>KER-CHING! With million quid new boy Albert Adomah adding some bling to the Boro on his debut at Charlton, it seems we are in the big time again.
Meanwhile well-wadded boss Tony Mowbray is making noises about stepping up his bid for Leeds striker Ross McCormack who it may take close to £1.5m to prise away from Elland Road. And it is reported that a million euro bid for South African striker and headline writers Tokelo Rantie has been knocked back by Swedish side Malmo.
The gaffer is also looking at bringing in a couple of other signings, quality ‘core’ players who are Championship hardened – or from a higher level – and who, even if they come on frees, could command decent wages.
After years of belt-tightening and dipping into the slight seconds bargain bin, suddenly Mogga is splashing the cash like a drunk sailor on shore leave.
Has he found Steve Gibson’s lost wallet down the back of a sofa in the corporates? Did he get lucky on the Euromillions?Has he sold the fracking rights for the Riverside?
It appears that Boro have found a decent wodge of money from somewhere and are for the first time in a long time actively flexing some market muscle. They even out-bid former deadline day nemesis Wigan to snap up flying flanker Adomah.
At last! Pay-back for the painful and embarrassing 11th hour hijackings of Ben Watson and Gary Caldwell, snubs that really stung at the time and marked a seismic shift in the status quo but turned out to be dodged bullets.
So can we expect the Steve Gibson cash-tap to be miraculously turned back on? Er…. no.
Are Boro walking with a Gucci clad money-no-object swagger again? Definitely not.
Will we be go on a deadline day spending spree? Are you crazy? Nurse! Nurse!
Boro are investing, yes, and it is a real luxury for the manager to have the resources to actively shape his own side – but he has not been handed an open cheque book or and old Bryan Robson-style transfer warchest. Tony Mowbray is now dipping into the savings squirrelled away through two years of careful cost-cutting.
Boro’s second successive summer cull of big-earners – Kevin Thomson, Stephen McManus, Nicky Bailey, Julio Arca and then belatedly Scott McDonald went in this bout of radical pruning – plus savings on cash committed to largely limp loanees last term has freed up close to £100,000 a week on the wage bill.
That’s staggering. Especially when you consider the complete failure of those players to deliver anything more than the ordinary from any of them (bar possibly McDonald) over the course of their collective 17 years at the club. And that’s being generous.
That hefty off-loaded money millstone adds up to a £5m saving or thereabouts over the course of the next year – and that is the headroom in the wage bill that the manager is working with. And realistically, Mogga won’t get all that to spend.
The club still need to trim some more off the budget to meet the tough targets imposed by the new Financial Fair Play system, the rules on debt and spending introduced into the Championship this year… the new regime that a survey this week showed has sharpened the minds of owners to the point where a third are considering selling up.
In short, clubs are only allowed to put in £8m on top of what they raise through gate money, television rights, sponsorship and merchandising. And Boro are among the paupers by that measure.
The bottom line is with the TV deal relative peanuts, the bulk of revenue for clubs in the Championship is what comes through the turnstiles – and in that respect Boro trail most of their peers.
While the Riverside have middling crowds that are about on a par or just below the likes of their rivals Ipswich, Forest, Watford, Derby and Leicester, the average matchday take at those grounds is far greater.
Teesside is a low wage economy and the club know that. Boro have pegged their prices for seven years now and, whatever the annual gripe, season ticket prices are among the lowest in the division while a sizeable chunk of the crowd are kids or concessions – especially after the summer reconfiguration created a family zone that is incredibly cheap. The harsh reality is that after taxes and costs the average take per head per game at the Riverside is below a tenner.
In contrast, the other clubs we are competing with charge far higher per game, have an older and more well off demographic paying generally steeper ticket prices. They have a far higher income per game through the gate but have a comparable or lower wage bill.
Over the course of a season Boro only raise £4m through the gate. In total. Advertsing, hospitality, merchandising and TV payments came to another £2m, give or take. There were no sales to generate transfer income.
But last year the wage bill was £16m.
That is a hell of big gap between the main income and the main out-goings. And Steve Gibson has personally funded that deficit. The last available accounts showed Gibson put in £12m to balance the books – and generally to the angry echo of people, many who don’t go to games, shouting at him to “put his hand in his pocket.”
In effect Gibson has been personally paying the wages (and the £2,5m costs of running the Academy) while the gate-money – and the shrinking streams from sponsorship, advertising, hospitality and merchandising – has paid for the running costs of the ground, the pitch, scouting, the team coach and hotels, the rates and utlilities, stewarding, police and safety cover and public liability insurance.
The new rules limit what owners, shareholders or outside investors can put in this year coming season to £5m in cash and £3m in equity or loans which add to the debt. Next season that is squeezed further still to £5m in total. And then £3m the year after.
Even if a Boro-supporting Arab billionaire with a big Transporter tattoo on his back rolled up at the Riverside riding a unicorn with Elvis in tow, those rules would remain.
And clubs that break the strict ceiling face stiff fines and a possible transfer embargo. Repeat offenders face points deduction. Some people haven’t got their head around the realities of FFP yet. Others think it won’t have much impact. Or that it is riddled with loopholes. It isn’t. It’s watertight. It has been a game-changer in this division.
The penalties don’t kick in this year – but the auditing process has started and any spending now if not carefully managed will bite clubs on the bum two years down the line.
