Ian Stringer posed a very interesting question on Twitter this evening;
“If #lcfc are promoted this season, would you be happy with folk claiming The Foxes ‘bought’ their way to The Prem?+Would they have a point?”
Certainly the Foxes are spending far beyond the capability of most of their Championship rivals, not only in transfer fees (Martyn Waghorn – £3m) but also in Premier League wages for the likes of Yakubu, Curtis Davies and Kyle Naughton who will remain at City on loan until the end of the season.
This spending is not linked to any extra revenue the club has generated over last season. Average attendances are slightly down, there has been no lucrative Football League TV contract or significant sponsorship deal. In that sense, critics are perfectly entitled to claim that Leicester are spending beyond their means. Without the significant investments made by Asia Football Investments and Cronus Sports Management the club would have been unable to fund such high rolling. But that’s only half the story.
There is much talk of the impending financial fair play rules which are likely to put an end to some of the more outrageous spending in the Premier League (read: Manchester City). Glancing at Leicester City’s recent forays in the January transfer window many might point the finger in the direction of Filbert Way as another example of financial doping. The sums of money being spent at Leicester City and the gap between that spending and the clubs own revenues is not insignificant, it is giving the Foxes a very strong competitive advantage.
But to go too far down this route would be interpret very narrowly the spirit of financial fair play. The point of financial fair play rules is not to prevent clubs from sustainable investment. When Newcastle were relegated and kept a large number of their well remunerated squad together to ensure a quick return to the Premier League no-one accused Mike Ashley of buying promotion. He was making what proved to be a sensible investment. And it’s not like Leicester would be the first team to invest heavily to ensure Premier League status. Fulham, Reading and Portsmouth in recent times have all put modest recent histories to one side and spent big in the chase for the top flight.
But what Leicester have on those three clubs is the infrastructure and the support to retain a Premier League place. The Foxes demonstrated during their only season in the Premier League at the Walkers Stadium the potential market for top flight football at their new home. In 2003/04 the average attendance was 30,983. This compares very favourably with current Premier League clubs in areas where the appetite for football is not nearly so great (read: Wigan). Leicester City in the Premier League is very much a sustainable prospect and the club, if run in the right way, would not need to rely on the benevolence of a wealthy benefactor down the line.
Leicester aren’t so much buying promotion, but investing in the well grounded belief that the 10th largest city in England ought to be able to sustain a top ten Premier League side. If it can’t, there isn’t much hope for anyone.