Saturday, May 7, 2022

Why yo-yo clubs like Norwich and Fulham are stuck in ‘football purgatory’

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The growing dominance of the ‘Big Six’ of English football has left a small group of clubs stranded between two leagues

As the financial chasm between the top-flight Big Six and the rest widens, it has stretched the English football pyramid and created a clutch of clubs not quite good enough for the Premier League but, even with a brief stint in of the Premier League have enough assets top division to make them favorites to return. “It’s a kind of purgatory,” says football finance expert Kieran Maguire about the so-called yo-yo clubs.

Promotion to the Premier League should be an exciting time for any team, but for supporters of a small group of clubs the experience is fading.

Norwich and Watford were promoted last season and will be relegated straight back to the Championship. Norwich have been promoted and relegated four times in 11 seasons. Watford twice up and twice down in eight.

Meanwhile, Fulham, who were relegated last season, and Bournemouth, who were relegated last season, have already been confirmed as the two automatically promoted from the second division.

It is difficult to see beyond money as the cause of all this. “In terms of the Premier League they would say we are a successful product, we are the most popular team sport in the world and the focus is on the top six not the bottom and ultimately who cares about the bottom? ?” Says Maguire. “But what we have is a Premier League and a Premier League 1.5.”

Maguire points to the finances involved. In the 2019/20 season, which saw Fulham promoted through the play-offs, they lost £73m in general trade from the previous season in the Premier League – a £1.5m-a-week loss in operations and that was with parachute payments.

Parachute payments – the tens of millions the Premier League pays to relegated clubs – were once described by EFL chairman Rick Parry as “an evil that needs to be eradicated” but are not considered as big a problem as the financial divide between the Big Six and the clubs in the bottom eight.

The top six clubs earn around £350m-400m more than clubs in the bottom eight. And while they’ve only received a 45 percent to 58 percent increase in broadcast revenue in recent years, the real discrepancy lies in the money they make from commercial deals and ticket sales. “They now get 78 percent of the commercial revenue and 73 percent of the matchday revenue,” says Maguire. “That’s six clubs. Three quarters of ticket sales go to them.”

And that’s before UEFA’s income. In 2019, the last time before Covid distorted finances, €400m was split between the four clubs in the Champions League – Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool. With Liverpool and Spurs making the final and Arsenal and Chelsea reaching the Europa League, it meant the Big Six teams split €485m in TV money alone.

And these clubs just keep growing. They have constantly used the threat of a Super League to squeeze out more money.

What chances do the yo-yo clubs have? A chief executive of a club previously relegated from the Premier League pointed out that a relegation clause reflecting the drop in earnings in the league would be around 80 per cent if you struggle through January and want to make new signings but no player would never agree, which makes sound financial decisions pointless.

Fulham and Bournemouth are fortunate to have billionaire owners willing to invest.

Bournemouth’s Maxim Demin owns a petrochemical company and was fined for breaching Financial Fair Play rules to even make it to the Premier League. Fulham’s owner is sports tycoon Shahid Khan, whose losses at the club total £494million.

However, a Fulham source believes that despite having scored more than 100 goals en route to winning the league, the club need seven new players to survive. Not only do they have a slightly aging squad, there are doubts that three key players this season will make it in the top flight: captain Tom Cairney, 31, and Tim Ream, 34, and even prolific Championship goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic . 27 who has previously failed to prove himself in the Premier League.

Norwich don’t have the luxury of a billionaire benefactor and often sell off star players to fund a squad capable of doing well in the Championship. In the summer of 2018 they sold James Maddison to Leicester for £22.5m and won the Championship the following year. They sold Ben Godfrey to Everton for £25million in the summer of 2020 before winning the Championship again. They sold Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa for £33million last summer and have been relegated this season.

When Daniel Farke was appointed manager in May 2017, they finished 14th in the championship and won it a year later. “From the first day after the ascent, our chances of survival were maybe five percent, so 19 times out of 20 you fall,” Farke said after the descent.

“If you’re lucky and don’t have any injuries, then you have a chance. When we’re 100 percent we’re competitive, but when it’s 96 or 97 percent it sometimes seems like it’s men versus boys.”

Watford has become something of an empty vessel for professional footballers and managers to walk through. Supporters are taking a step back and accepting that this is probably the club’s most successful period since the 1980s, but the multi-club ownership model and conveyor belt of Pozzo family managers have led to a split.

“There’s a growing feeling that we’ve lost a bit as a club,” says Michael Moruzzi, 43, who has supported the club for more than 30 years. “There was a lot of fun. Especially this season everyone is fed up. We feel that as fans we don’t have a strong connection to this team.

“[The owners] sucked the life out of the squad, the spirit, the unit, the general backbone destroyed everything. We’re in a situation now where you feel like they’re 11 guys who get kicked out and let’s see what happens and in the end they inevitably lose and everyone goes home unhappy.

After three games, fans knew Watford were overwhelmed and would fight. “I hope it’s not that smaller clubs can’t compete in the Premier League anymore, but it’s getting harder and harder,” Moruzzi added. “When you’re in a league where you’re competitive and you can play football, it’s more fun, no question.

“Not to say I don’t want Watford promoted, that’s a dangerous attitude but it’s more fun when they play at a level where they can succeed and win games. In the Premier League you are there to survive. And after a while, that doesn’t get as exciting as a prospect.”

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