State of Play: Sheffield Wednesday – club for sale?

JUST BEFORE Christmas 2018, Sheffield Wednesday owner Dejphon Chansiri hinted that he was prepared to sell the club he bought for £ 37.5 million back in 2015. He was speaking at a fans’ meeting and the subject of the club’s finances was being discussed. Sheffield Wednesday had been spending significant sums on wages and continued to make substantial losses. The current situation was unsustainable and had already  incurred Wednesday a transfer embargo. The increased outlay, now seen as a gamble on getting the club into the Premier League by 2017-18, the club’s 150thanniversary, had not worked.

Sheffield Wednesday are one of a number of clubs with the size, support, heritage and potential to climb higher, but their best days are clearly behind them. They are a name that belongs to the past, although with the right investment and vision and of course, patience, Sheffield Wednesday could certainly rise higher than their current status.

Sheffield, with a population of 520,000 is a two-club city and the dynamic between Wednesday and their neighbours Sheffield United makes it something of an important football hub. The city has, after all, the world’s oldest football club in Sheffield FC.

Whether or not Chansiri meant what he said about selling, it would seem that Sheffield Wednesday and their owner may have reached a crucial stage of their relationship. The Thai’s honesty about the club’s current position deserves credit, but surely, it is a financial situation of their own creation? From a motivational perspective, Chansiri must wonder where he turns next in terms of Wednesday’s immediate future. If, indeed, the club is in danger of an embargo, one solution could be for Chansiri to inject a large amount of cash that can win the team promotion and then suffer the consequences. But has he tired of propping-up a club that has posted losses year-after-year? At the moment, it appears he’s trying to force the fanbase to show its commitment to the club and provide substantial income through the scheme he has launched – he may end-up being somewhat disappointed. The alternative is to push ahead and sell the club. The Sheffield Wednesday name still has cachet and is certainly an attractive proposition – this is a Premier club based on its potential and public appeal, albeit a lapse Premier club. But in this age of clubs being propelled to success through large capital investments, it may be that Wednesday’s only way back to the top deck could be if a new, extremely wealthy investor flies over the West Riding in a private jet and likes the view below…

To see the latest State of Play paper, click below

State of Play Sheffield Wednesday

Photos: PA

Commentary Box: Windows 18 is full of bugs

THE TRANSFER window, thankfully, has passed and some of the bigger clubs have been ominously quiet. Tottenham and Manchester United, and to a certain degree, Chelsea, have not had a brilliant time.

Chelsea’s activity in the market at the 11thhour, was out of necessity. Thibaut Courtois was obviously going to leave and he had long targeted Real Madrid as the place he wanted to go. Receiving £ 31.5 million for a player of his quality was cheap business for the European champions, but then Chelsea had to spend big on a relatively unknown quantity – £ 72 million on Kepa Arrizabalaga was a brave move, but also reminded us that the club still has massive financial backing.

Real Madrid’s new player Thibaut Courtois during his official presentation. August 9, 2018. (Photo by Acero/Alter Photos/Sipa USA)

But Chelsea’s other deadline acquisition, Mateo Kovačic, is a curious move. A one-year loan from Real Madrid, what value is that going to be to Chelsea, other than ingratiating themselves with Real? Perhaps it is a prelude to Eden Hazard moving to Spain at the next window, maybe it is just that Maurizio Sarri likes the look of the Croatian? Was Kovacič on the shopping list? Should a club of Chelsea’s size be taking players on loan from Real Madrid, who are, essentially, one of their peers? And does it say something about Chelsea’s current financial standing and the Abramovich saga? Lots of questions, especially as one thing Chelsea have is midfielders. It doesn’t bode well for players like Danny Drinkwater or Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Manchester United looked to have been a pawn in getting a player improved terms at his club, rather like Wayne Rooney made noises about leaving when he was at Old Trafford, only to stay and secure a better contract. As the clock almost struck 5pm, Diego Godin, the excellent Atlético Madrid central defender, was supposedly available at a reasonable price – so said his agent. But talks evaporated and Godin was offered an enhanced deal by his employer.

The mood at United seems to be very downbeat and with José Mourinho in year three of the cycle, you have to wonder what comes next. In the past, this has usually meant CVs have been updated, but Mourinho always wanted the job he’s got, so what would come next. Perhaps this is why the United purse has remained closed? Perhaps the upper deck at Old Trafford are being prudent for a reason, the past is being used as a guide to the future.

As for Tottenham, they’ve got a new stadium on the horizon and for the foreseeable future their priorities may change. They’ve got a good squad so it should be enough to keep them in a holding position for a while. Spurs need a trophy with these players soon otherwise they might look elsewhere for success.

It is arguable, of course, that the teams that bus-in a load of new players do so because they need to – West Ham United and Everton being cases in point. Promoted sides – Fulham have had an outstanding summer of acquisition – also need to strengthen in order to survive in the Premier League.

