“Big football” has to beware the slingshot of relegation

IT really is the wrong time for a team like Leeds United – indeed any team – to fall into a run of disastrous form, but after their second successive thumping at home, the club is rightfully fearing relegation. They’ve conceded 16 goals in four games and were beaten by Crystal Palace to the tune of 5-1 at Elland Road. Things couldn’t get much worse, but they did, losing 6-1 at home to Liverpool. Leeds have seven games remaining and three of them are against teams in a similar position.

In the past 30 years, there have been teams that win promotion only to struggle when they reach that level, teams that flirt with the drop but invariably pull clear, teams that like to think they can challenge for Europe, and the big six that jostle for position and try to claim a Champions League place. This season, three of the teams that can be considered pretty big are battling away to avoid being sucked into the relegation whirlpool: Everton, Leeds United and West Ham United. 

There’s not many people around who can remember the last time Everton went down (1951) even though they have pulled a rabbit out of the hat a couple of times to climb, Houdini-like, from the edge of the abyss. Nobody can seriously imagine Everton in the Championship, but not a lot needs to go wrong for them to fall into the bottom three.

Their current form is as bad as Chelsea’s, a club that must be grateful they accumulated some points before the wagon started to develop dodgy structural problems. If the season was to last another 20 games, Chelsea would surely find themselves in relegation trouble if their current form is an accurate barometer. As it is, their gang of coaches have, between them, cobbled together enough for them to sleep easier than the likes of Sean Dyche at Everton. They have won just twice in their last 10 games and only Southampton, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have worse records in the same period. 

Forest, after improving in mid-season, have slumped and they haven’t won a single game in 10. Leicester City have won once but have earned one point in their last nine games. It is looking ominous for the 2015-16 Premier League champions. Southampton have lost their last three and haven’t won in six, their last victories against Leicester and fast-fading Chelsea.

West Ham United demonstrated their character in coming back from two-goal deficit against Premier leaders Arsenal, but they are an erratic side if ever there was one. The Hammers have lost one in five, but that was a 5-1 drubbing at home by Newcastle United. Their previous defeat was by 4-0 at Brighton. Although they have enjoyed a decent Conference League run that could still go further, West Ham would be pretty distraught if they lost their Premier status this season.

Of the bottom seven in the Premier, only two – West Ham United and Nottingham Forest – have not changed their managers. Everton discarded Frank Lampard in January and brought in Sean Dyche, Leeds United sacked Jesse Marsch and hired Javi Gracia, Leicester City replaced Brendan Rodgers with Dean Smith and Bournemouth decided Scott Parker wasn’t their man but Gary O’Neil was. As for Southampton, who currently must be favourites to go down, they’ve had three managers this season, Rubén Sellés is the man in the seat that is getting hotter by the week.

Going back to Leeds United, if they needed a reminder of the Premier League’s benefits, their recent financials provide the hard data. Their revenues were £ 189 million for 2021-22 of which £ 116 million was derived from broadcasting. This was their second season back in the top division, two years earlier, their income totalled £ 54 million of which £ 8.6 million came from TV. Relegation would be a big blow for a team that represents the fourth biggest city in the United Kingdom.

It is less likely these days that any elite club will be relegated, but surprises can happen. There was a time when giants did have the potential to be slain – Manchester United in 1974, Chelsea a year later, Tottenham in 1977, West Ham in 1978, Manchester City in 1983, to name but a few. If Leicester do finish in the bottom three, it will be just seven years after their historic league title win. This heroes to zeroes fall would not be the worst by any means. In 1938, Manchester City were relegated just 12 months after being champions, while Ipswich Town in 1964 were just two years on from their unexpected 1962 success. Everton in 1930 were also the top club two years before their demotion. More recently, the gap between Blackburn Rovers’ Premier League win in 1995 and their relegation in 1999 was four years. Derby County, champions in 1975, went down in 1980, while Aston Villa (1987) and Wolves (1965) both had a six-year period between triumph and disaster.

Teams that had a seven-year hitch after being league champions include Manchester United (1967-1974), Chelsea (1955-1962), Liverpool (1947-1954), West Bromwich Albion (1920-1927) and Sheffield Wednesday (1930-1937).

