The one problem with relegation – aside from the heartbreak, embarrassment, and shame (among many other things) – is the sheer destruction of a club’s finances. As a dejected Swansea fan, I can attest to the horrific things to happen for a relegated team who were getting too comfortable in the Premier League. Millions of pounds are lost in revenue simply because a team moves down a league. When you take into account the losses on kit sales, ticket revenue, sponsorships, tv deals, and the smaller fanbase that comes with being in a smaller league, falling back into the championship can be a rough ride.
Swansea had spent a respectable 7 years in the Premier League before dropping back down to the championship and had become accustomed to the large spending habits of a mid-to-bottom table Premier League club. Just before their drop (in a laughably poor effort to avoid it) they purchased both Wilfried Bony and Andre Ayew for over £30 million total. Suffice to say both players were ineffective, and Swansea fell back down to the second tier with millions less in their pocket and two more high earners at the club. There were around 15 departures of players considered to be of firstteam quality in the summer of 2018, purely because championship-based club Swansea could no longer afford to pay the wages and had to sell players just to remain financially stable. Millions and millions of pounds are lost and, if unlucky, a club can see their fate worsen further, as was the case with Sunderland who ended up dropping two leagues in two seasons.
The team which seems most likely to meet a fate similar to Swansea’s in the previous season is Huddersfield. With no clear quality in midfield and ineffective strikers, they have struggled for goals all season, and their defence – though not the worst in the league – is unable to pick up the slack. A team never spending eyebrow-raising fees for players, Huddersfield is already a (relatively) small club with a less than adequate financial situation. To drop to the championship would see them lose any remaining quality they have, and I’m sure it would be a Herculean task to then bring them back. After getting what seems at this point a consolation win against Wolves at the weekend, they sit unimpressively at 14 points – fortunately for them, one point ahead of Derby’s unwanted record for lowest points in a season. But to not have the worst season in Premier League history is not much of an achievement. There are still 10 games left so, in theory, there is potential for survival, but I’m sure most fans of the Terriers have accepted what is to come.
Fulham are another team at a disappointingly low tally for the season. Sitting just above Huddersfield at 17 points, they are also in dire need of some good form. The difference for Fulham, however, is that they have less issue with scoring, and have a striker with some quality in Mitrovic. Fulham are still not safe, but in my opinion have a much better shot at survival. They have players worthy of the Premier League, and hopefully Ranieri can lead them to a few more wins before time runs out. Unfortunately, they will face the same problems if they go down. They spent a surprisingly large amount in the summer for a recently promoted team, and if they cannot survive, I’m sure they will face the consequences of that back in the championship, with players who do not want to be there and others who Fulham cannot afford.
Of the other potential teams to drop, I think the most likely to would be either Cardiff and Brighton. Southampton have impressed under their new manager, and I see that as reason enough to assume they are sufficiently secure. As for Cardiff, the tragedy of Emiliano Sala, I am sure, plagues both the dressing room and the financial department, and it may prove to be too much for the club to handle this season. It would be good, however, to see them survive to honour Sala’s memory. Also, they have not had terrible form recently, so Cardiff could still avoid the drop with a couple of lucky results. Brighton’s form is probably the reason why they edge it for me as the team most likely to sink back to the Championship. It would be a shame to see them go: Brighton stayed up impressively last season, and the evergreen Glen Murray will always have a special place in the hearts of fans of the Premier League. Who knows, if Brighton are relegated, maybe he could solve Chelsea’s striker crisis?
Relegation would not be so terrifying if the consequences did not stretch further than simply playing smaller clubs. The truly daunting part is the financial burden, which some teams can carry for years. The loss of players around which a club builds their squad can completely destroy both a team’s confidence and effectiveness. In a perfect world, relegation would not cripple teams. However, as a fan of a team who has just gone through relegation, I can safely say it does have numerous negative effects on quality of play, fan morale, team cohesion, and countless other things. Considering the billions made by the Premier League each year on ever-increasing television deals both at home and abroad, there could be more of a Robin Hood-type spread of the funds. Instead of the rich and powerful consistently getting the biggest pay-outs for winning, maybe the answer would be to give larger portions of the cash to the teams who performed worse in a season, to offset the negative form and give them a chance of bouncing back and rebuilding themselves for next season. Perhaps this would solve the issue of the unbridgeable gap between the top 6 and the other teams in England. But if anything is clear at the moment, it is that, firstly, there is a definitive rich-poor divide to English football which takes the majority of competitiveness out of the league (in terms of 14 of the clubs). Secondly, relegated teams face so much more than just a lower league with relegations, things which a parachute payment from the FA does not really help.
The capitalist nature of the footballing world is to me a blight, it seems absurd to me that two teams can be in the same league and one can spend £75 million on a centre-back whilst the other has a cumulative value of less than that in their entire squad. It is fair enough to say that the big clubs have a right to spend because they earn money, but nothing in football will ever change if a solution is not sought to boost smaller teams into a more competitive standpoint. American Football, in my opinion, does this better. The draft allows for the worst teams to get the best new players, and thus improve themselves to a competitive level. Since the birth of the Premier League, only two seasons have brought a winner from outside the firmly established ‘top 6’ teams. For the next 25 years I cannot imagine it will happen a third time. Such is the way football works now, as the teams who have money earn much more and spend much more, and therefore remain more powerful. And those at the bottom struggle and will continue to struggle. The Premier League will continue to churn the same teams in and out of the championship for years to come, with the rich clubs in very little danger of ever joining that mix. At this point, we can do no more than say a silent prayer for Huddersfield and their calamitous situation (and perhaps for Fulham who are still in considerable danger but slightly less so).