don’t mean fringe players, sign players you know are good, who have performed well in recent seasons and are deemed good enough for their side, first team players. To make up the numbers in your squad, the loanees and free agents are the way forward. Again, sign good players, but obviously they aren’t going to be particularly outstanding because they’ve just been let go. That’s the way to do it.
Domestic or foreign?
This is actually a wash out when you look at those promoted and those relegated in recent years. We’ll start with two who stayed up, Leicester and Palace.
The Foxes signed six English players and one Welsh player and already had nine domestic first team players in their squad, and despite a poor majority of the season, they managed to escape relegation towards the end of the year.
Palace signed eight domestic players, four of which were English and had nine domestic players in their squad anyway. Like Leicester, they had a poor majority of the season and managed to stay up during the second half.
Two who went down were Cardiff City, as well as QPR. Rangers bought in three domestic players, as well as four foreign players, and had 10 domestic players in their squad already, but finished bottom of the league.
Cardiff only bought in three domestic players, whilst also signing five foreign players. They also end up finishing bottom of the league, and had the worst defensive record in 2013/14.
So what’s the answer? Sign good, domestic players, who know the game well and know how much it means to the fans, who will work hard to keep your football club up. Don’t be afraid to sign foreign players, but make sure you don’t have an imbalance in foreign favour and make sure they have experience in the English leagues, and have performed well. Perhaps gamble on one man who’s never played on our shores, but that should be the maximum. It’s not worth the gamble if you can get someone else in who has.
Who do I sell?
This is a tough one to answer, but on recent history it looks as though you want to keep as many bodies around the club as possible. Release those who are at the end of their contract, who you don’t think are at the level of the Premier League. Then with those who won’t be making the matchday squad on most occasions, you have two options: loan them out to the Championship, with an option to recall them, or just keep them at the club.
You really, really don’t want to sell anybody, especially your stars. If you receive a good offer for someone who’s lead you to promotion, clubs should never be tempted to sell them. They are vital.
Where do I get my signings?
A bit of an odd question, but it’s a toughie too. There are a lot of possible options. The first thing I’d say is go for cheap, possibly younger players unappreciated by the top teams of which they play for. For example, in recent years Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore starred in Hull City’s survival in 2013/14, and going even further back, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing. But with this needs good scouting, because some players could be being forced out of the club just because they’re not good enough. Those you need to steer clear of.
Another option to seriously, seriously look at is the best of the Championship. This is a route newly promoted sides love, and it’s a pretty successful one. Players are cheaper, and some are really Premier League quality. This has seen success in recent years from players like Ulloa, for Leicester last year, as well as Dwight Gayle for Crystal Palace, Curtis Davies, who was fantastic for Hull following his move from Birmingham and, going even further back, Jay Rodriguez’s move from Burnley to Southampton was also a fine piece of business
This is, generally, a successful option for promoted sides, but it has to be done well, as in you have to be sure they’re Premier League ready. On top of that, if you are relegated, you’ve already got players with the means to bring you back up.
Another commonly used tactic is to grab the stars from the relegated clubs the year before. This was used well by Crystal Palace, snapping up Adrian Mariappa from Reading, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Kebe.
So to wrap everything up for you, recent history tells you to spend at least £10 million but no more than £25 million to keep afloat.
Sign players of quality for your first team, and make up squad depth with free agents and loan players. Sign mostly domestic players and players with experience in the English leagues.
Keep as many players at the club as possible and look to sign players from relegated clubs, the Championship and from top clubs, but clubs shouldn’t limit themselves to just those three options.