Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Relegation means austerity

Time will tell whether keeping on Alan Archibald as manager was the right decision by Partick Thistle following their relegation from the Premiership.

However, they were correct to make the decision quickly. The offseason is not all that long, and any procrastination makes it harder to put a coherent squad together in time for the start of the new campaign - even more so if it is then followed by a protracted search for a new boss. Just look at the start Inverness Caley Thistle had to Championship life after fiddling around for a bit (nb - not a reference to the infamous tweet fiasco of last summer, honest!) before sacking Richie Foran.

Thistle can at least get on with preparing for a promotion challenge right away, with the advantage of continuity. Or so you'd think.

Whilst some sort of cull was expected, one could be forgiven for thinking that Theresa May had been parachuted into the Firhill dugout and then mistaken the players for NHS workers. Fourteen were released, to go with the two loanees whose time was up. Of those remaining, three have been transfer-listed and will surely never play for them again. So Thistle start their rebuild with only five outfield players over the age of 21. And one of those is the perenially injured Stuart Bannigan, given until August to prove his fitness.

As an outsider, this seemed quite shocking, though Thistle fans - increasingly suspicious that their team's nightmare season was as much down to player attitude as to lack of confidence or quality - don't seem devastated by any of the departures. But it does mean that Archibald basically has to go out and sign half a team.

This is the cost of relegation from the Scottish Premiership, especially if like at Thistle there is a determination to avoid shedding non-football related jobs at the club. With an externally funded youth academy and good community links the club is otherwise well set; why mortgage the future by overpaying the first team?

Austerity measures have also been implemented in Dingwall, where it transpires that all players had a contract clause activated in the event of relegation where they could either take a pay cut or walk away...with Jason Naismith, a sellable asset this summer, the only one to be spared this. One suspects that this sort of careful planning is one of the reasons why Roy McGregor is as wealthy as he is.

With a number of players driven to accept those terms by a combination of pride, loyalty to new management duo Stuart Kettlewell and Steve Ferguson, and being settled in the Highlands, County look in reasonable shape for an Immediate promotion challenge.

They are certainly in better nick than Thistle are, or relegation predecessors Inverness or Dundee United were when they went down. In their second and third seasons in the Championship respectively, both face further financial squeezes.

On the south side of the Kessock Bridge, Caley Thistle could really have done with using the same solicitors to draw up contracts as their local rivals. Instead, they find themselves in the ignominious position of trying to publicly shame club captain and stalwart Gary Warren into leaving. Warren's crime? To have accepted a contract two years ago which made him one of the highest paid players at the club whilst they were still in the top flight.

That of course isn't Warren's fault; nor is it really his fault that in the two years since he has dramatically declined as a player (and, at 34, is likely to continue declining) and isn't even a first choice centre-back in a team that finished fifth in the Championship last season. But whilst complaining about it to journalists is pretty disrespectful, the bottom line is that removing Warren from the wage bill would free up funds for John Robertson (who, like the current board wasn't around when Warren signed on the bottom line), to sign three players who could make a far greater difference to their chances of going up.

Most depressingly for ICT fans, this feels like a rerun of last summer, when similar tactics were unsuccessfully used to try to force another local legend, David Raven, out the door.

Meanwhile, down Tannadice way Csaba Laszlo has been given licence to mould Dundee United in his own image, though he did little to justify this after succeeding Ray McKinnon. But there have also been a plethora of departures there. Whilst those are justified by the club's underachievements of last season, it also means a big rebuilding job by a manager whose January signings were mostly failures, and in the context of serious losses in the last two sets of accounts.

United's big hope is that a proposed takeover by an American consortium succeeds and a firm financial footing is at last established. If that falls through its hard to see what else United can cut and, with no Andrew Robertson sell-on fee to save the day this summer, nor a training ground to 'sell, people will start throwing the A-word about.

So whilst in most leagues the newly relegated teams would be fancied to bounce back quickly. in this one the more established, stable sides are left licking their lips, robust buffaloes taking the opportunity to trample over the lions whilst they are wounded.

It's just one of the reasons why the Scottish Championship is one of the most compelling leagues out there - unless you are Ewan Murray of course. And it's also why all but the strongest Premiership clubs need to be wary of taking too many financial risks - relegation can put you in a deep hole very, very quickly.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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