“Armageddon” is how David Sullivan described relegation from the Premier League. The financial chasm between English football’s top two tiers has never been greater; demoted clubs currently receive £86m in parachute payments over 3 years on a front-loaded sliding scale, but miss out on a minimum of £100m per season in TV rights. Based on a three-year cycle of ‘bouncebackability’, that equates to a deficit of £214m. The gap continues to widen as the tectonic plates shift further apart.
Relegation inevitably results in ‘fire sales’ as companies look to strip out expendable assets, resource and overheads. Squads are overhauled as clubs seek to underwrite themselves in order to absorb considerable losses and work within EFL financial regulations. Relegation in 2003 decimated our squad – Defoe, David James, Carrick, Joe Cole, Sinclair, Glen Johnson, Di Canio and Kanoute all departed the Boleyn. Our ill-fated inaugural campaign under Avram Grant similarly culminated in the likes of Demba Ba and Scott Parker leaving the Club.
Many of these players moved on cut-price deals. Purchasing clubs have little incentive to act before the latter stages of the transfer window, knowing full well that selling clubs are desperate to offload. Inequality of bargaining power drives down price. Post-season vultures begin to circle in gleeful anticipation of feasting upon the charred remains of another Premier League casualty. Attractive propositions can be readily enticed with a return to the Promised Land. Take Newcastle for example: having been relegated at the end of last season, the following players became available – Krul, Townsend, Coloccini, Cissé, Wijnaldum, Cabella, Janmaat, Sissoko, Tioté, Thauvin and Rivière. Not a bad carcass to pick the bones out of there! Opportunity knocks again this summer and the Hammers must be ready to pounce. Relegated players can meet a variety of business and sporting needs; purchase to plug gaps, develop, upsell or enhance our current squad.
For me, it’s now 3 from 4 for relegation; Sunderland will be joined by Middlesbrough, Swansea and/or Hull City. Whilst I’m not suggesting we should recruit all (or even any) of the following players, I’m curious to consider how we might bolster our ranks by targeting trapdoor teams:
GK: Lukasz Fabianski – The Swansea shot-stopper has always impressed me and, at 31 years of age, still has several good seasons ahead of him. Whilst Jordan Pickford also deserves a mention, we need a keeper to hit the ground running and truly replace Rob Green. There will also be greater competition for Pickford’s signature.
RB: Kyle Naughton – Our relegation candidates lack a stand-out right back. Middlesbrough’s Fabio is a liability and the Tigers’ Elmohamady is a winger by trade who lacks defensive discipline. From the options available in the basement battle, I’d be tempted to take a punt on former Spurs man Naughton. However, the reality is that we need to invest heartily to secure an accomplished PL performer to tackle this problem position properly.
CB: Alfie Mawson – At just 23 years of age, this lad has a bright future. Quick, reads the game well despite his inexperience, good in the air and has an eye for goal with 4 strikes already in just 21 Swansea appearances.
CB: Lamine Koné – Built like the proverbial brickhouse, the Ivory Coast international brings sheer physicality and athleticism to the backline. With a tad more focus and application, he could be a colossal centre half. At 28, the Black Cats’ defender looks a shrewd purchase. I would have included Ben Gibson, but we won’t beat other bidders for the Borough boy’s services.
LB: Andrew Robertson – The marauding fullback has done enough in his 2 appearances against us alone to warrant inclusion. Loves to get forward but has added maturity and leadership to his game. Martin Olsson gets a nod, but I’d plump for the young Scot to team-up with his international colleague down our left flank.
RM: Luciano Narsingh – I watch a lot of Dutch football and this boy is a tricky customer. At his best in transition and clinical on the counter attack, he would suit our style of play, particularly away from home. Players from the Edervisie take time to settle whilst they get to grips with the frenetic pace and physicality of the league. A modicum of faith would reap rewards on this occasion.
CDM: Jan Kirchhoff – A class act when fit (which raises justifiable question marks), the former Mainz and Bayern Munich man is adept at breaking up play and forging intelligent passes between the lines. A slick and silky operator who strikes the right balance between skill and pragmatism.
CAM: Gylfi Sigurdsson – All. Day. Long. This guy has vision, guile and technique. Not to mention he chalks up goals and assists for fun. A go-to-guy for fantasy football fans everywhere, a goal-scoring central midfielder is exactly what we require if Slaven persists with playing one up top. Gastón Ramírez was considered, but the temperamental and nomadic midfielder simply cannot compete with the Icelandic technician.
LM: Kamil Grosicki – Full of technique and dribbling ability, the diminutive Pole has more twists and turns than a series of Broadchurch. Adama Traoré gets an honourable mention, but is a winger of the headless chicken variety, a la Yannick Bolasie. Application is a given, but output is key.
ST: Jermain Defoe – The former Hammer simply had to be included. With 14 goals in a struggling Sunderland side, it is embarrassing to consider where the Mackems would be without him. The prolific forward has a relegation release clause, so expect widespread clamour for his services. I have a hunch that Spurs will come calling to bolster their stable of strikers. Wouldn’t it be great if ‘Judas’ finally restored the balance and chose us over them?
ST: Fernando Llorente – Slim pickings in the forward department amongst our relegation fodder. The Swansea target man’s 11 league goals this season represent a healthy return. The Spanish international has also forged a decent partnership with Sigurdsson. Indeed, the Swans have missed Llorente dearly in recent weeks as their form has tailed-off alarmingly. Abel Hernández and Álvaro Negredo were considered, whilst Borini, Mbokani and Anichebe were roundly mocked and quickly consigned to the relegation scrapheap.
It’s a game of opinions – what’s yours?