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.

Norwich City and the penalty of raised expectation

DANIEL FARKE’s dismissal just after Norwich City had secured their first victory in the Premier League may have seemed a little harsh, but it may have sent a signal that the club is unwilling to continue its recent cycle of promotion-relegation-promotion.

Norwich outspent more than half the current Premier League – £60 million – in the last transfer window and their gross outlay was three times the Canaries’ total for 2020-21. Their last Premier season, 2019-20, saw them spend just £ 8 million. Those figures tell you that expectation may just have been that little bit higher than the last time Norwich graced the top flight.

With half their regular line-up changing from 2020-21, Norwich probably needed time to gel, but 11 games into the season, just one win and two draws was the sum total of their efforts. In the past five years, Norwich’s record was the worst of all newly-promoted sides at the same stage, a dubious honour shared with Fulham in 2018-19. Just five goals in 11 represents a dire return, with three of those goals coming from Teemu Pukki.

Even in early November, Norwich’s position looks perilous and may have been worsened by the reinvigoration that will surely take place at Newcastle United. Norwich may have acquired the tag of “yo-yo club”, but settling for such a varied and limited strategy can be dangerous when things don’t go to plan. 

It’s a little like a club at the top end considering Champions League qualification as a form of honourable status, only to find it leaves you empty-handed when you slip below that benchmark. Console yourself with being a “snakes and ladders” club doesn’t look too great when you drop from being a contender and lose momentum in the Championship. 

As it stands, Norwich look destined to return to the second tier, but given they have spent big by their standards, it would represent a failed gamble, especially as the club has been quite dependent on player trading as a form of financial stability. Over the past seven years, they have made more than £ 150 million from player sales.

Farke was seen as a very human “nice guy” by many people in the game, certainly benefitting from having the likes of Jürgen Klopp on speed-dial. His record at Norwich reflected the club’s contemporary status, two Championship successes and a relegation and a win rate of 41.8%. He departed with no small amount of style, talking of the “great pride” in his time with the Canaries. He even thanked the local media for their coverage!

It is, of course, the sacking season in top level football. An international break provides some respite for club officials and a time of assessment ahead of year-end. After a lull in managerial turnarounds, 25% of Premier League bosses have been sacked in 2020-21, with Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham), Steve Bruce (Newcastle United) and Xisco Muñoz (Watford) all joining Farke in the queue for contractual compensation. There are others that are sitting in wobbly chairs at the moment, including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United.

Norwich, despite the financial impact of covid, which has been estimated to be in excess of £ 30 million, managed to make a profit of £ 21.5 million in 2020-21, although their wage bill, one of the highest in the Championship last season, was 117% of income. Norwich have always been perceived as a conservative club and they have made a profit in three of the last five years.

The club’s revenues totalled £ 57.2 million, a drop of 62% after their last Premier season. There was a huge dependency on broadcasting income, the £ 49 million generated accounting for 86% of overall revenues. Matchday income fell by 7.5% and commercial earnings were slightly down. A year in the Premier should, even if it ends sourly, provide the financial platform to mount a challenge for promotion once more.

What next for Norwich? The club’s sporting director said, just a few weeks ago, that the results were not just down to Farke, so will there be more changes at Carrow Road? But the prospect of another relegation may have been too much to take. The club could do far worse than make a bold statement and give someone like Emma Hayes of Chelsea’s WSL team a chance. Now that would smack of innovation. Most likely it will be someone from the usual merry-go-round of candidates.