John Stones to Chelsea: Next season's bumper TV deal means clubs such as Everton can say 'no'

The Weekend Dossier

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The Independent Online

It was one of the better days for Roberto Martinez, a protest by fans at the stewardship of Everton chairman Bill Kenwright having been eclipsed by a convincing 3-0 win at Southampton. Nevertheless, the Everton manager still found himself having to defend Kenwright, with whom he has a close bond, and again attempt to dampen speculation as to the future of defender John Stones.

In a small room at St Mary’s Stadium he despaired of the constant pressure both to buy, and sell. “It seems you need to win games in the media depending how many signings you bring in,” he said. Then he added: “Ambition is not just about who you buy, it is also about who you don’t sell.”

 At the time most observers, and many Evertonians, believed Martinez’s instransigence was a negotiating tactic and that, eventually, Chelsea would make an offer Everton could not refuse. Stones would go, just like Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell, Mikael Arteta and Joleon Lescott, all the way back to Wayne Rooney.

 

This week Martinez and Kenwright combined to finally convince Chelsea, and everyone else, Stones was not for sale, not at any price. Not this year at any rate. Everton may not be a buying club this summer, not significantly, but they are no longer a selling club either.

Similarly Tottenham were forced to accept West Bromwich Albion’s Jeremy Peace meant it when he said Saido Berahino was not for sale. They have looked elsewhere, quickly wrapping up the £21m purchase of Son Heung-min, last season’s leading scorer for Bayer Leverkusen.

Leverkusen are in the Champions League, indeed they have been regulars in recent years. West Brom have not been in Europe since 1981 when they went out to Grasshoppers in the Uefa Cup first round. Yet it is Albion who have the financial muscle to resist Tottenham.

 

On Saturday Albion are at Stoke, for whom Xherdan Shaqiri will make his home debut. That’s the ex-Bayern Munich and Internazionale winger who scored a hat-trick for Switzerland at the World Cup and who, at 23, has his best years ahead. Elsewhere Dmitri Payet, Andre Ayew and Yohan Cabaye will be playing for West Ham, Swansea and Crystal Palace respectively.

It may not seem obvious, since we can all name this season’s likely top four before the season starts, if not the order they will finish, but one of the notable aspects of the Premier League is the equitable share-out of the spoils. It is Champions League revenue, merchandising, ticket sales and the generosity of billionaires that set the top four apart, not domestic TV income. That means even the smaller clubs are now bringing in so much wealth that, despite continued salary inflation, if they do not want to sell a player – and, crucially, he is under contract – they do not have to. Everton sold Rooney because they were going bust; they are holding on to Stones because they are financially sound, if not generating – nor investing – as much income as Kenwright’s critics would like.

Six Premier League clubs have this season broken their record fee while Chelsea are in line to be the seventh if they persuade Juventus, Italy’s wealthiest and most storied club, to sell Paul Pogba for £70m. 

That would be Europe’s biggest deal of the summer and highlights another shift in the transfer market’s tectonic plates. The relaxing of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, which Arsène Wenger on Friday bemoaned, has enabled the owners of Manchester City and Chelsea (plus Paris St-Germain) to flex their financial might once more. If the deals for Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne are done those two clubs will have been involved in four of the top eight transfers in Europe this summer. City’s cash also funded Liverpool’s purchase of Christian Benteke via the Raheem Sterling fee.

English market dominance should become even more pronounced when the new TV deal kicks in next season. Surely, then, Premier League clubs’ European performance will improve, not least because opponents are weakened? Already Manchester United have been drawn in a group featuring PSV Eindhoven – from whom they bought Memphis Depay and who sold Georginjo Wijnaldum to Newcastle United, and Wolfsburg, who seem poised to sell De Bruyne to Manchester City. City, meanwhile, could play a Juventus side bereft of Pogba. 

“It will be very difficult – apart from Bayern Munich – to compete with the Premier League in the future,” said Klaus Allofs, director of sport at Wolfsburg, after discussing City’s “astonishing” wages offer to De Bruyne. Therein lies the caveat when it comes to the Champions League. As Manchester United’s doomed pursuit of Thomas Müller revealed, Bayern, like Real Madrid and Barcelona, are rich enough to resist English clubs. They benefit from a much less even split of domestic TV revenue than in England.

Those superclubs are not, though, in the Europa League and it is about time English clubs made an impact. That West Ham and Southampton should be knocked out by clubs of such inferior resources as Astra Giurgiu and Midtjylland is simply embarrassing. In both competitions English clubs need to turn paper riches into  silver trophies.

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