What can Norwich City buy for �40m?
Just what is �40m worth to Paul Lambert? The City manager's preference for getting his transfer window business completed as early as possible has already sent the rumour mill into top gear; almost everyone has been given a mention, from Bayern Munich's Miroslav Klose to Dagenham & Redbridge's Danny Green.
Carrow Road maintains a transfer window silence on such matters but it's clear that even if Lambert does have almost �40m worth of spending power to buy, and then pay for, a squad throughout next season, it will be peanuts compared to most of the top flight clubs he will come up against.
The FA Cup final showcased two extremes of Premier League haves and have-nots: Manchester City have spent about �300m on transfers since they became the richest club in the world three years ago and their squad is reckoned to be worth �800m if you take into account the players' contracts as well.
Stoke City's side is estimated to have cost about �26m in transfer fees – even that figure is likely to be out of Lambert's reach.
And the big boys are likely to be spending big again this summer as they try to stockpile talent ahead of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules, which come into force next year.
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Lambert has said the chances of City shelling out '�60,000 or �70,000 a week' in salaries will never happen under his stewardship at Carrow Road. The expectancy is that he will head for the bargain bucket again and attempt to polish up some rough diamonds, which he did so well last season.
Football clubs rarely disclose how much they pay in transfer fees nowadays, but a rough estimate suggests the City team which Lambert sent out against Coventry on the last day of the season was put together at a cost of less than �4m - and City's salary structure isn't believed to be as high as many of their Championship rivals.
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If you want to be smart, that probably equates to Fernando Torres' right arm, or perhaps the salary he will pick up this summer without actually kicking a ball, except on a beach somewhere. According to the weekend's Sunday Times sporting rich list, it's mere pocket money to many of the Premier League's movers and shakers.
The big figures that Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool deal might as well be telephone numbers for Paul Lambert.
Lambert has, reportedly, been told he can have the bulk of the �40m that City will receive this year as part of the financial reward that comes with promotion to the Premier League. It will come in instalments - which is how transfer fees are paid as well - but even then he will have to be extra careful how he spends it.
Fans will be heartened by the knowledge that money doesn't always buy success - thank goodness those who pleaded with City's owners to invite David Gold and David Sullivan around for drinks and a chat back in September, 2009 can now watch the porn brokers heading the other way. Marcus Evans' millions - 625 of them apparently- didn't do much for Ipswich either.
Fortunately for City, the Lambert model has been successful - he has an uncanny eye for a bargain, although that seems an almost disrespectful way to refer to some of the signings who were mainstays of his promotion-winning side.
First requirement is that a player has to be able to play, that's a given. Then Lambert finds one who is in a position where he can see Norwich as a career defining move, a place where the other requirements, the 'hunger and desire' can be put on show.
Russell Martin has always been a good example: in the doldrums playing occasionally for Peterborough in the Championship, he took a step down to League One to work with a manager he knew from their days at Wycombe. Martin knew he'd get the chance to show what he can do and as City went up they watched Posh going down the other way. That incentive to prove people wrong was provided by Lambert - the skill was all his own. If the two parts match, you're getting there.
But while Lambert has often looked below the level City have played in for his players, where does he look now? Can a player below Championship level be good enough for the Premier League? It was a question asked when the bid for Craig Mackail-Smith faltered. Ditto Brighton's Elliott Bennett, although he is now in the second tier after promotion, when the same question about making the jump will be asked by his own fans. Does Lambert look to those two again?
In considering next season's squad rebuilding, it perhaps boils down to three questions: where does he look for players, who's he going to be in competition with and, once the squad is in place, what type of squads are they going to be up against?
Rarely have Lambert's transfer targets been known before they are announced to the world - Mackail-Smith was one of the exceptions thanks to a publicity-seeker at the other end - so the speculation that has already started is more fun that anything else. Working on the theory that if you throw enough mud at a wall it will stick, then one or two might be correct.
On the basis that it is the source of amusement to some, then City have been linked with: Newcastle striker Leon Best, Bolton midfielder Tamir Cohen, Bayern Munich striker Miroslav Klose, Bristol City's Nicky Maynard, Dagenham & Redbridge's Danny Green and his team-mate Romain Vincelot. The list goes on. Really.
Without wishing to add to the rumours, it's perhaps appropriate to look at a one or two players who might fit the Lambert player profile - and then see what he is up against.
Easing into it there is Dani Pacheco, a striker who loved his time at Carrow Road and was loved back in return. Blackpool are apparently keen on him, with a reported transfer fee of �3m required.
And what about Federico Macheda, the Manchester United youngster who has been on loan at Sampdoria since January? He's struggled there and Sir Alex Ferguson looks set to sell him - one price reported in the media is �6m. For a lad who has eight league starts to his name.
