Scott Parker’s departure – the knees have jerked

SCOTT PARKER became an early season managerial casualty just a couple of days after AFC Bournemouth’s 9-0 (nine) humbling by Liverpool, a team that is arguably among the top three or four in Europe. Jürgen Klopp, seeing the distress on the face of the boyish Parker, extended an arm of consolation, perhaps realising that in the modern game, there’s little room for sentiment when your team is pulled apart so mercilessly. Bournemouth were sacrificial lambs after Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season and after facing Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, probably three of the toughest games they will have in 2022-23, Parker was shown the door.

Parker was damagingly honest after the Anfield game, claiming he needed new players. “I feel sorry for the fans, I feel sorry for the players because we are just a bit underequipped at this level from where we’ve come from and what we have. It has been difficult,” he said.

The statement from Bournemouth’s Maxim Demin hinted that he might have upset one or two people at the club. “It is unconditional that we are aligned in our strategy to run the club sustainability. We must also show belief in and respect for one another.”

With 16 goals conceded in four games, Parker’s post-match response was a frank assessment, but contributed to his dismissal. Having took them back to the Premier, Parker wasn’t given the chance to consolidate in the Premier League. It is possible no other coach will be successful in that ambition this season. Club owners need an objective and a strategy, but the chasm between the Premier League and Championship is getting wider and the financial gulf really means that survival is the best most promoted teams can hope for. How different the narrative might have been if Bournemouth had come up against Wolves, Southampton and Leicester in their first three games.

There’s no denying that 9-0 is an earthquake of a result, but the manner of the defeat was shocking for Bournemouth fans, pointing the way for the next few months. But the club’s management have acted like the taxman, assuming the returns of an exceptional performance (i.e. promotion) will be the benchmark for the following year. This is not only a little presumptuous but also seems naïve given the club has been here before. Will Bournemouth get a better manager in their current position? Sean Dyche is already being mentioned in despatches and there will be a cluster of other names that will be no more progressive than persevering with Parker.

The first Football League team to be beaten 9-0 was Wolves in January 1891. John Stuart McMillan netted five times for Derby County in that game, a Glasgow-born Scot who later managed Gillingham. Wolves’ manager that day was Jack Addenbrooke and he didn’t get sacked afterwards!

Promoted clubs sometimes find they don’t have the patience to continue with their existing manager if the tea leaves look at little menacing early in the season, but Parker is the earliest promoted boss to depart in the past decade. He’s in good company, Daniel Farke, Slaven Bilic, Harry Redknapp, Nigel Adkins and Ian Holloway have all had the tap on the shoulder or come to the same conclusion as their employer after winning promotion. Surely a manager deserves the chance to take thing on and is four games into the 2022-23 season really enough time to conduct a good evaluation?

If Southampton had that same mindset, then Ralph Hasenhüttl would have been sacked after one of his 9-0 defeats. He’s experienced the humiliation at home (to Leicester) and away (Manchester United) but remains in charge at St. Mary’s. Likewise, when Liverpool thrashed Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace 9-0 in December 1989, he was given time and Palace reached their first FA Cup final and a year later, finished third in the old first division.

Bournemouth won’t be the last club this season to sack their coach after a bad result, but you have to ask if they have prepared themselves well for their return to the Premier League. On the face of it, their squad looks no more than Championship level, so unless the team is reinforced, a relegation struggle is ahead of them. Whether Parker’s successor can change that outcome remains to be seen, but their decision may be one they come to regret.

The Premier League new boys – how long does the honeymoon last?

THE New season is well underway and the teams that won promotion to the Premier League at the end of 2021-22 have experienced mixed results. Taking the history of the competition as a benchmark, there is a good chance one or two promoted clubs will suffer relegation in their first campaign back in the top flight. In the last four seasons, seven of the 12 clubs have gone down immediately, in 2022 it was Norwich City and Watford. The other new boys, Brentford, finished 13th and won many friends for their approach and attitude.

Staying the course is hard for the new boys, but if they can survive in year one, they will have benefitted from the financial rewards of Premier League membership and be in a better position in year two. In 2019-20, for example, Fulham, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion were all promoted. All three clubs generated turnover of between £ 53 to £ 58 million. Their wage bills were unsustainable, with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion paying out 125% of income and Leeds a very concerning 144%. This scenario is not unusual by any means, but having pushed the boat out to reach the Premier, wages went even higher in 2020-21 for the three clubs, but given the significant rise in income, less of a burden. However, for Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, the jump from Championship to Premier proved too much once more.  Fulham’s revenues totalled £ 116 million, but this was still way below the level of even mid-table clubs like Everton (£ 193m), Aston Villa (£171m) and Newcastle (£ 140m). Given that Leeds are a bigger club in terms of support than their two promotion partners, it was no surprise their income was as high as £ 171 million. Fulham, who have been going through a yo-yo existence for the past five years, returned to the Premier in 2022-23, hoping they finally acclimatise in the right way.

