EFL COLUMN: WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT EFL OWNER?
The past few weeks have seen a wave of new owners arrive in the EFL from all over the globe to get involved in the most exciting league ladder that any country can provide.
29-year-old Spaniard Erik Alonso has bought Derby, ending months of financial uncertainty in the process. 23-year-old Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has found a way to spend his family’s fortunes by purchasing a controlling stake at Sunderland. A Bahrain-backed consortium has provided hope for Wigan after they went into administration less than a year ago, and a group of American businessmen have taken over Ipswich Town from much maligned owner Marcus Evans.
Most of these new owners arrive with a clean slate in terms of the supporters’ feelings towards them, along with hopes and dreams that they can be the ones to oversee previously unseen levels of success.
The wide variety of backgrounds of these new owners only adds another layer of intrigue to the ever-growing tapestry that is the EFL, yet there are some fundamental dos and don’ts in regard to running a football club that will make success on and off the pitch far more likely to come by.
Don’t make promises of on-field success that you cannot guarantee
Like a detective in a police drama guaranteeing they will find a missing person or a Prime Minister assuring the public that life will return to normal on a set date following an unprecedented global pandemic, promising people things creates a massive opportunity to disappoint them.
Regardless of how much you invest in a squad of players or how many talented managers you hold a club scarf up alongside, there can be no certainty that you will get the results on the field that you desire, and the fans often demand.
In January 2020, Peterborough’s Darragh MacAnthony promised that he would resign as chairman should Posh not finish in the League One play-offs at the end of that season following a defeat to AFC Wimbledon that left Darren Ferguson’s side four points shy of the top six.
A run of five wins in a row followed and the Irish businessman began to look like a fortune-telling deity, only for the outbreak of Covid-19 to cause the season to be decided on points-per-game.
Peterborough finished seventh, one point behind a clutch of teams, despite their protests that the season should have been played to a conclusion.
MacAnthony was a man of his word – to an extent – as he resigned as chairman but remains co-owner of the club, and even though he has helped the Cambridgeshire club become one of the canniest operators in the transfer market over the past 15 years, the public promise was a fairly embarrassing ordeal all round.
Engage with fans, but be professional
On a similar note, engaging with fans has become an increasingly important aspect of running and owning a football club, particularly in the age of social media.
Supporters always want to feel like they are an important part of their club, therefore regular communication can play a massive role in making a new set of owners a popular bunch.
Most clubs are able to do this in a manner that is both vaguely informative in terms of the inner workings of the organisation and positive enough to ensure loyalty to the badge remains even if the league table looks dispiriting.
Even though Norwich City are currently on course to secure their second Championship title in three seasons thanks in no small part to the management of Daniel Farke and the on-field brilliance of Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki to name just two, appointing Sporting Director Stuart Webber in April 2017 has been their most important decision.
Not only has the former Liverpool Director of Recruitment played a key role in recruiting the likes of Farke, Buendia and Pukki, he has been open and honest with Canaries’ fans throughout the entire process.
He regularly communicates through both the local and national press, as well as on the club’s YouTube channel, about the financial reality of how a club of Norwich’s size and stature can operate, going a long way to placating frustration at last season’s finish at the bottom of the Premier League pile.
At the other end of the spectrum, last week saw Colchester United chairman Robbie Cowling release a statement dismissing rumours that the struggling League Two club were set to be put into administration.
This may seem a positive move to make, but the original statement that was put out included details regarding a disagreement with a former club employee in which Cowling said he “never claimed to be head butted” by said employee and never called him an “F’ing C” but “did call him a swear word beginning with W”.
Not only did the communication make the club the laughingstock of the EFL for an afternoon, it was also an unwelcome distraction with Colchester only four points clear of the relegation zone.
Have a model and stick to it
Harry Redknapp’s path of manager led recruitment-based destruction in his last two jobs in the EFL is one of the clearest indicators that having an underlying plan for success has become far more important than finding a good manager.
Redknapp’s time at both QPR and Birmingham was characterised by heavy spending on players with no real sell on value, meaning it was no great surprise that both have had problems with Financial Fair Play since he departed.
It is therefore no surprise to see an increasing number of teams adopt a structure whereby a director of football or similar takes control of areas like recruitment and the head coach has the sole responsibility of working with the players at his disposal.
Following the ‘Brentford model’ of player recruitment has become one of the most popular crazes throughout the EFL as the prospect of being successful whilst buying low and selling high has proven too tempting for many owners to turn down.
The Bees have made the best part of £150 million through player sales since 2015, whilst also reaching a Championship play-off final and having a very realistic chance of doing so again this season.
The problem has been that this model requires you to speculate to accumulate, meaning you have to spend money on players, and that is something a lot of owners are less keen to do.