Go Big or Go Down – Gambling on Success.


A look at the newly promoted Premier League teams and how wise (or not so wise) they have been in the transfer market.

“Money isn’t everything, but everything needs money.”

~ Rashad Howard

Countless teams have tried and failed to sustain their Premier League place following promotion, and countless teams have tried and failed to bounce back following relegation.

Coming into the 2019/20 season, the newly promoted teams are Norwich City, Sheffield United, and Aston Villa. It has rarely been the case that three teams have had such differing philosophies and approaches to the spending that will be necessary for them to succeed.

Let’s take a look.

Norwich City:

Norwich City’s manager, Daniel Farke, had a less than successful first season in charge – finishing 14th. But his second season was rewarded with a promotion to the Premier League via securing the Championship title. 

I feel as though I could say that Norwich was clearly the best team in the league last season (despite being a Leeds United sufferer…supporter I mean) with few arguing against me.

Norwich’s domination of games and free-flowing attacking football was arguably only matched by Leeds, but their more clinical chance conversion saw them as the success story of the season.

Norwich has had faith in their system, squad and faith in their manager. They have tied down 15 players, and their manager, to extended contracts and focused on developing and maximising the potential of what they already had.

Having spent less than £4 million, they find themselves only above Liverpool (who spent big last season) in the Premier League spending table.

Despite this lack of spending in the transfer market, they have looked like one of the most exciting lower teams in the league. Having tested Liverpool on the opening day of the season and powering past Manchester City (in a shock win), it is clear to see that they have stuck to their attacking guns.

I, for one, hope that they can remain in the league. Focusing on the maximisation of current players, rejecting the temptation to spend big and their focus on attractive football is what football ought to be about. There is no pragmatism to Farke’s team; they will concede goals, but their games are going to entertain and excite. What more could we want?

Aston Villa:

If we could respect Norwich for their reserved and noble nature, the same cannot be said for Aston Villa. They have gone big. Huge. They have spent the most money out of the entire Premier League and have been one of the biggest spenders in world football.

Aston Villa had a team compiled mainly of loanees in their promotion season, and their new signings have largely been making those deals permanent – a wiser move than the erratic spending of Fulham the season before.

Big money has also been spent replacing loan players who will not return, such as Axel Tuanzebe and Tammy Abraham. But with a grand total of almost £140 million, it seems like an incredibly large gamble in terms of abiding by the financial fair play rules.

Essentially, Villa had a Premier League quality team last season, and they have spent their money to try and retain a squad of a similar standard. However, from watching their games in the Championship, they were not anything special. Personally, I don’t believe that their performances came anywhere close to the likes of Norwich, Sheffield United, and Leeds – who spent the majority of the season vying for automatic places.

I always worry when teams spend large amounts following promotion. Although Villa has done so with much more care and thought than the previous victims to excessive overhauls, I still worry for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to scrap for their place in the league and centre-back stalwart, Tyrone Mings, is going to be vital for their survival.

Sheffield United:

Give me a moment to compose myself…okay, my Leeds bias has been set aside for the next few paragraphs. It’s hard not to admire Chris Wilder and Sheffield United.

They are the middle man; the one that most people will forget about. They’re not stubbornly sticking to what they have (like Norwich), and they are not throwing large sums around (like Villa). United have spent just over £40 million and have added high-quality Championship players, such as Callum Robinson and Ollie McBurnie.

Although they have a Championship quality team, they are special. Sheffield United’s biggest problem is that they are Sheffield United. People think of them and remember a rough and ready Neil Warnock team.

This was epitomised by Danny Mills talking about how they have a direct style of play. This could not be more incorrect. This is someone relying on memories and reputation rather than taking the care to actually watch what the team is about.

Marcelo Bielsa praised Wilder’s use of ‘overlapping centre-backs’ and his unorthodox tactical and positional play saying that he has seen things in Wilder’s playing style which he has tried to introduce during his own managerial career, but without success.

“If I was in a bar having a coffee with friends, I would say Sheffield United’s head coach is someone with new ideas, and I have seen very few people with these kinds of ideas”

Marcelo Bielsa

As a Leeds fan, there’s nothing more that I want than to see Sheffield United relegated and Leeds promoted. But, as a football fan, Wilder’s team and their unique style deserve more recognition and staying in the Premier League would be a good way to start.

All of these teams had completely different styles in the Championship last season, and that has translated into their different approaches to setting up for life in England’s top league. Football romantics will want to see big spenders fail, whereas some will argue that winning points and being successful is all that matters.

The rather bizarre fable that Rafa Benitez once told in a press conference comes to mind. In a long-winded spiel, Rafa talked about a donkey, a miller and his son. The tale of this story shows that, no matter what you do, someone will always criticise you. This is completed applicable to the situation of the newly promoted teams. If you spend too much money then people will say that ‘football shouldn’t just be about money’ and ‘you should maximise what you have’. However, if you don’t spend enough, then people will say that ‘you’re naïve’ and that ‘you need to invest to live up to the standard of the Premier League’.

Money doesn’t always make success, and my predictions are that it will not in this case either. I for one cannot wait to see how the Premier League newbies fare this season. I may be wrong, and that’s the beautiful unpredictability of football. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

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