On the evidence of the recent results of Leeds United and Everton, if their form does not improve soon, they could easily become a casualty in the great Premier League survival stakes. It’s unthinkable for Everton, who have been ever-present in the Premier, but there has been a lot wrong with the club for quite some time and the blue loyalists are deeply frustrated. For someone, it is all going to end in tears.

Remaining fixtures

 EvertonLeeds UnitedWest Ham United
April 22Crystal Palace (A)Fulham (A) 
April 23  Bournemouth (A)
April 25 Leicester (H) 
April 26  Liverpool (H)
April 27Newcastle Utd (H)  
April 29  Crystal Palace (A)
April 30 Bournemouth (A) 
May 1Leicester City (A)  
May 3  Manchester C (A)
May 7 Manchester C (A)Manchester U (H)
May 8Brighton (A)  
May 13 Newcastle Utd (H)Brentford (A)
May 14Manchester C (H)  
May 20Wolves (A)West Ham (A)Leeds United (H)
May 28Bournemouth (H)Tottenham (H)Leicester C (A)

Everton – where have all the good times gone?

THESE ARE grim days for Everton and they could get even worse. They are struggling to avoid relegation, under investigation for possible breaches of profit and sustainability rules and they are losing money on an annual basis. Furthermore, they have not won a major prize for close to 30 years. For a footballing institution once known as the “Bank of England club”, with 15 major prizes to its name, the slump into mediocrity is hard to take.

Everton lost £ 44.7 million before tax in 2021-22, their fifth consecutive campaign of losses, which brings the total to £ 420 million over five years. Since 2021’s £ 121 million deficit, the club has been on a cost cutting exercise that their status in the Premier League could have done without, but needs must. In 2021-22, the bottom line was assisted by a significant improvement in Everton’s player trading profits, rising from £ 13.2 million to £ 67.7 million.

Revenues, however, declined by some £ 12 million to £ 181 million, largely due to reduced TV money as the broadcasting cycle readjuste. In addition, sponsorship income dropped, partly due to the measures taken against the club’s Russian sponsors. Nevertheless, commercial earnings were up slightly to £ 50.3 million and matchday recovered to £ 15.6 million as restrictions implemented during the pandemic were lifted.

Everton’s cost management manifested itself in a drop in players’ wages by more than £ 20 million to £ 162 million, which amounted to 90% of income as opposed to 95% in 2020-21. The ratio has been too high for four years and way above UEFA’s optimal figure of 70%.

Also very high is the club’s net debt, which is now £ 141.7 million compared to £ 58.2 million a year earlier. This rise is attributable to expenditure on Everton’s new ground at Bramley-Moore Dock and additional transfer activity. 

Everton’s management insists the club is in a secure financial position, but it does seem as though they are over-dependent on Farhad Moshiri to ensure the club is a going concern. Moshiri provided an additional loan of £ 70 million and overall, put in over £ 200 million through conversion of past lendings into new shares and equity. The club has a £ 150 million five-year facility with Rights & Media and a £ 30 million CLBILS facility with Metro Bank.

Aside from any shortcomings in their business model, Everton’s followers should be concerned about Moshiri’s comments recently about the club facing existential threats. One of those is obviously the recent referral by the Premier League, while the threat of relegation and the simultaneous development of the new stadium could place the club in jeapordy. Moshiri undoubtedly knows that if Everton drop out of the Premier, more cash will need to be pumped in. According to media reports, the club has a 12-month assurance that funds will be made available.

Some fans want Moshiri out of the club, but it has to be acknowledged that he has spent a lot of money since he arrived. He has been vocal about getting further investment into the club and ultimately, he will be looking to sell. Before that can happen, Everton may need to get their house in order and that also means getting clear of any controversies around financial fair play.

In the past five years up to 2021-22, Everton were among the top six spenders in the transfer market with a net spend higher than their neighbours, Liverpool. Over 10 years, they were in the top seven. They haven’t spent well and they have nothing much to show for their outlay. They are currently in 16th place and by the end of the 2022-23 season, it will be three consecutive years below mid-table. Their last European campaign was in 2016-17. 

They have 10 games to ensure they maintain Premier League status. Five of them – Tottenham, Manchester United, Newcastle, Brighton and Manchester City – are very tough, but when you’re in Everton’s position, all games are a big challenge.