The journey to the Premier League, the summit of all football in England (and Wales in a few select cases) has become far more than the humble clubs long, hard climb to the top professional tier within the game. It’s a financial and commercial promise land, where the mere attendance in it can transform dreams to tangible pursuits. The big games and the television exposure is all just part of the territory, however substantial growth in a clubs stature and laying the foundations to continue such progressive momentum aren’t always exclusively intertwine with what rose them to such dizzy heights in the first place.
A clubs direction upon entering the Premier League is to survive – period. Anything else is a bonus, but there are no definite blueprints of how to achieve this or a promoted team’s allegory, just a hopeful fan preying to remain among the elite as long as possible before the dream holiday ends and reality is resumed amongst their usual peers.
An enigma in many ways, teams of perceived smaller resources and history appear futile to the ‘level’ and remain benign to the media in their attempts to accept their fate graciously. On the flip side, what about the apparent millions bestowed upon these teams once they achieve Premier League status? It’s counterproductive in many ways, how can a board consciously release acquired funds which they know in the event of relegation they would have to account for and furthermore, do without? There are parachute payments delegated when clubs do suffer the ignominy of relegation, but questions are raised over whether that is enough to help clubs cope post Premier League status, or even if they give relegated teams a slight advantage over other Championship rivals.
West Brom Chairman Jeremy Pearce has always echoed a stout stance on the running of the Midland’s club finances insisting he will never spend beyond the clubs means. Perhaps that suggests paramount trust in his players and staff who got the Baggies to the Prem, but the facts would suggest West Brom have been the archetypical yo-yo club throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, during which time they have been promoted four times and relegated three times – leading to widespread assumption that Pearce’s policy has left them at an immediate disadvantage, on the field anyway.
Spending as it were as a simple notion has very different ramifications for different spenders. Often it’s those who orchestrate the finances, with inept and short sighted vision however honest the intentions may be, that lead to the demise of proven clubs. Opulence and raw external spending power (though set to be capped by UEFA Financial Fair Play) is a whole different ball game. For the latter, Manchester City’s title win is testament to the English pound. City were in the championship only 10 years ago, but the meteoric rise for the Blue half of Manchester which begun in 2008 makes the bottom-half of the table struggles in the other six-years a distant memory. For the former, look no further than Leeds and Portsmouth, who between them have an F.A cup win in 2008 and a Champions League Semi-Final in 2001. With stints in League One to their names now since, both are still looking to find their way back to the magic 20.
Outfits who haven’t quite found the balance over the years have managed to gain the undesirable tag of a ‘Yo-yo club’. These particular clubs enter the Premier League and can only muster a one-season stay before relegation, a cycle which becomes increasingly hard to break. Birmingham City for instance are what you would call the forefathers of these undesirable collectives having done the dreaded yo-yo 12 times, the most of any club in top-flight history, four of which since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
Last season Norwich City, Swansea City and QPR became the first three clubs to all avoid the drop in their first season following promotion. QPR actually finished 17th and survived by the skin of their teeth despite spending the most out of the three teams, conversely defying Manchester City’s formula. Backed by Tony Fernandes, the hoops made big signings in Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and at the time relatively proven (one season) Premier League goal scorer DJ Campbell.
Swansea entered the Premier League the way they exited the Championship, playing free-flowing football from front-to-back with an attractive and determined approach inspired from purist Brendan Rodgers. Their refusal to change their approach was seen by many as a recipe for failure as West Brom, a team many had described as a footballing outfit down the years, tried to play the game in the same vein but couldn’t match up to the League’s proven quality. Swansea, could and did.
Norwich went for a different route. Not relying on money and big summer signings, the Canaries are quite possibly the best ‘team’ to emerge from the lower leagues and indeed back-to-back promotions ever. Grant Holt and Steve Morrison went from lower league and for a while non-league football to amassing 24 league-goals between them in England’s highest league. Supplied by a team who had very little to no Premier League experience, they showed that determination and fight coupled with organisation can make them a very hard team to beat.
Stoke are a team who too sport a style that while not aesthetically pleasing, combats the league effectively and has a record to prove it. A stubborn and fierce back-line is the foundation for a very direct and physical team who often out-work and out-muscle their opponents. Like Rodgers and Paul Lambert, Tony Pulis found a style which suited the players he had at his disposal and used it to get themselves established in the division and haven’t looked back. Now capable of funding moves for Internationals like Peter Crouch in excess of £10m and a Europa League campaign in this history books, it shows the growth their prolonged four-year stay in the top-flight has done for the club, however ugly it is.
Stability is what every club craves when embarking upon this journey, and teams like Norwich and Stoke have shown that having the desire and fight to compete is half the battle. Swansea all the more admirably showed that if you can play with the best then have the courage to do it week in, week out. Results like home wins against Arsenal and Liverpool would pay testament to such a tribute.
West Ham, Southampton and Reading are all teams who have seen what the Premier League is all about down the years, and have all experienced their fair share of relegations. Under different guidance from board level down to the dug-out, it will be interesting to see what ideas they will adopt to ensure they don’t make the dreaded swift return from whence they came. If they do want to take a leaf out of Swansea or Norwich’s scrap-book – utilise the strengths of the players you already have, trust a plan, organise it, and be prepared to fight.