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Robin Sainty: A peak behind the curtains of a City transfer window

Norwich City Sporting Director Stuart Webber 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City Sporting Director Stuart Webber Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

The inner workings of the transfer system are complex and generally shrouded in mystery, with fees often listed as undisclosed. Consequently it's hardly surprising that all sorts of myths and misconceptions develop around them.

Sam Byram has proved to be a successful signing for the Canaries 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdSam Byram has proved to be a successful signing for the Canaries Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With large transfer fees usually arriving in instalments with all sorts of performance-related add-ons and TV rights money only being paid in tranches from late July through to January, football club cash flow control is a tricky business.

As fans we're usually oblivious to the details, but in the summer of 2015 we got a glimpse when the club's bankers registered a charge at Companies House to provide a borrowing facility against City's TV revenues for the 2015/16 Premier League season.

As the document initially included a schedule of the club's current and future liabilities with regard to transfer fees, add-ons and pension payments it provided a fascinating insight into how transfers actually work and the pressure on clubs like City to spend money before they receive it in order to compete.

What it showed was that at the time of the charge the club's current liabilities in respect of player dealings (ie, those payable within 12 months) amounted to £9,523,967 made up of transfer fee instalments, add-ons, pension payments and levies with future liabilities (ie, those due after a year but which still needed to be budgeted for) amounting to £8,387,288 giving a total of nearly £18 million that had to be found before any new transfer expenditure.

It seems reasonable to assume that the liabilities last summer would have been similar or even higher given sizeable promotion bonuses and the add-ons that would have been payable as a result of promotion in respect of a number of players.

Add to that the significant cost of a number of new long-term contracts reflecting the higher salaries applicable to the Premier League, repayment of the Canaries Bond and the direct 
costs of promotion in terms of meeting Premier League ground standards, such as all the infrastructure for VAR, and it's clear that there weren't huge 
sums available to spend on transfers in the summer unless the club went down the route of borrowing against future income again.

Of course, media reports suggested that City were prepared to push the boat out to sign Alexis Claude-Maurice, which has inevitably led to questions about why, having been rebuffed, they didn't spend the money elsewhere, but there is a huge difference in price between an up-and-coming French starlet and a top-quality Premier League player.

The sort of money earmarked for Claude-Maurice would have put City in the sort of price range that produced the signings of Steven Naismith and Matt Jarvis in 2015/16, the costs of whom negatively impacted the club for years, despite very little benefit on the pitch, and would have left nothing for the January window.

While it's true that last summer's signings generally haven't worked out, with the notable exception of Sam Byram, the use of loans means that City haven't been stuck with the same sort of long-term costs in respect of Patrick Roberts and Ibrahim Amadou and consequently were able to add two excellent prospects in Melvin Sitti and Sam McCallum in the recent window, with Lukas Rupp and the on-loan Ondrej Duda also brought in to immediately impact the squad.

In 2015, City followed the pack and gambled on staying in the top flight by borrowing against future income, but now they are spearheading a new approach. It will never satisfy those for whom spending big money is the only measure of ambition and ultimately it may not produce the required result of long-term Premier League stability, but it's innovative and sustainable at a time when more and more clubs are exhibiting financial danger signs, and judging by the reaction to a disappointing season it has been fully bought into by the vast majority of fans.

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