Nick Harris: Sale of young talent can provide lifeline for relegated clubs

Derby likely to pay the heaviest price as Premiership's bottom teams count the cost of losing their place among the English elite
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The Independent Online

Everyone has a price, as Leicester's Micky Adams, Derby's John Gregory and, in all likelihood, Ipswich's George Burley will discover in the coming months. Because with relegation from the Premiership comes a financial burden so heavy that it tends not just to shunt the unfortunate clubs into the Nationwide League, but knock the stuffing out of them on the way.

The losses do not stop with a reduction in revenue, which next season will equate to around £15m per relegated club, even after a "parachute payment" of £4m from the Premier League has been paid to soften the blow. The more visible deprivation, as far as the fans and the quality of the football is concerned, will be in players: First, those who have large contracts, not sustainable on Nationwide League income; Second, the most promising youngsters, around whom managers want to re-build their sides.

Of the sides who will drop to the First Division in August, it is arguably Derby who will be under the most pressure to sell. The last published financial figures showed a declared loss of £10m for the year ending May 2001, and that is sure to have grown this year. Overall debt stands at £27m. And despite the club denying on Monday that administration could be just weeks away, it is clear that the situation is far from healthy at Pride Park.

Fortunately for the board, there are a number of bankable assets on hand to sell. Chris Riggott, a regular England Under-21 defender, is one who could command a decent fee, much as it would pain the supporters and the player himself. "I know what some people are saying about my future but if Derby want to keep me I will give everything to get them back in the Premiership," he said. If the price is right, he will not get the chance.

The same could be said of fellow defender Danny Higginbotham, a reported target for Manchester City. The striker Malcolm Christie, who cost just £50,000 from non-League Nuneaton a few years ago will also attract interest. And it goes without saying that Fabrizio Ravanelli is likely to be another swift departure, while the wages and ambition of Georgi Kinkladze could see his time in the East Midlands curtailed.

"My task now is to see which players want to stay and which want to leave," Gregory said. "It is going to be an interesting summer from that point of view. Anyone who is not 100 per cent committed will not be needed. I have to do as much wheeling and dealing as I can to get this club back into the Premiership."

Over at Leicester, Micky Adams is hoping this his club's journey back to the Premiership will be inspired by a crop of young players just breaking through to the first team. The emergence of home-grown talent such as Matthew Piper, Jon Stevenson (who scored against Aston Villa at the weekend) and Jon Ashton has been the only consolation in a terrible season.

"What we certainly don't want to do is lose any of them to the Premiership piranhas now that we have gone down to First Division," Adams said. He may yet be able to retain them for a while, at least until they make a splash at the lower level, but the same is probably untrue of his more experienced professionals.

Muzzy Izzet has consistently been linked with Celtic while Robbie Savage has said he wants to stay but his wages could prove too high to handle. Ian Walker, so hopeful a year ago about the prospects of regular appearances in a Premiership goal following his move from Tottenham, could also move on or be encouraged to do so.

While Ipswich's relegation remains unconfirmed, George Burley is unlikely to be pondering what changes to make for next season. Indeed, given the financial prudence that has been seen at Portman Road in recent years he may not be forced to cut his squad too radically. But you only need to consider the fate of some other ex-Premiership clubs in recent years to realise quite how drastically fortunes can change.

Some clubs have managed to halt their fall at the First Division, simply suffering from major financial injuries and the loss of many of the staff who were with them in the top division. Crystal Palace have experienced that in recent years, as have Nottingham Forest (who are still selling to stay afloat, Jermaine Jenas being the latest example), Sheffield United, Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday.

And others have tumbled further, like Barnsley, who will start next season in the Second Division, and QPR and Swindon, who are already there, having been to the brink of extinction on the way. If Leicester, Derby and whoever joins them in the drop do not act now, they could soon be en route to join them.

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