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.

Fulham are back, now for the struggle

FULHAM Football Club is one of those popular institutions that people find hard to dislike. They have a picturesque stadium, sitting on the banks of the River Thames, their neighbourhood is full of well-heeled professionals sitting on millions of pounds worth of real estate, and the club itself has rarely posed a threat to anyone. An afternoon at Fulham is a pleasant experience.

But for the past five years, Fulham have led a “Grand Old Duke of York” existence, in other words, they have lived in a strange half world that has a foot in both the Premier League and the Championship. They’ve just secured their third promotion in that period, achieved with no small amount of panache.

Fulham have become the classic yo-yo club, but you get the feeling they are going back to the Premier in a better condition than they were in 2018-19 and 2020-21. There has been none of the waste that accompanied their stint in 2018 when the club’s owner, Shahid Khan, allowed his son to play Fantasy Football with the first team squad. They spent a lot of money in 2018 on average players and were the third biggest spenders in English football behind Chelsea and Liverpool, but they nosedived back to the Championship, employing three managers of the way. At the end of 2020-21, they were relegated again after immediately winning promotion in 2020, but the popular Scott Parker decided to leave Fulham for Bournemouth.

The appointment of Marco Silva didn’t fill everyone with confidence – indeed, Silva had experienced relegation at Hull and was sacked at both Watford and Everton after poor results. It worked out well this time as Fulham played with carefree abandon and scored goals for fun – 98 in 42 games so far. Furthermore, the mercurial and occasionally brilliant Aleksandar Mitrović, who has yet to light-up the Premier League, scored 40 goals up to and including the club’s promotion night.

Mitro is a character but he’s now 27 and no longer a man with potential, what Fulham are seeing is what they’ll get. But he needs to prove he can score goals in the Premier League and their survival in 2022-23 depends, to some degree, on how the Serb adjusts to life back in the top flight. This may be his last chance of proving the sceptics wrong.

Fulham have other talents that will interest Premier audiences – Harry Wilson, the winger signed from Liverpool, for example, and Neeskens Kabano. Fabio Carvalho would also be one to watch, but he looks bound for Wilson’s old club.

Fulham’s promotion can be attributed to a very generous owner in Shahid Khan. He has converted his loans to the club into equity, now totalling over £ 400 million, and has propped-up the club’s relatively high wage bill. In 2020-21, for instance, the club’s wages were £ 114 million, representing 98% of revenues. This was Fulham’s last relegation campaign and overall income reached a record £ 116 million, almost entirely due to the £ 105 million of TV money that came with Premier League membership. While matchday was wiped out by the pandemic, commercial income increased by 26% to £ 11 million. 

Fulham made a pre-tax loss of £ 94 million in 2020-21, high even by Premier standards, but losses are not new to the club, they last made a profit in 2011. Their deficits would be lower if they made more money on player sales, but over the past half decade, they have generated profits on player trading of less than £ 60 million. Since 2017, Fulham have spent over £ 200 million on new recruits, making them a top 20 player in the transfer market.

After almost an entire season without crowds at Craven Cottage, attendances have averaged 17,600 in 2021-22. Over the past two years, the club has been building a new Riverside stand, which will increase Fulham’s capacity to just under 30,000 and significantly improve gates at one of London’s oldest and much-loved venues.

Marco Silva said Fulham are going back to where they belong. The jury has to be out on that verdict, but there’s no doubt most football followers will welcome their return. Survival beyond the first season will not only change the perception of Fulham, it will also have a profound impact on the club’s finances.