Some clubs are throwing cash around on transfer fees and supporting massive and unsustainable wage bills and gambling the whole shop on diving under the descending drawbridge going up this year – yes Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Leicester, I’m looking at you – but that is a massive risk. They can’t all fit through. Someone is going to get crushed by debt-laden failure. It won’t be pretty.
Having gone through three years of pain and prudence Boro are in no rush to follow suit.
Gibson has stressed that he will be putting in his money right up to the max – but even with his £8m, if gates stay the same or even if they nudge up a bit, you can see the figures still don’t add up. Only a significant upturn in crowds or a hell of a cup run will make any significant difference to Boro’s spending power.
Which means that Mowbray, while no longer shopping in a straitjacket, still has to be prudent. Mowbray outlined on the eve of the season the club’s transfer strategy. There is a finite amount of money to spend. It can either be used for wages or for fees and Mogga can shift and slide and alter the balance to swing a deal but the limit on the total remains.
Which is why so many transfer sagas this summer have ended in fruitless frustration.
Fans may have been left gnashing and wailing and bemoaning ‘typical Boro ineptitude’ but the summer shopping has been done with admirable discipline. They club have resisted the temptation to seal a deal by adding a zero here or there.
In a so far fruitless recruitment drive Boro have come close to signings several times. Players, agents and clubs have come to an broad agreement in principle and it has seemed as if a deal is close – but then someone, somewhere has demanded an additional extra payment and it has collapsed. Or drifted.
That may well be the traditional methodology in football retail but it is not one that Boro can afford to follow now. They have their valuation and they largely have to stick to it.
And that’s a good thing. The days when Boro had a reputation for being a transfer soft touch always ready to dump an extra bag of cash on the table to get their man are over. Agents take note. And had the same approach been adopted in the past then the club – and football as a whole – may not be in the state it is.
Mowbray understands the nuances of the situation and while at times it has left him exasperated, he knows that for a club with Boro’s finances there is no alternative.
If they pay a fee, that eats into the total budget for wages available to lure the quality free agents they are still courting and who they hope to get in as the deadline looms to sharpen players’ minds and the Countdown clock music kicks in.
That harsh financial landscape was also the background to the drawn out signing of Adomah. Boro agreed a fee with Bristol City, who, despite having a moneybags owner, having been relegated were plunged into the even harsher financial regime of League One. There clubs’ wage spend is limited to a proportion of turnover and with that and a loss of some £19m last year they ad no choice but engage in a cost cutting exercise, slash their squad and sell their main asset .
But having settled on a price Boro were then forced to haggle: They naturally wanted to pay as little up front as possible and stagger the rest over as long a term as possible so they still had muscle to bring in the rest of their targets while City naturally wanted as big a down-payment as possible to help balance their books.
The stand-off left some jittery fans sweating and cursing and obviously blaming Boro’s historic incompetence for the delay and fearing the vengeful shadow of Wigan Athletic.
Still wired up to the psychology of the old economic landscape they were urging Boro to just “give them what they want” or “pay a bit more to get the deal done” in shrill cyber-space panic. Should I ever sell my house, I hope these people want to buy it.
Poker-faced Boro stood firm long enough to demonstrate their determination then eventually bent a bit as it came to the crunch, just a little but enough, and they finally got their man on acceptable terms – and with plenty left in the tank for extra recruitment.
They now have another tough decision looming as they reach a crossroads in their pursuit of Leeds man Ross McCormack.
An initial bid believed to be around £1m was rejected but Boro clearly have had enough encouragement from either the player or the club to believe it was worth going back with a second offer of closer to £1.3m. That too was rejected and Boro appear to have gone back in with a little bit more. But is not cash up front. It is staggered in instalments and probably tied to productivity and performance triggers.
Should that be accepted then Mogga will have to tinker with his fee/wages sliders again. How much can Mogga afford to pay before it ties his hands in recruiting the second striker, commanding defender and attacking central midfielder he covets?
If Boro are to shell out another big fee, even with only half up-front, and attractive wages (McCormack is said to be on £14,000 a week at Leeds by the West Yorkshire press) it would probably mean at least one exit of either a relatively big earner at Boro or someone who would command a fee – and they are both very small groups.
The whispers coming out of the club appear to suggest Marvin Emnes future is uncertain. The enigmatic frontman signed a new deal last 18 months ago and is now Boro’s top earner. Fringe figure Faris Haroun has been told that he can’t be guaranteed a first team start and is Mowbray is relaxed if he decides to find a club who can offer him one. Justin Hoyte, who took a massive pay-cut to stay last summer but is still on well above the divisional average for a full-back, is said to be a target for Millwall, on a mission to boost their frequent buyer rankings – but only if they shift one out first.
So there is still potential for some more tinkering in the squad. But prudent tinkering. If Boro do pay a fee for McCormack it will need to be funded somehow within the existing budget – or Mogga can’t bring in his other two or three targets.
Incidentally McCormack almost joined Boro from Motherwell as a youngster in 2008 after being recommended by then Livingstone boss Mark Proctor. The groundwork was all but done on a £250,000 deal but it was never completed as Gareth Southgate didn’t think he was ready for the first team and had second thoughts.
McCormack joined Cardiff instead to become one of that select group who always have a blinder against Boro (see also A Adomah.)
Ah, I see now. The shape of a new transfer strategy is starting to emerge.
This is the Bling Spendaz ft Prudence 12 inch remix of this week’s Big Picture column.