Nobody wants to be relegated. It’s been the death of many a major club. Club’s like Nottingham Forest and Leeds fell from the heights of European football to relative obscurity; but it doesn’t always have to be like that. The right management of the club and an understanding of the situation at hand is vital to resurgence in form. So which clubs have benefited from a demotion and what circumstances are necessary to use relegation as a catalyst for success?
The obvious choice is Newcastle. After almost winning the Premiership in the mid nineties the Toon army went on to enjoy over a decade of mediocrity before slipping to a deserved relegation. However two years later they currently enjoy their best start to a top-flight season in years and occupy a top four place in the table. This is definitely creditable to their relegation and subsequent promotion.
Newcastle, despite the debt they had, managed to hold on to a number of important players. They used relegation to get rid of much of the dead weight in their squad and came back to the top flight as a new team. Whatever Newcastle fans might say about Mike Ashley I feel that in football you should judge people by their end result and although he did want to sell the club it would appear that he has managed the club well. He has made a fortune for the club with the sale of Carroll, has got rid of Barton who clearly disrupted dressing room morale and sold the expensive Kevin Nolan who was in decline as a footballer. Moreover, he has reduced the club debt by a significant amount and continued his ambition even though they were relegated. The result? A young fresh team with an exciting French element to it. The team, for the first time in years, looks genuinely threatening although they still need to buy a striker.
Man City 2001
After winning promotion to the Premier League Manchester City were immediately relegated back down to the Championship. It seemed that the step up had simply come too soon. However with the appointment of Kevin Keegan Man City won promotion once more with their highest ever points total. Why were they able to do this? Because David Bernstein introduced measures to ensure necessary frugality within the club so therefore if they were to be demoted then they would not collapse as a club (as clubs such as Leeds and Portsmouth have done).
West Ham 2010
West Ham are by no means ensured of a straight promotion back to football’s top table but they have put themselves in a decent position. They recognised the need to keep hold of some of their players whilst simultaneously offloaded players who were congesting their wage bill. The sale of Scott Parker was a necessary evil as was the release of Mathew Upson who was on a reported £55k per week. Instead they have brought in loan players with proven quality for that level such as Bentley, Almunia and Lansbury. West Ham had almost gone down a number of times in recent seasons and last years relegation was the perfect opportunity to re-invent their squad. They may have a long way to go but I predict that they will be back next year and ready to grow as a club.
So what did these clubs share that made them able to rise back up to the Premier League? Decent finances. The key to being relegated is to make sure that when you go down you can afford to go down. People might suggest that Newcastle went down with over £100m debt but ultimately they have a large fan base and each club can afford different levels of debt depending upon their support. Similarly whilst West Ham do have debt the £35m they owe is more than manageable for a club of their size.
Too many clubs panic buy when they see relegation on the horizon and it is an incredibly risky tactic. If it works the fine your team survives for another season, but what then? Do you struggle the next season too? It is not sustainable. You cannot panic buy forever, clubs that go down with their finances in relative order stand themselves in much better stead than those in the Premier League whose spending spirals out of control in a bid to stop the rot.
Just look at a club like Charlton. They had plenty of money after the sale of Darren Bent but instead of spending it wisely they went through a succession of managers who wasted their money. The result was that when they were eventually relegated they had no money to rebuild causing them to be relegated even further.
Relegation doesn’t have to be a disaster, as long as clubs are prepared for it and act accordingly. It almost seems better to wait until one has been relegated to bring in new players in order to win promotion straight away than it does to buy players in order to prevent your club from being relegated in the first place. Obviously it helps to have a large fan base and reputation as clubs like Newcastle and West Ham do. It is easier to draw crowds and attract players but for anyone who says that is the only reason they were successful in the season after they were relegated is wrong. If that were true then why do not all the big clubs who get relegated immediately win promotion.
There is obviously no exact formula or specific tactic for turning relegation into an advantage, but the prospects it provides are there for all to see. Yes there are grave financial implications but with the careful management of Premier league parachute payments the apocalypse might not seem so near. Shedding unwanted players from the wage bill and starting afresh is key to the growth of clubs who have stagnated after years in the Premier League. As long as clubs have been sensible financially whilst in the top division they can enjoy success in the second tier of English football.
Follow Hamish on Twitter @H_Mackay