On the 1st June 2015, Paul Clement strode through the doors of Pride Park and began his life as manager of Derby County. It was a life that was to last just eight months. Despite being aided with a burgeoning reputation in world football, despite shattering Derby’s transfer record twice in as many months, and despite being only six points off the top of the table, Clement was fired a few days ago, to a general sense of shock and confusion in the football world. The question was ‘why?’
The answer appears to be Derby chairman Mel Morris’ itchy trigger-finger. Morris, who recently sold his stake in the successful mobile game Candy Crush, had arrived at Derby within days of Clement. Their working relationship initially seemed positive. In November, five months after both Clement and Morris arrived at the club, the Rams were top of the Championship and considered promotion favourites. Morris had publicly stated that Clement could be ‘Derby’s Sir Alex Ferguson’. While Ferguson notched up 25 years in the Manchester United hotseat, Clement couldn’t even reach one.
The first notable sign of deterioration between chairman and manager was last month, in mid-January. By then, Derby were knocked off the top, going through bad form, and some Derby supporters were complaining that the style of football was ‘boring’. After Derby managed a dour 1-1 draw against a struggling Reading, Morris marched into the dressing room and, in front of the accumulated Derby players and a beleaguered Clement, he cancelled a booked warm-weather training trip to Dubai. For good measure, he shot at the players “you’re not training in the sun; you’re training in the mud!”
Fast forward to last week and Derby were without a win in seven league games, and their lead at the top of the table was well and truly surrendered, Morris handed Clement his P45. The owner also pointed to the fact that Clement had spent £25 million on club transfers. To put that £25 million sum into a footballing context, Leicester City’s starting eleven costs a similar amount and they, at the time of writing, sit at the summit of the Premier League.
For the likes of Morris, the Premier League is more appealing than ever. With the new television deal soaking the league in riches, promotion is worth over £100m, so clubs are spending money in an effort to ‘speculate to accumulate’. Morris also remembers last season. He wasn’t working for the club at the time, but they had come close to a top-six finish, but failed to make the cut on the final day of the season. That final play off place instead went to Ipswich Town, who have been going about their promotion attempts in a very different way.
Unlike Derby, and several other clubs throwing money to get promoted, Ipswich prefer stability, frugality, and blanketing themselves in the label of ‘underdogs‘. The club has been marooned in the second tier of English football for the past 13 years and, if the bookies are to be believed, they will be adding another year to that tally next season. Ipswich didn’t get promoted last season, despite beating Derby to the final play-off spot. Instead, they lost to rivals, and eventual play-off winners, Norwich City.
Ipswich are headed by multi-millionaire owner Marcus Evans, a man so elusive and publicity-shy, that Town supporters have only recently been able to put a face to the name, when a photograph of Evans surfaced online and was eventually confirmed as him by the club. For a man with reported businesses in the arms industry, the desire for secrecy is understandable but, by that logic, why buy a football club?
Maybe it’s because Evans had money to burn. At least you’d be forgiven for initially thinking so. He bought the club in 2007, and in his first five years, he bankrolled the club’s transfer spending to the tune of almost £15 million. However, under previous managers Roy Keane and Paul Jewell, Ipswich spent most their time struggling to avoid relegation to the third division, rather than promotion to the first.
That changed when, in November 2012, Evans appointed Mick McCarthy as Ipswich manager. Since then, McCarthy has improved Ipswich’s league position for three consecutive seasons, culminating in last season’s 6th place finish in the play-offs. Evans hopes this gradual improvement will result in promotion this campaign. But unlike Keane and Jewell’s days, Evans believes McCarthy can do this by continuing to spend next to nothing in the transfer market. Because since 2012, it has not been ‘spend, spend, spend‘ at Portman Road, but ‘save, save, save‘. As aforementioned, Derby have spent £25 million this season, Ipswich have spent just over £250,000.
So why is McCarthy’s side of freebies and loanees doing so well? They know their strengths, they have a strong spine of players, and have developed a tendency of scoring last minute winners. Yet the Ipswich supporters are getting impatient.
While punching above your weight in this division on a budget can be endearing, it’s not sustainable. At one point last season, the total cost of the Ipswich starting eleven was £10,000. That £10,000 player (yes, the other ten players cost nothing in transfer fees) was Tyrone Mings, who moved to Bournemouth for £8m in the summer of 2015. That money has not been reinvested in the squad, but Ipswich are only three points outside the play-offs, and are looking to usurp Derby yet again.
There is one correlation that unites all the teams that managed to achieve promotion from the Championship over the past several years. And it is that all those teams have spent £500,000, or more, in their promotion year. Derby are seeking promotion by spending the most amount of money in a promotion campaign, whilst Ipswich seem to be trying to do it by spending the least.