Despite fans usually having months to prepare themselves for the inevitable in a Premier League relegation battle, the moment it becomes official is painful.
The team name is highlighted in red and, for the avoidance of any doubt, a big R is attached. These are dead men walking. Down. Gone. Irredeemable. Fans ponder what went wrong and look for someone to blame before preparing themselves for a 46 game slog in arguably the most competitive division in world football.
Liverpool becomes Luton. Old Trafford becomes Oakwell. For the management, however, there is no time for pondering. Unless relegation is confirmed early, two different plans will have been drawn up in advance, one for survival, one for relegation. The day after relegation is confirmed, that plan will already be underway but how, exactly, do you prepare for life after Premier League relegation?
The answer depends on whether the club were expecting it. Norwich City were promoted as champions after an incredible 18/19 season saw them score 93 goals and amass a huge 94 points, five more than Sheffield United in second. The Canaries hadn’t started the season as promotion favourites and their plan was simple; be fiscally responsible, trust the players who won promotion and accept that immediate relegation was probable.
As a result, Norwich head back to the Championship with a nine-figure bank balance and a number of saleable assets who have inflated transfer values. One such player is Max Aarons, with Bayern Munich reportedly willing to pay £18m for the young full-back. With the second-lowest wage bill in the Premier League and two years of parachute payments to come, the first of which is worth around £40m, Norwich City don’t have a great deal to worry about off the pitch. The same can’t be said for Watford and Bournemouth.
The Cherries pipped the Hornets to the Championship title on the final day of the 2014/15 season, and the pair have been in the Premier League ever since. Neither would have expected relegation ahead of this campaign. Although the riches at the top table are plenty, the price of progression is steep. Both clubs spent upwards of £40m last summer and have players reportedly earning £70k a week.
It’s now standard practice to write relegation clauses into players’ contracts and it’s understood that the entire Watford squad will now take a 50% pay cut as a result. Most Bournemouth players also have relegation clauses. Sunderland, who experienced back to back relegations in 16/17 and 17/18, taught football clubs a valuable lesson in how not to write player contracts after they were forced to pay Jack Rodwell his full Premier League wages whilst in League 1.
Relegation clauses soften the blow, but the reality is that five years of Premier League contracts, even at 50%,are not sustainable in the championship. This is where clubs have to decide whether to consolidate or try to bounce back immediately. Watford’s owner, Gino Pozzo, has released a statement intimating that the Hertfordshire club will attempt the latter. Maxim Demin, his Bournemouth counterpart, has said he is “committed” to taking the club back to the Premier League “as soon as possible”.
Most relegated clubs say something similar, however, it’s rare to win promotion the season after relegation. The last team to do so was Newcastle United in 2015/16. Part of the issue is the exodus that follows demotion. Watford expect Abdoulaye Doucouré, Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra and Ismaïla Sarr to leave. Bournemouth will likely see Callum Wilson, Josh King, David Brooks, and Ryan Fraser go as well. Centre-back Nathan Ake has already been the subject of a £41m bid from Manchester City and has reportedly agreed personal terms. These transfers will bring a welcome cash injection off the pitch but will leave the clubs a little light on it.
New signings will need to be bedded in quickly if these clubs have any hope of an immediate return. One signing Watford will be hoping to confirm sooner rather than later is a new head coach, with Nigel Pearson receiving his marching orders two games before the end of their Premier League relegation and the Hornets find themselves manager-less.
The squad have been given three weeks off and the club will hope to have a new head coach in place by the time the players return to their London Colney training ground. The squad for next season will revolve around a core of young players already at the club; Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Domingos Quina, Ben Wilmot, and João Pedro. Whoever takes charge at Vicarage Road will have their work cut out for them to plug the gaps left by outgoing players. However, the squad members likely to remain provide a good foundation to build upon.
This shortened summer break looks as though it could be one of the busiest in recent memory for Watford, with indications that they could be on the verge of an amicable split from their talismanic number 9, Troy Deeney. Any uncoupling would signify the end of an era at Watford, a new dawn that will be met with tentative excitement by fans of the club. Will Hughes has been earmarked as a future captain.
Bournemouth fans will be a little more anxious. The Cherries had one of the highest wage-to-turnover ratios in the Premier League at 83%. Watford’s, by comparison, was 57%. The loss of revenue from the Premier League broadcasting deal combined with the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will make for grim reading on the south coast. It’s also understood that Bournemouth owe almost £80m in transfer fees.
It’s not uncommon for clubs to stagger transfer payments or organise loans from foreign banks to pay other clubs upfront but AFCB don’t have a lot to show for it with under-performers such as Dominic Solanke, Jordan Ibe and Arnaut Danjuma now worth decidedly less than they were bought for. Eddie Howe is set to hold talks this week about his future. Much like Troy Deeney at Watford, he is synonymous with AFC Bournemouth and any departure would suggest a bold new direction for the club.
Premier League Relegation offers a chance to rebuild, regenerate, and rejuvenate. Many decisions must be made quickly. Get it right and by next May you could be returning to the Premier League stronger than ever. Get it wrong and it could be years before you return. Just ask Leeds United.
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