David Freezer: Perfect transfer strategy key to City's self-funded survival model
Is it possible for Norwich City to survive in the Premier League as a self-funded club? Of course, they’ve done it before.
With remarkable momentum, determination, a united spirit and canny transfer work, Paul Lambert established the Canaries as a mid-table side in the top flight just nine years ago.
The defensive focus introduced by Chris Hughton following Lambert’s acrimonious move to Aston Villa even improved City by a place to 11th in 2013, although that change in style and some unsuccessful transfers would eventually erode the foundations laid by the previous regime.
Those two seasons were achieved as a club rising from the verge of administration and a 7-1 defeat on the opening day of a League One season. It’s been done before and it can be achieved again.
The financial bubble has continued to grow since that three-year stint in the top tier came to an end. The Canaries rather missed the boat, as a new domestic broadcast deal started in 2014 which almost doubled in value to £3billion for the next two seasons.
The Premier League has recently renewed that deal at a reported £5bn for between 2022 and 2025, the same deal which was put in place since 2019. That’s before you even get into the overseas TV cash as well, reportedly worth around £1.4bn a year prior to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Premier League traditionally publishes the central payments made to its clubs at the end of the season but with the pandemic complications that is yet to be published for the past two seasons.
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At the end of 2018-19, bottom side Huddersfield were shown to have made just short of £97m from those central payments – made up of an equal share, broadcast and commercial revenue, as well as the merit payment for finishing position.
Last month the Daily Mail reported that once rebates for broadcasters had been factored in due to behind-closed-doors games and pandemic disruption, this season’s bottom team Sheffield United were still poised to make close to £97m - followed by potentially three years of parachute payments.
The Premier League is the wealthiest and most-watched league in the world. It’s why surviving for even one season could have such a major impact on a self-funded club like Norwich, trying to upset the established order of most top-flight clubs having billionaire benefactors to pick up the financial burden.
For City to compete they need to squeeze absolutely everything from the resources they have, as shown by the damaging impact of injuries and transfer disappointments during their painful 2019-20 relegation campaign.
Recruitment work, the balance between defence and attack, physicality, top-flight experience, mental strength, dealing with setbacks, ignoring the noise – those are just some of the ingredients which go into the melting pot.
The transfer business of 2011 offers some helpful reminders, after promotion as Championship runners-up.
Lambert and chief executive David McNally brought in proven Championship strikers to compete with Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson, Chris Martin and Aaron Wilbraham – when Lambert still generally played with two up front.
James Vaughan was brought in from Everton for around £2.5m after nine goals while on loan in the second tier at Palace and Steve Morison for a reported £2.8m after his Millwall form had made him a regular for Wales.
Vaughan was unlucky with injuries but Morison’s nine goals during 2011-12 made him Holt’s chief support in attack.
Also signed was Elliott Bennett, for around £2m, after starring in Brighton’s charge to the League One title – another player who played a key role in the success which followed, and a significant miss through injury during the 2013-14 relegation season.
Bradley Johnson was signed on a free transfer from Leeds and Anthony Pilkington for around £2m from Huddersfield, with both becoming regulars and Pilkington particularly influential.
Kyle Naughton and Ritchie De Laet were also brought in on loan from Tottenham and Manchester United respectively, with the former enjoying far more success than the latter.
While the core of the squad was kept intact, the likes of Holt, John Ruddy, Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan were joined by the new faces and players including Jackson, Simon Lappin, Andrew Crofts and Elliott Ward were gradually pushed to the fringes – even more so when Ryan Bennett and Jonny Howson arrived in January.
Chris Martin and Korey Smith were sent out on loan, as Lambert showed a ruthless edge. He evolved his team swiftly and raised the standards, equipping his squad for the Premier League.
Homegrown rules and work permit criteria following Brexit have added a premium to young British talent, so picking up EFL stars many not be quite as achievable for City this summer.
Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have acknowledged that they will need to continue being creative and thorough if they are to uncover the hidden gems they require.
The sale of star player Emi Buendia for an initial £33m, after the Argentine had made clear he wanted the move to Aston Villa, has oiled the cogs in the transfer machine.
Now the intrigue really ramps up, as Canaries fans eagerly wait to see if the success of the summer of 2011 can be replicated.