The average lifespan of a promoted club is 3.8 seasons – 14 clubs in the Premier constitution have been promoted to the league at some point.

Nottingham Forest’s return to the Premier League will be welcomed by many but they may find life a lot more challenging since 1999 when they were last in the division. When Forest were relegated, their turnover amounted to £ 17 million, just one million lower than they generated in 2020-21. This certainly emphasises the difference between life in the Premier and a place in the Championship. Conversely, while wages in 1999 were £ 11.8 million, Forest were paying more than double their revenues to their squad in 2020-21. Forest do have good support and they appear to have a very promising coach in Steve Cooper, but will they invest the money they will receive in 2022-23 wisely? They have spent heavily in the summer, more than £ 100 million, and their outlay is higher than Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle United (source: Transfermarkt). Their new signings include Jesse Lingard, a free from Manchester United, Union Berlin’s Taiwo Awoniyi for £ 18.5 million and Neco Williams from Liverpool for £ 18 million. Awoniyi scored for Forest against West Ham to record their first victory of the season.

Forest’s eagerness to bolster their squad does highlight that clubs are well aware they have to strengthen rather than rely on the players that won promotion. But it has to be executed sensibly. In 2018, Fulham acquired almost a new squad and it was clear they hadn’t done their homework particularly well. They plummeted like a stone in the Premier in 2018-19, much of their squad assembled using the so-called moneyball strategy. However, they are back again with a decent group of players that may just hold their own after three promotions and two relegations in five seasons. Fulham cannot be accused of not giving their fans a roller-coaster ride in recent seasons and for six years, they have moved from division to division. They have generous ownership which has enabled them to pay top wages when they were in the Championship, but there may be more expectation this year after continued investment on and off the pitch.

Fulham have been fairly aggressive in the transfer market over the past five seasons. Between 2018-19 and 2022-23, their net spend has been the 10th highest in English football at £ 188 million. On a gross basis, they have spent £ 242 million. Much of their hopes rest on striker Aleksandar Mitrović, who has disappointed in his previous Premier campaigns. In his last two Championship seasons, Mitro has netted 69 goals in 84 matches, but in 2020-21, Fulham’s previous Premier outing, he scored just three times in 27 goals. If nothing else, he has a point to prove and at 27, he should be at his peak. He’s started the season well. Fulham sold a couple of players, notably Fabio Carvalho to Liverpool, but they’ve also acquired João Palhinha from Sporting Lisbon (£ 20m) and West Ham’s Issa Diop (£ 17.8m).

AFC Bournemouth’s past labelled them as a small entity, but they are also a progressive club and before relegation in 2020, they had spent five years in the Premier League. The sceptics didn’t really expect them to return in a hurry, but they are back. Prior to promotion in 2015, Bournemouth’s turnover was a mere £ 12.9 million, but by 2017, this had jumped to £ 136.5 million. During their first Premier stint, Bournemouth’s wages also climbed dramatically from £ 29.6 million in 2015 to £ 111 million in 2019. Relegation meant the club had to regroup and as income fell to £ 72 million, wages also halved. In 2020-21, after four years of losses, Bournemouth made a profit of close to £ 17 million. While winning promotion was credible, Bournemouth face a challenge to compete at a higher level and there are question marks about their ability to survive. Their owner, Maxim Demin is a Russian-born businessman and a UK citizen, hence he was not sanctioned by the British government like others. Bournemouth spent around £ 27 million ahead of 2022-23 on two players, £ 15 million on Feyenoord’s Marcos Senesi and £ 11.9 million on Marcus Tavernier of Middlesbrough.

Since the Premier League was inaugurated in 1992, the average lifespan of a promotion club is 3.8 seasons. Fourteen of the current 20 clubs have won promotion at some point (just six are ever-presents – Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham) and the current longest run is Manchester City, who have spent 21 seasons in the Premier since returning. West Ham and Southampton are in their 11th season, while Crystal Palace are on 10.

Whatever happens to the new boys, some clubs, such as Fulham, Bournemouth and in past seasons, Watford and Norwich, have shown they are resilient after relegation and bounced back. Obviously helped by parachute payments to some extent, it also shows that with determination and focus, relegation can be dealt with.