Jul 9, 2015
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Crystal Palace: in search of an even field

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Thomas Jefferson once said that you should never spend your money before you earn it. A wise message perhaps for us ordinary folks, but in the world of Premier League football, it’s advice that falls on deaf ears. With the promise of the new Premier League TV deal starting in 2016 (a record £5.136bn) this summer has already seen a strange inversion of the usual deals that occur during the off season.

The traditional top clubs have been slow and modest in their dealings thus far. Manchester United have made two sensible if not sensational deals with PSV’s Memphis Depay arriving for £25m and Matteo Darmain set to join for around £14m from Torino. Liverpool have spent reasonably big on Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim £29m) and Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton £12m) but otherwise have been more than happy to pick up James Milner and Danny Ings both on frees after their contracts ended at Manchester City and Burnley respectively. Arsenal have perhaps done the best business in signing Petr Cech from Chelsea for £10m but it seems unlikely that they will spend the same kind of money this year as they have done the two previous on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.

As for the teams that came first and second, both Chelsea and Manchester City have not yet brought in a single player of note. This is surprising when you consider last year that Chelsea had their business done virtually by mid June, whereas Manchester City will be no doubt desperate for a shake up in their squad given how far away from Chelsea they were during last years campaign.

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For all the promise of the Premier League’s money ready to line the pockets of it’s stars, this summer has focused more on potential departures for the top clubs. Manchester United look more and more resigned to losing David De Gea to the lure of Real Madrid while Liverpool have their own problems with Raheem Sterling the subject of interest across Europe.

Granted we are still in the infancy of the summer transfer window and the Premier League’s richest members could yet pull off some huge acquisitions, but the real surprise comes in not only the speed but in the stature of the signings from sides habitually further down the table. West Ham were able to snap up Dimitri Payet, a regular full France international, from Marseille for £10m. Xherdan Shaqiri, former Bayern Munich man and current Inter player, could be on his way to the Britannia with Stoke agreeing a £12m fee for the Swiss international. Yohan Cabaye, a man who’s excellent form in the Premier League for Newcastle United led to a move to French behemoths Paris Saint Germain is set for a reunion with Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace.

This is not just true for established mid table sides, but also for those who have just entered the league and want to be sure they remain there for the incoming TV money. Watford  have wasted no time in signing two previously highly sought after French midfielders in the form of Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli, both from Tottenham, while Bournemouth have spent £8m on Ipswich’s Tyrone Mings, a left back heavily linked with Chelsea and Arsenal last season.

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So what does this show us? For one it suggests that the notion of the glass ceiling may be starting to show cracks. There was much consternation about the true intentions of FFP last year. While UEFA claimed the idea was to make football fairer by limiting the amount super rich clubs could spend, many argued that it in fact protected the status quo and made it extremely difficult for new clubs to rise through the ranks and grow. These rules have of course now been relaxed and there seems to be a feeling that there has never been a more opportune time for clubs in England to take advantage.

The names of the clubs involved in the deal tell you all you need to know about the new territory many clubs are entering into. Marseille to West Ham, Inter to Stoke, PSG to Crystal Palace; these are established European superpowers involved in deals with teams not long out of the Championship. Whereas before many sides bankrupted themselves trying to throw money at progression (Leeds pursuit of Champions League football and Portsmouth’s run to the FA Cup) the current deal set to come in to effect means that spending such large amounts of money no longer constitutes a club living beyond it’s means. This is particularly true for Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich, the three promoted sides, as even the club who comes last in the 2016/17 season will earn £99m for their efforts.

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It will be interesting, if all prospective deals go through, to see if this will have any real effect on the Premier League table. While it may be fanciful to imagine the likes of Stoke challenging for Champions League places next season, there is a sense that for many of these teams this window is just the beginning in a longer project to show they are much more than Premier League also-rans. As other leagues such as Serie A and Ligue 1 struggle financially, there is the real possibility that all 20 Premier League clubs can enter the list of the top 30 richest clubs. With their increased budget, especially wages, joining a traditionally unglamourous English side could provide a much more enticing offer than many bigger European teams.

Whether this happens or not is all purely speculation. If football tells us anything it’s that it can actually tell us very little. The money may seem impossible to mismanage but owners of Premier League sides will no doubt do their best. We are perhaps now facing the biggest crossroads in English Football since the invention of the Premier League in 1992, what the final destination will be for it’s clubs depends on how smoothly they are able to make the journey.

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