Manchester City, already full to the brim with quality, have “only” spent £ 63 million with most of that going on Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City, which adds another dimension to their all-star squad. Will he get a game?

Arsenal, meanwhile, have ushered in a new era with a series of modest signings amounting to £ 67 million. There’s no headline-makes among the nine players brought to the club, but they already have two excellent forwards (if they get them to gel) from the last days of Arsène Wenger.

Sometimes, clubs give the impression they are signing because they can or just to keep people quiet or even just to get some bodies in. When a club signs 10 new faces in the space of a couple of weeks, what does it say about how they value their own youth scheme? It must be quite dispiriting for a young player to see yet another taxi arrive at the training ground and another signing, all headphones and baseball cap, leaps out with his entourage.

The bottom line is that transfer windows have become part of the culture of the modern game – the economy of the industry almost relies on these circuses to keep transfer prices high and make intermediaries wealthier. How long can that go on?


Why non-league fans need to know

MODERN football, at its highest level, has become a commodity. Investment in football clubs has become an asset class to be placed alongside bonds, equities, real estate and gold. At the top, fans have little or no intimacy with their club, they are paying customers that buy into the brand like technology geeks become disciples of the latest iPhone. They keep feeding the machine and the clubs have an audience that queues for the right to queue online in pursuit of tickets and favours. The demand outstrips the supply in multiples.

At the game’s pinnacle, football clubs are no different from large corporates, but in the non-league game it is different, the audience is smaller, the financial stakes relatively minute and the relationship between fan and club is supposedly more personal.

The investment made by non-league fans comes in the form of attachment and loyalty, unless of course there is a fund that supporters contribute to bolster finances and help the club compete at the highest possible level.

Regardless of the ownership structure, a club can quickly develop tumbleweed without its supporters. The club needs it fans as much as the loyal, die-hard needs his or her football fix. This is so very relevant at non-league level because a club, in order to be relevant to the community, must have critical mass in terms of people that “care” whether it exists or not. For a club’s administration to take that for granted is very dangerous and can, ultimately, lead to extinction.

The only way a club can thrive is for all stakeholders to be connected and to be full-square behind the mission. It may be appear to be something of a contemporary cliché, but it is no more a catchphrase than other important elements of modern sporting entities, such as diversity and community.

Without people, everything that involves the day-to-day running of the club, its community position and its fund-raising activities becomes null and void. If a club has 500 fans, it is obviously more relevant to the neighbourhood than a club with a couple of dozen followers. And if you don’t have fans, you can soon get to the point where you ask, “what is the club really for?”.

That’s why financial transparency is an important factor. Owners may, with some justification, consider the financial state of “their” club is not the concern of the people on the terraces, and if it was a conventional business with the pursuit of profit at the heart of its business model and shareholders receiving dividends, then you could buy into that idea. But supporters, in effect are “emotional shareholders” if nothing else. Their allegiance is an asset, one that should be valued, but it can so easily be lost if it appears to be a one-way commitment.

Around 30 years ago, I shared a driveway at my home and my neighbours said the drive was 75% theirs (this was not true, a shared drive is a shared drive and plans can be misleading) and that they were being extremely generous to allow me to use the drive. I added that, “without my supposed 25%, your 75% is worthless, you wouldn’t have enough room to take your car up the ramp.” Heads were scratched and the conclusion was, “how true”. You can compare this to the dynamic between owners and supporters. The owner may have most of the cards, but if there is no audience, there is nothing but an empty ground and a dying club.

Owners should see their support base as an asset, almost as much a part of the family silver as that £200 per week centre forward. This asset can be harnessed to become a force for good, be it community activities or as a positive body that helps the club achieve its goals. For example, if the club has problems over its stadium, like the Dulwich affair, the sheer numbers involved in protesting can add leverage to the argument. Likewise, any club owner that proclaims, “we are all in this together” has to mean it and develop trust and two-way dialogue that really does make the fans feel as though they have a voice.

Most non-league fans would actually relish the chance to own a stake in their club. A survey by Game of the People revealed that 79% of respondents would welcome a share issue, although 10% wouldn’t consider it under the current regime.

Too often fans are not allowed to know about the finances of their club. While certain sensitivities will exist, and do a club no good to become public domain, basic financial details would let the supporters know that their emotional “investment” is in good hands. Some clubs, those with full or partial supporter-ownership models, do publicise their figures, but there are still some that operate under a “smoke and mirrors” model.

Openness and greater transparency can only be a plus. Non-league clubs are small communities where gossip is commonplace and people come to their own conclusions if the environment is opaque and complex. Some clubs do it well, others need to follow, for the future of non-league football should be about community, realism and inclusion, from top to bottom. A new generation of fans is needed to ensure the demographic remains healthy, and it is worth noting that this group of people will have a very different outlook than the ageing supporter bases prevalent at many clubs. They will, undoubtedly, ask more questions and challenge the status quo.