With just over two thirds of the Premier League season already completed, the fate of the twenty clubs is becoming ever clearer: dreams of European football for some, and fears of Championship football for others. Leicester City currently prop up the table, and are four points adrift of safety. This is admittedly not a lot, especially when the teams ranked 13th to 19th are separated by only five points, but nonetheless, three teams will experience the ignominy of relegation in May. The bookmakers do not believe much will change between now and the seasons end as the Foxes are favourites for relegation. However this is not an excuse for despair and misery to take over the city of Leicester, rather a mature look to the future. If Leicester do face the dreaded drop, will it be the end of the world?
Well publicized is the so called “parachute payment” money which all relegated clubs receive. Last season the relegated trio of Norwich City, Fulham and Cardiff City received £62.8 million each, over four years. Plans are in place to alter this payment to take place over three years, but the figure will remain the same. This scheme is designed to help relegated clubs cope with Premier League wages on Championship revenue. Leicester signed no less than ten players since their promotion to the top flight in May 2014, but we can assume only a portion of them will be the recipients of large, first division wages (the likes of Cambiasso, Upson and Albrighton).
If these players were to stay on in the East Midlands with Championship football on offer, then the parachute payments would fulfill their intended role, and essentially bail out LCFC. However, given the revolving door nature of football, it is perfectly plausible Cambiasso and co. may leave for other pastures green. In this case the pay check of over £60 million could be spent strengthening the club for another promotion challenge.
Continuing this hypothetical thought train, if Leicester were to use this money to improve and really challenge for the Championship title (something that Nigel Pearson’s side romped to last season by nine points) then would this be favourable to the Foxes’ faithful as opposed to this season? There would be no Diego Costa or Angel Di Maria visiting the King Power stadium, but the Blue Army could turn up in force every Saturday and realistically expect a win. Just last year Leicester secured 102 points, and won 31 out of 46 games. At their current rate, it would take over 71 games to reach this tally again. Those who jumped on the Premier League band wagon would fall off (and perhaps return to the city’s rugby rivals at Welford Road), as Liverpool and Arsenal become a thing of the past, but the loyal season ticket holders would reap the benefits of a successful football club.
This talk of an immediate return to the top flight is not unfounded. West Bromwich Albion have been dubbed a “yo-yo” club as between 2002 and 2010 the Baggies ‘boing boinged’ up to the Premier League four times, and went back down on three occasions! Leicester themselves have previous yo-yoing experience – after relegation in 1995 and 2002 they returned to the promised land within a season.
Of course, the nature of sport the way it is, these things can rarely be predicted accurately. The standard of football in the Championship is higher than is often credited, and the Foxes will need to do more than just turn up to secure victories. There are a number of clubs who have not bounced back in the short or even long term. Only six of the current twenty four Championship sides do not have Premier League (since 1992) experience, and some have languished in the second tier for over a decade – such as Ipswich Town.
In reality planning for relegation as part of a larger strategy is unlikely, although, the acceptance of the possibility of it and having a plan B in place is certainly not. Those in charge at the club, and the fans alike, will want to retain Premier League status at all costs. That is not to say that if the club does go down, it will not return again, with a season or two of relative success behind it. For Leicester, or any other side that may fall through the trap door, it should not be deemed as life or death, or sink or swim. In fact, with cleverly invested money, another crack at the Premier League could be a stroke of cunning from the Foxes.