Back in November we wrote on these pages about the precarious finances that affect Premier League clubs in trying to balance the books. The sums of money mentioned in the media are incredible amounts, but with the very large lion’s share going out in wages, is it really as simple as it sounds to keep things on an even keel?
Over the past ten years or so we have prided ourselves on our ability to make the right decisions at the right times, and come out with the great player purchases that have served us so well for such moderate outlay.
This season has been the biggest challenge that the club has faced since the 2002/3 season when we almost lost our Football League status. Things have clearly not worked as we have wanted them to, and it is apparent that the recruitment that was undertaken last summer has not had the desired effect that the club believed that it would when the purchases were made.
The decision to sack Garry Monk looked an inevitable one when it was made and whilst many have commented that it should have been done earlier, his performance last season had probably earned him the time until the decision was finally taken.
As a Trust we were informed by our Supporter Director of what was happening at the club, and we were aware that the decision was being taken and fully supported it. Garry’s time at the club should never be forgotten, but results and performances had deteriorated to an unacceptable level and the right decision was made.
The search for a new manager was underway and, as you know, we have always tried to plan for these situations in advance. This time was no different and we were informed by our Supporter Director of a list of potential candidates that we would be interested in bringing to Swansea.
It was at this point that we started to learn new lessons that had not become apparent to us previously. Every time we have changed manager before (with the exception of Nick Cusack) we have been towards mid table or in a close season. The only other exception to that would be Michael Laudrup’s departure when he was replaced internally, thus not exposing us to the position we now find ourselves in.
Managers have been interested but wanted long term deals on Premier League wages or, even worse, guarantees that we would retain the squad through the January transfer window or even upon relegation, as well as recruiting additional players.
These are things that we cannot guarantee at Swansea without taking risks with our finances that could go horrendously wrong. Dropping into the Championship with a Premier League squad is a non-sustainable model that would risk the longer term future of the club. Similarly, offering longer term deals on Premier League wages with no relegation clauses is something that we should not be prepared to accept even if other clubs are.
As this situation developed there was increasing uncertainty within the media and fanbase that was unacceptable, so the decision was taken to confirm that Alan Curtis and David Adams were appointed on a more long term deal. That is not to say that we were not still looking at options, and the recent good news is that the Club have now identified a person who meets all the criteria, and the Supporters Trust offers our best wishes to Francesco Guidolin as he seeks to move us up the table and away from the relegation zone.
Most frustratingly at the moment is the search for new players that continues and will continue until the transfer window shuts at the beginning of February. Sadly though, as with managers there are stumbling blocks with players, which require careful consideration as to how we overcome them.
As an example we looked at one player who would have entailed us spending a significant amount of the Shelvey fee proceeds, a fee that the club was prepared to meet together with the relative wage demands. A relegation clause was requested by the player, the relegation clause being a free transfer. This is a gamble that we cannot afford to take. We would hope that the signing would ensure Premier League survival, however if it does not then we have to be protected by the right clauses, which would mean a fee coming back into the club on departure, we simply cannot afford to give away multi million pound assets for nothing.
The Supporters Trust board recently met with Huw Jenkins to discuss the current situation, raise many of our concerns and those raised by our members, and hear the plans to ensure we have the best management structure and squad of players in place to meet the challenges of the coming months and beyond. Huw was very candid in his views on where problems have arisen and the challenges the club currently faces in terms of bringing new people in and, while much of what was said has to remain confidential, it was good to hear first-hand that the club are working as hard as possible to address these issues and give us the best chance of Premier League survival whilst still working to the same ideals that have served us so well over the last decade.
It has long been accepted that relegation will mean that some players need to leave to further their careers, however we have to try to ensure that such departures are on terms that contribute to securing our future.
Over the past three and a half years the club have a net deficit on transfers of in excess of £40m when you factor in signing on fees and agent fees, and in the last 18 months alone (highlighting just how much we backed Garry Monk) we have spent in excess of £50m on these deals. Frightening amounts of money and we know we have not had the value for money from them that we would have expected.
It is doubly frustrating when we watch our rivals making signings, but we know that the terms of some of them are along the lines we mention above, and whilst that is their call to do so, they could be decisions that come back to financially haunt them in the future. As we have seen, transfers do not guarantee success, so we have to remain prudent in what we do.
The other challenge at the moment remains that should we make signings now and it does work and we retain our PL status, then we are effectively spending next year’s budget. In much the same way as individuals that live off credit cards are living off money they have not yet earned, this is the same for the Football Club and against all that we have fought for over the past 14 years.
I am sure many of us remember the financial mismanagement of previous regimes entrusted with our football club. You can go back to our previous time at the highest level when gambling on staying in the top flight and stadium expansion without balancing the books almost resulted in the extinction of our club a few years later. Even more recently we saw similar mismanagement by Silver Shield and then Mike Lewis, which ultimately led to the club being placed in administration in order to secure the club’s future when the current owners came into power. As custodians of this club for future generations, we must not allow either situation to arise again.
Success this season (staying up) will not mean we have won, it will mean that the battle continues next season and will continue ongoing as it does with most sides at this level with a few exceptions. What it highlights is that we have very little scope for making purchases that do not work and that is where we have not got things right over the last 18 months, but as the figures above show it is not for the want of trying.
All we can do at the moment is continue to look under every stone to see if we can find what we need on terms that are right for the football club. On top of that, as fans, we need to remain united behind the team and work together to get the points needed to ensure we dine at the top table next season.
And if that does not work, then we have to look back and know that we did everything right, including being together.