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Monday, 26 April 2010

Being Crap Bankrupts Hull; Burnley Knew All Along

"I earn more than you, and you, and you, and you..."

The identity of the Premier League’s relegated teams is all but decided. Barring a miracle, Hull will join Burnley and Portsmouth in the Championship when the new season kicks off in August. Assuming, that is, they still have a club. While Brian Laws is still looking for Burnley’s wheels, last seen falling off back around Christmas time, they are all he has been charged with finding. Hull, meanwhile, are searching for a solution to liabilities believed to be as much as £35m, while continuing to operate. Of the two sides for whom relegation is confirmed, Hull resemble the stricken south coast club far more than their prudent Northern counterparts.

If you measure success, as most of us should, by still having a club to support every Saturday, Burnley are a magnificent example. They have a salary cap, for a start. It is £15,000 a week. And while those wages don’t necessarily get you a squad of internationals, it certainly secures the future of the club should you relinquish a lucrative place in the Premier League. It removes the likelihood of the dreaded fire-sale decimating your squad. It certainly doesn’t mean that you end up spending 80% of your turnover merely on paying players, like Hull City.

The differences in the running of the two clubs are staggering and Hull’s re-appointment of Adam Pearson may have come too late to save them this time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t present when the euphoria of another season in the Premier League led to a slew of signings on lucrative contracts as Hull aimed to become ‘established’ in the top tier. This yielded, as has been widely reported, the accumulation of seven strikers at the club, collecting a total of £200,000 a week in wages while returning only nine goals. Burnley’s record signing, Steven Fletcher, scored eight in the league and has 12 in all competitions. He cost £3m and, remember, collects no more than £15,000 a week. Meanwhile, Hull signed the mercenary, Amr Zaki, and continue to pay injury-prone and therefore un-saleable asset Jimmy Bullard £45,000 a week, with no relegation clause to reduce his wage. Phil Brown still has a year on his equally lucrative contract and all he’s doing is sitting in his garden topping up that implausible tan. Iain Dowie, now that I come to think of it, was rumoured to be on a £1mn bonus if he kept Hull up. Ludicrous figures, especially from a club that came so close to extinction in 2001.

But if Burnley are such a fantastic example, is it true to say that promoted or smaller clubs will never be able to compete if they run a tight ship? Yes, mostly. The Premier League’s behemoths make the summit an impossible dream, though with great power also comes great debt. In theory though, lower down the league, a year of top-flight football with the insurance of two years’ parachute payments should enable clubs like Burnley to fund more lucrative contracts and build a better squad. In practice, there is too much money elsewhere in the Premier League for the parachute payments to be enough to tempt clubs into gambling and players into signing. The only club – in recent times – that has made the journey from lower-league football to the Premier League and survived is Fulham, who have done so because Mohamed al-Fayed has spent a fortune on them. Even then, they’ve been perilously close to going down a few times. Birmingham appear to have a trough of money from an investor to spend in the summer, but they, West Brom and Wolves have traditionally been serial relegation fodder following promotion.

Therefore, in a hammer blow to the ‘romance’ of football, Burnley have been destined to go down from the start, all because the club is run responsibly. Such operating, however, has enabled them to invest in a £15m redevelopment of Turf Moor, whose new features – upon completion in 2011 – will net the club an extra £1m a year. A solid foundation but again, one suspects, not enough to make waves in the Premier League. In football nowadays, you can’t succeed if you’re just using your own money. The more catastrophic effects, as we should expect to see in the next few years, will come as clubs continue to gamble on success using someone else’s. Rob MacDonald

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