Two young players, very inexperienced - and already a quarter of your budget has gone on transfer fees, without even taking salaries into account.
With 25-player squad limits, there will be plenty of young players at Premier League clubs who don't make the cut - and plenty who will go shopping for them. Ryan Bertrand has been one of those for some time now, the Chelsea youngster having spent time on loan at five clubs, including Norwich, and only making his Chelsea debut last month. Aside from Macheda, Manchester United had eight youngsters out on loan this season.
So, young loan players from top flight teams is an obvious possibility.
What about Europe? Lambert has contacts in Germany and a foreign recruit isn't beyond the realms of possibility, particularly as it is likely to come through a known channel that he trusts.
Then there are the clubs who eventually go down from the top flight. West Ham are apparently preparing a fire sale - if City's promotion is worth �40m this season, then logically, a club's relegation would mean a �40m loss, minus the parachute payment of �17.7m. But how far do you trust players who have been part of a relegated team, unless it's Scott Parker, whose wages would be astronomical? Maybe not as far as you would trust those of a team that just missed out on promotion alongside City. Take Leeds - how much longer will Luciano Becchio and Robert Snodgrass be prepared to play in the Championship? Or if Swansea miss out, Scott Sinclair? Or Lewis McGugan at Nottingham Forest? The Premier League may just be snatched away - the hunger will still be there.
Then there are the gems that have just joined the Championship from League One - Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana at Southampton and Bennett at Brighton among them, difficult as it would be to prise them away.
While there is a choice of markets, once again, money is the issue every time. The magic words are 'out of contract this summer' - as Cohen is at Bolton.
Who will Lambert be in competition with? A whole host of managers at clubs where money is a problem, where pennies have to be watched like a hawk. And that means all but the stinking rich. If there's a bargain to be had there's a scout out there with a name on his list. Stoke have negligible debts, but they will be as keen on a bargain as anyone else. Premier League and Championship clubs will all be looking for a Henri Lansbury or a Pacheco. You can bet if Lambert makes the call, then half a dozen other managers will too - which is perhaps why speculation questions are met with silence from Carrow Road, so as not to alert the opposition. Sensible, but no fun.
So what are Lambert and Co up against? Money is the obvious answer.
The Premier League is fast becoming the billionaires' club, not the millionaires' club. If your owner's bank balance runs to seven figures, you're Z list. We're talking about people who own countries, not a nice house in the country. Clearly the owners don't put all their money into the clubs, but there is a lot of wealthy back-up: Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner is worth �605m, Roman Abramovich more than �10bn and Manchester City owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan almost �18bn.
Delia Smith and husband Michael Wynn Jones are said to be worth more than �20m – which perhaps puts their �12m investment into City over the years into perspective.
The big transfer fees dwarf anything City can dream of paying: Torres to Chelsea for �50m, Andy Carroll to Liverpool for �35m, Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United for �31m. It is, as Lambert says, a different stratosphere.
Even the signing of Javier Hernandez is being hailed as the best bargain buy of the season for Sir Alex Ferguson at a mere �6m, which dwarfs Norwich's record outlay of �3.5m for Robert Earnshaw five years ago.
Suddenly, �40m doesn't seem that much, does it? In the circumstances, it is all Norwich City, with debts of around �20m, can afford. Thatg's the way it is. Along with the big spending comes the repercussions if you get it wrong. West Ham are a good example: they're �80m in the red - with more losses on the way. As the 'Lord Sugar Tackles Football' documentary last week pointed out, the richest football league in the world has a �2bn income, but 14 of the 20 clubs are seriously in the red, with a collective debt of �3.3bn.
Servicing loans is costly - the Glazer family's purchase of Manchester United with a leveraged buy-out costs them tens of millions each year - but the huge increase in players' salaries, which have spiralled out of control as much as transfer fees as clubs chase success, have cost many a club. Torres is on �8.8m a year, Saturday's FA Cup final scorer Yaya Toure on the same. The Rooney household rakes in �8.4m from Wayne. They are figures that are incomprehensible here in Norwich.
All of which leads us nicely back to Paul Lambert, on whose shoulders is the responsibility of making that �40m go a long way.
• BARGAIN BASEMENT
Norwich City's promotion-winning line-up cost less than a tenth of the �40 million manager Paul Lambert is said to have been given to spend by the Canaries board
John Ruddy �450,000
Russell Martin �200,000
Elliott Ward Free
Zak Whitbread �200,000
Marc Tierney �150,000
Andrew Crofts �300,000
David Fox �65,000
Andrew Surman �1.2m
Wes Hoolahan �250,000
Grant Holt �400,000
Simeon Jackson �750,000
• All fees quoted are estimated as City do not reveal exact figures for transfers