Here’s a quote for you – who do you think this is describing?
“As a manager, he is great at doing one specific, very valuable thing: He takes under-talented, lower-table Premier League teams and erects a defensive wall capable of withstanding the biggest, most expensively assembled battering rams’ assaults on his team’s goal, and in doing so avoids relegation.
“However, that style of play has a ceiling. Though (he) can organise a deep-block defence in his sleep, he proves much less capable when setting up teams on the attacking end. A combination of his teams’ habitually inconsistent, aesthetically lacking offensive strategy and the reverberating effects that strategy has on player recruitment (it’s hard to entice too many cultured attackers to join you with the prospect of spending 90 percent of their time on the pitch pinned down in their own penalty box, chunking long passes into the channels in the vague direction of one of the strikers a couple dozen yards away) limits the upside of teams that play in this fashion.”
We’ll come back to him later.
Having witnessed the hardship endured over the last couple of seasons by our own Rafa “Bob Cratchit” Benitez under the tyranny of Ebenezer Ashley, you have to have more than a little sympathy for Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder who has been handed a meagre transfer budget of between 16 and 20 million pounds (depending on who you believe) to try to keep the Blades in the Premier League this season. And this is with a Saudi Prince as part owner.
So what can possibly be the plan here? Their wage bill last season was 17 million. A season in the Prem as rank no-hopers and then drop back to the Championship with a 90 million profit? No wonder the co-owners are embroiled in a bitter commercial divorce, fighting over who gets custody of the profits.
Add a parachute payment to that and you have a seriously financially fit Championship outfit! Then what? See you back again next year boys? Forget Arsenal or Man Utd, bobbing between the Premier League and the Championship is how you build a wealthy football club!
Yes, I know we tried it but we were paying Premier League wages in the Championship while Sheffield are doing it the profitable way.
But back to our own little ongoing saga. Ashley is playing his own little version of “moneyball” football in the Premier League. There’s no point in being attracted by the big money in the top flight if you’re just going to spend it on things like players. Our owner appears to have decided that as the top 6, and essentially chances of Europe, are already stitched up the aim is to just stay in the Premiership, and when I say “just”, I mean “only just”.
The difference in place money between 17th and 7th was around 20 million. It wouldn’t take Ashley long to figure out that there’s no point in spending 60 million on players and another 12 on salaries) to increase your revenue by only 20. All that gets you is an invitation to go see the Bank Manager.
Of course if you wanted to be pedantic you could claim that you do that over a few years and build your team into a force that can challenge for European slots, but there’s no point in doing that if there’s the slightest chance that you might be able, at some point, to offload the club at a sizeable profit. Anybody who complains that the club show no ambition and then doesn’t believe that Ashley is serious about selling – you’re arguing both sides of the same coin.
So how do you stay in the fastest most skilful league in the world without the expense of buying the best players? There’s always more than one way to skin a cat – you go out and buy the best manager you can get your hands on, nail him to the floor with a seriously healthy bonus system based on staying up and finishing his contract, throw in a fine of a year’s salary if he breaks his contract and before you know it, for a mere 5 million a year, you have a team that will stay up and keep the Bank Manager off your back.
I don’t agree with it, but I see it, and I understand it.
Almost half of the clubs promoted to the Premier League go straight back down after only one season, and more than half of those who stay up don’t make it to 3 seasons. Moneyball Mike has been converted. After a raft of comedy gaffers playing Toon Roulette he has figured out that above all you need to splash out on a genuine quality manager.
While writing an article recently on how long a manager can expect to keep his job following a big money takeover of his club, I was flabbergasted to see how many clubs change hands after the summer transfer window has closed. I would guess that this is a result of the process not being as rapid as some think it might be. In an article I put out in May I suggested that we would hear nothing solid about the takeover until at least the third week of June, with July being the earliest it might be completed, so the fact that nothing has happened yet, in my book at least, isn’t really cause for concern, but the silence on Rafa’s contract by the man himself is ominous.
The good news is – if we are sold then the new owners will ensure they have a world class manager looking after their investment, so if Rafa has gone by then at least we’ll get someone decent to replace him.
More good news – if Ashley stays he will abide by his new mantra “good managers don’t get relegated” and follow suit.
So who was our mystery manager in the opening quotation? It may have accurately described Rafa’s last couple of seasons with us but it was in fact written about Tony Pulis. Seen as your average middle of the road UK manager along with the likes of Pardew, Warnock, Allardyce and Moyes, Pulis has the distinction of having never being relegated in 25 years of management. An ideal target for Ashley, but not a Rafa replacement that the fans will get too excited about, if Ashley does go for Pulis then we’ll know it’s survival above all else, and it would probably be the first honest statement Ashley has made since buying the club.