Harry Redknapp said last month that he “did not feel like spending the club’s money” in January but as Christopher Samba completed a deal that will cost Queen’s Park Rangers £36m the change of heart did make sense.
Top-flight survival is always lucrative but it is this year more than any other. New Premier League television deals, running from 2013 to 2016 and worth over £5bn in total, kick in next season, rewarding the fortunate 20 clubs like never before. QPR, should they fight their way out of the bottom three, could expect at least £70m of TV money next season, £25m more than they earned last season. With a pot that big it is worth gambling this hard.
It is easy to sympathise with Redknapp’s initial caution on January investment. Rangers spent heavily in the summer with little to show for it. Well-paid free signings were made in Andy Johnson, Rob Green and Jose Bosingwa, as well as the high-profile purchases of Park Ji-sung, Junior Hoilett, Julio Cesar, Esteban Granero and Stéphane Mbia.
It did not work. Rangers took four points from their first 12 games, after which Mark Hughes was sacked. “There’s not going to be wholesale spending,” Redknapp said when he was appointed manager in late November. “That wouldn’t be fair. The owners have spent a lot of money here.”
Just before Christmas Redknapp said again that he was in no mood to gamble too hard. “I don’t feel like spending the club’s money,” said Redknapp. “I don’t want to see the owner’s pants taken down like they have been in the past.”
But that approach has changed. Rangers signed four players in January, two of them low-profile, Tal Ben Haim and Yun Suk-young, but two of them larger – Samba from Anzhi Makhachkala and Loïc Rémy from Marseilles.
Samba was headline news, as QPR activated the £12.5m release clause in his Anzhi contract. He is thought to be paid £100,000 per week over four and a half years, which would mean a contract worth £23.4m. Earlier last month Rangers beat Newcastle United to the signature of Rémy, paying £8m for the France international and a weekly wage understood to be £80,000 – again until summer 2017, meaning an £18.7m contract.
Rémy and Samba then, between them, are projected to cost £62.6m in fees and wages over the course of their deals. This is not exactly what Redknapp promised. But sometimes the prize is too attractive. “You’ve got to try,” he explained recently. “The reward for staying up is so big.”
It is bigger than ever before. Premier League TV deals work in three-year cycles and a new one begins from next season. The domestic contracts, with Sky Sports and BT, are worth a record £3.018bn.
Beyond that, overseas TV deals are doing better than ever. The Premier League confirmed sales for the Middle East and North Africa region and to France. The overseas deals are not yet completed, although the Premier League hopes they will be within a fortnight. When they are all added together the total will soar beyond the £1.4bn which the 2010-13 overseas contracts brought in, and is almost certain to surpass £2bn.
This will take the league’s television income beyond £5bn, and maybe even to £5.5bn, with understandable consequences for the clubs, given the fair sharing of the money. Last season Rangers were estimated by the website Sporting Intelligence to have received £43.3m in TV money. If they are in the Premier League next season, and stay up, they should receive roughly £70m or so.
Rangers could get more than that the higher they finish. Next year’s Premier League champions are likely to pick up at least £100m. Some of the new money will increase the parachute payments for relegated teams beyond the current £48m spread over four years, but survival is the only game in town.
So Rangers’ gamble makes perfect sense. Invest over £60m this January in the hope of staying up and receive more than £70m from the Premier League next season. All QPR have to do is win some more games.
But if they were to look down they would see clubs who gambled and lost. Leeds United are far bigger Rangers but they gambled on sustained Champions League football at the start of the millennium, over-stretching themselves by spending heavily on players such as Seth Johnson. They went into administration, the third tier, were deducted points and are about to complete their ninth straight season outside the Premier League.
Portsmouth never had the crowds or the status of Leeds and are closer in stature to QPR. They spent beyond their means while in the Premier League, with a wage bill that grew to the point of exceeding their turnover and which they could not pay. Like Leeds they had to sell their good players, went into administration, were deducted points and are now in the third tier.
Five years ago Redknapp himself was Portsmouth manager. “We only hold 19,000, not 50,000 like Newcastle,” he said in August 2008. “So you have to balance the books. If you bring people in, you have to sell others to pay for it. That is how I was brought up, and how the game should be, really.”
That is not how it turned out at Portsmouth. QPR will need Premier League football for the foreseeable future to bring in anywhere near enough money.
But what if Samba and Rémy, good as they are, cannot take Rangers ahead of Reading, Aston Villa and whoever else to keep them up? If Rangers go down they will be left with their giant wage bill and with parachute payments which could only make up a fraction of the cost. Owners Tony Fernandes and Lakshmi Mittal are certainly rich but it would be very costly indeed.
The biggest gamble in Premier League history will be played out in the next 15 league games. If Rémy and Samba do not bring the required improvement, they could be Rangers’ last throw in the top flight for some time.
Hoop dreams: QPR moves
K Dyer West Ham, free
J Bothroyd Cardiff, free
D Gabbidon W Ham, free
DJ Campbell B’pool, £1.2m
J Barton Newcastle, free
L Young Aston Villa, undis
A Traoré Arsenal, free
S W-Phillips Man C, £2.75m
A Ferdinand S’land, undis
N Onuoha Man C, £3m
D Cissé Lazio, £4m
B Zamora Fulham, £4m
A Johnson Fulham, free
R Nelsen Spurs, free
R Green West Ham, free
S Diakité Nancy, £3.5m
Park J-s Man Utd, £2m
D Hoilett Blackburn, free
J Cesar Inter, free
E Granero R Madrid, £3.8m
S Mbia Marseilles, £5m
L Rémy Marseilles, £8m
Yun S-y Chun. D, free