A summer of spending in the Premier League with fair play in mind

As the need to balance the books approaches, Duncan Castles examines the financial outlays by clubs in the past few months.
Sergio Aguero was bought by Manchester City in case Carlos Tevez leaves, but the club can accommodate both players.
Sergio Aguero was bought by Manchester City in case Carlos Tevez leaves, but the club can accommodate both players.
As rival Premier League clubs griped about the scale of Manchester City's sponsorship agreement with Etihad Airways, it went almost unnoticed that the deal took the club into unprecedented financial territory.

The 10-year support package took the money invested in the club from various sources, since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's takeover in 2008, well past £1 billion (Dh6bn).

It means that while the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have largely watched and waited in the transfer market this summer, City have been able to lead the way, with Manchester United and Liverpool not far behind.

The sponsorship deal, which was structured in such novel fashion that it is unlikely to fall foul of Uefa's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, will earn City up to £350 million.

That is in addition to the £750m or so that Sheikh Mansour has spent buying the club, overhauling its infrastructure and furnishing it with the Premier League's most expensive group of players, coaches and support staff.

The strategy for establishing City at the forefront of the English and European game has been to pay a premium for talent. City's wage bill was higher than Manchester United's for the 2009/10 season; by the end of their debut campaign in the Champions League this season, City's salary costs should also exceed Chelsea's.

Despite the figures, however, this summer has been one of relative financial caution. City have operated within FFP requirements that they move towards break-even budgets, and they declined to make the near-£100m commitment required to pay Inter Milan for Wesley Sneijder and cover the playmaker's pay demands.

Yet, still they have outmuscled domestic competition.

Preparing themselves for Carlos Tevez's potential exit involved a club record £38m acquisition of Sergio Aguero - and if Tevez's wanderlust goes unfulfilled, they will gladly accommodate both Argentines in their first team.

Liverpool, criticised for their extravagant spending on young Englishmen, were easily elbowed aside when City decided to bring Gael Clichy in from Arsenal to contest the left-back berth.

More City money went on fees for Stefan Savic and Costel Pantilimon, a back-up centre back and goalkeeper, than the net transfer spend of most Premier League clubs. But still Roberto Mancini is requesting a midfielder and a winger "if we want to compete with all the other top teams".

City's manager looks likely to get both, most dramatically by offering Arsenal's Samir Nasri vastly increased wages.

If a sufficiently affluent buyer can be found for the seemingly eternally disgruntled Tevez, Mancini will demand another elite striker.

Mancini has good reason for pushing his employers to spend so heavily; for him, FFP and long-term planning are irrelevant if he is no longer in the hot seat come next season.

So far he has coached conservatively. His first half-season at City ended with the club missing out on Champions League qualification following a strategy of playing for scoreless draws.

In his first full season, Mancini's squad was as well-stocked as any in the division and was led by its most consistent goalscorer in Tevez. But as Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and United all stumbled through their fixtures, City ended in third place, nine points adrift of the lowest winning total in over a decade.

An examination of the opposition only reinforces the sense that it's time for Mancini to deliver. While the best part of three weeks of window shopping remain available, patterns have been established.

Clubs leaving it much beyond the season's kick-off to install key recruits display weakness in their waiting.

Liverpool are happy to write themselves out of any title race before it begins. It is "too early for us to start talking about winning the league ... our main goal is to qualify for the Champions League," said John W Henry earlier this month. Though Kenny Dalglish jokingly thanked the club's principal owner for making his job easier, the Scot's strategy of shopping in the home-grown market will require patience.

Dalglish has asked for relative youth, expensively adding Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam to January's £35m punt on Andy Carroll. His insistence on selecting from a limited pool has left Liverpool still looking for left-backs and centre-backs accomplished at handling the particular demands of the Premier League.

His team is very much a work in progress, spending most of the pre-season shipping goals to the likes of Hull City.

From optimistically touting Tottenham's title credentials last season, Harry Redknapp has been reduced to fielding queries about the real contenders' attempts to sign his best player for this.

With Champions League football exchanged for the Europa League, their manager consistently badmouths, and with no new stadium on the horizon, it is no coincidence that the only significant addition to Tottenham's overmanned squad has been Brad Friedel - a 40-year-old goalkeeper Aston Villa deemed surplus to requirements.

Arsenal's situation this summer was neatly summed up by their most significant investment of the last. Marouane Chamakh thinks the club's two most creative players, Cesc Fabregas and Nasri "are likely to leave".

"The situation is embarrassing for the manager," said Chamakh. "I don't think it's a matter of money, especially concerning Fabregas. It's more that Arsene is looking for his successor but can't find him.

"The season is starting this weekend, so it's embarrassing."

All the more so for Wenger's initial resistance to Nasri's sale and his insistence that Arsenal could not be considered a "big club" if they allowed both players to leave. Raising their bid for England youth international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from £4m plus £3m variables to £12m plus £2m in the space of the month has done nothing to dispel the sense of a club in dangerous disrepair.

At Chelsea, the most extravagant spend has been on new management. Exchanging English double winner Carlo Ancelotti for Portuguese treble winner Andre Villas-Boas cost the best part of £20m.

Investment on a squad their new manager points out is the League's oldest has been restricted to the teenage talents of Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu. To coax this "new" Chelsea back to top spot is asking a lot of Villas-Boas' improved preparation, tactics and medical department.

All this has helped United reinforce with equanimity. In Ashley Young they have bought a forward capable of playing anywhere in the second line just as he is establishing himself as a regular England international.

Everyone wanted Phil Jones; Sir Alex Ferguson landed him and can mould him gradually into an England centre-back. The risk taken in making the 20-year-old David de Gea his first-choice goalkeeper is mitigated by the Spaniard's obvious quality. If De Gea survives his first couple of seasons, United could have their No 1 for the next couple of decades.

United's pursuit of a Modric, Nasri or Sneijder seems more about redressing the Champions League imbalance with Barcelona. Such has been their strength of will, when it comes to accumulating League titles, that should be enough, United hope, to keep Ferguson's men ahead of Mancini's again.


Published: August 11, 2011 04:00 AM


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