Monday, August 9, 2010

West Bromwich Albion FC: The Yo-Yo Effect

The noughties have presented us with the ultimate expression of the Yo-Yo team – West Bromwich Albion. Their thrify ownership have decided against risking the big bucks (sorry, pounds) required to maintain their Premiership status, so they've invested money in their squad only when both cost-effective and absolutely needed, then pocketed their parachute payments. They may as well change their club motto to “Without Squander”.

They've won or finished second in their last two Championship seasons. The season before that brought elimination in the Promotion Playoffs. Their squad changes minimally from Top to Second Tier. They are, for their market and sponsors, if not their fans, a successful club. So why don't more teams follow this model and ensure their own relative certainty?

One simple reason is overconfidence. If a club accomplish promotion from the Championship they are entitled to feel strong, as if they can take on the world. Generally, that's rather an inexperienced point of view, as much false bravado as anything. The Premiership is a major step up from the Championship as proved by the number of teams who go straight back down. Managerial or board overconfidence is the worst kind: the mentality of “All we need is one or two class signings” causes overreach and financial burdens a club in the Championship can't maintain. To bring in class signings, that player usually requires more money or more security than he already has, security that a relegation-threatened club is ill-placed to afford. If the worst happens and they drop, the club is stuck with a heavy contract – we call that “Doing a Hull” - or with a malcontent.

The second factor for WBA is that the players have been there before. Most have competed in both leagues know what is required in order to survive, even if they're incapable of meeting those requirements. Relegation is an obvious kick in the teeth but each goes into the following season aware that their club has the ability to bounce straight back up again. This knowledge provides a certain confidence that the demoted don't always have.

This common sense attitude seems commendable, but only a few squads have progressed from it. It provides stability for sure, but locks the clubs into a purgatory where their unable to succeed at the highest level yet perfectly able to fail should circumstances conspire one level down. But really, if you're making money – and the parachute payments are generous indeed – why would you risk that by overspending and in three years find yourself mid-table Championship? At a smaller club, success is no sure thing no matter what the investment. In football, there are no sure things unless they involve John Terry and an underwear model.

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