Should promoted clubs stick or twist in the great Premier League merry-go-round?

Is it best for new teams to try and buy their way to survival or keep faith with the players who got them up? Either way, it's an expensive gamble

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The Independent Online

The survival rate of a newly promoted club in the Premier League is almost as bad as a lion being chased by an American dentist. But with the new, almost absurdly lucrative TV deal kicking in at the end of this season, the rewards for those who can stay up will be enormous.

In May, Queens Park Rangers earned more than £64m in television fees, prize money and collective commercial contracts for a season of utter ineptitude that saw them finish last.  With the new £5bn television deal that comes into force next year, the team that finishes bottom in May 2017 could expect to make £99m. Not since the Premier League came into being has it been so critical to stay in it.

Nobody in Norwich, Watford and especially Bournemouth, with its folk memories of bucket collections and beginning the 2008-09 season in League Two with a transfer embargo and a 17-point deduction, will be talking about relegation.

Bournemouth are where Barnsley were in 1997 or Bradford two years later or Wigan in 2005. They are where nobody expected them to be and where they have never been in their history.

Paul Jewell managed the last two of those clubs. Against every expectation he kept Bradford and Wigan in the Premier League. “The hardest decision you have to make is whether you stay true to the team that got you there,” he said. “Do you sacrifice some of the togetherness that won you promotion or do you stick with the lads, knowing that once that transfer window shuts it’s a long way to January?

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Against all odds: Paul Jewell kept Bradford and Wigan in the top flight (Getty)

“At Bradford and Wigan, the team that started in the Premier League was more or less the team that had won us promotion,” he added. “There was really something about them. When I went to Derby County to try to keep them up, it was hopeless because there was no character anywhere in that dressing room.”

Jewell could add that once he left Bradford, those instincts went with him. His chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, was left to indulge in what he called “my six weeks of madness” that brought Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore to Valley Parade at ludicrous expense to doom their second season with the big boys.

Of the three promoted teams, Norwich, who have the greatest resources, have followed Jewell’s instincts to stick with what you know. As befits owners who got through four managers in winning promotion and appointed a fifth, Quique Sanchez Flores, once they had reached the Premier League, the Pozzo family at Watford have been rather more adventurous.

The money may be vast but it also evaporates quickly. Crystal Palace earned £20m from their season in the Premier League in 2004-05 but hours after their chairman, Simon Jordan, had savoured victory over West Ham in the play-off final to make the step up, he had agreed £7m of additional payments.

Some were bonuses for his management staff – the manager, Iain Dowie, received a 500 per cent pay increase. The rest were contractual payments triggered by Palace winning promotion.

The wage bill rose by £7.2m that summer while Dowie spent £6m on transfers. A further £500,000 went to agents. As he remarked with a certain weary elegance in his aptly titled memoir Be Careful What You Wish For, Jordan said: “But, of course, I had the priceless kudos of owning a Premier League club.”

 

 

Statistically, it seems not to matter how much you spend. It was calculated that a team which goes down spends roughly the same as a team that clings on (£12.4m).

Of the four biggest-spending promoted teams to the Premier League, Queens Park Rangers, who squandered £41m of Tony Fernandes’s money, and Cardiff, who spent £27m of Vincent Tan’s, were both relegated. Sunderland and Southampton, who spent £54m between them, stayed up. Of the two lowest-spending clubs, Reading in 2006 survived, while Blackpool in 2010 very nearly did.

“The one thing you have to deal with is being offered players who don’t really want to be at your club,” said Jewell. “Let’s face it, Bradford or Wigan aren’t going to be many people’s first choice, especially when the contract comes with a 50 per cent wage reduction in case of relegation.

“The agent has the ‘Wigan offer’ and then he touts the player around to see if he can get something better. You have to trust your instincts.”

Sometimes those instincts are jettisoned. Jordan makes the point that, as English players become ever more expensive, so clubs like Crystal Palace are forced into the European or South American markets where their scouting network is either limited or non-existent.

Nobody at Selhurst Park thought it a good idea to buy the Ecuadorian forward Ivan Kaviedes (pictured far left) on the strength of a DVD for £600,000 but as a club promoted through the play-offs, Palace had less time than anyone else – and it was running out.

As the summer drains down to kick-off, the manager is as invulnerable as he will ever be. “God in a Tracksuit” as one headline described Danny Wilson after he had taken Barnsley to the top fight for the first time in 1997. Jewell would know the feeling. “But when we won promotion at Wigan I always thought the second season would be more difficult because by then you don’t have the sentiment running for you,” he said.

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Nobody at Selhurst Park thought it a good idea to buy the Ecuadorian forward Ivan Kaviedes on the strength of a DVD for £600,000 (Getty)

“The Premier League isn’t quite that new any more, maybe some games don’t sell out. It is no longer wonderful just to be playing Manchester United, I remember one supporter throwing his season ticket at me after we’d lost to West Ham in our second season. Second seasons are dangerous because there’s greater expectation from the crowd and more complacency from the players.”

Almost a quarter of the clubs promoted in the last decade survived their first taste of the Premier League and went down in season two. Leicester City, with Claudio Ranieri at the helm, look a good bet to follow suit.

Jewell’s time at Wigan was almost a case in point. The first season saw them almost safe by February and in a League Cup final with Manchester United. Season two went to the final game of the season, where Wigan had to win at a rainswept Bramall Lane to save themselves and send Sheffield United down. They did but Jewell, exhausted by it all, resigned.

“All you can ask for from your owners is realism,” he said. “At Bradford, the best we were ever going to finish was 17th. After we had beaten Liverpool on the final day of the season to stay up, Gérard Houllier called me and said keeping Bradford in the Premier League was the equivalent of Arsenal winning the Double.

“It sounds a ridiculous thing to say but then you look at the resources we had and it probably was.”

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