The amount of money washing around the upper echelons of English professional is nothing short of incredible.
Paul Pogba was THE summer signing of the 2016/17 football season, with the Frenchman returning to Manchester United after previously being released on a free transfer to Juventus.
The world transfer record was smashed as the Red Devils stumped up the princely sum of €105 million, with a further €5 million worth of bonuses payable providing that the midfielder fulfils his obvious potential in England.
Indeed, a football player trading clubs for £30 million is nothing new these days. It used to be such a headline-grabbing event, although Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), David Luiz (Chelsea), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), John Stones (Man City), Leroy Sane (Man City), Paul Pogba (Man United), Eric Bailly (Man United) and Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham) all moved for upwards of that amount.
This mega spending didn’t just apply to the English Premier League either. Down in the Championship, vast sums of money were being traded too, especially by Newcastle United and Aston Villa who still have parachute payment money burning a hole in their back pocket.
Aston Villa break the bank to land Kodjia and McCormack
On 30 August, Villa took the plunge of spending £11 million on a relatively unknown striker, with Jonathan Kodjia leaving Bristol City on a deal which could rise to £15 million depending on number of appearances and whether the forward helps the Villans back to the Premier League.
This used to be an eye-watering amount of money in the top flight, although £10 million plus signings are now taking place in a second tier where spending £100,000 on a player was more typical until the past few seasons.
Previously, Villa agreed a £12 million deal with Fulham to land Ross McCormack and Roberto Di Matteo will hope that he’s got guaranteed Championship goals for that amount of money. After all, the Scot has thrived with the Cottagers and Leeds United at this level although it’s unclear as to whether he has the pace and power to cut it at Premier League level.
Nevertheless, there are some proven performers who have chosen to duck out of the top flight this season and play for Championship clubs instead, most notably at Newcastle United who not only have a substantial war chest at their disposal but also the salaries to match.
Newcastle now paying Premier League wages at Championship level
Eyebrows were raised when Matt Ritchie left Bournemouth this summer. You might have expected the winger to have attracted the attention of a club like Everton, West Ham or even Tottenham. Maybe he did, although the Scotland international instead agreed to join Newcastle.
He wasn’t the only one. Mohamed Diame scored the winning goal in the Championship play-off final of last season to supposedly “achieve the dream” of playing Premier League football once again, although the midfielder didn’t hang around at Hull City for very long.
Perhaps the uncertainty at the KCom Stadium led to the Tigers’ most prized player deciding to up roots and head to Tyneside, although we can be fairly certain that Rafael Benitez was able to wave a massive pile of cash in the direction of a player who must have received several offers in the summer.
The manager himself didn’t find himself at the north-east outfit by accident. Reports last season suggested that the Spaniard only agreed to take the Newcastle gig if he was paid £4 million a year in the process.
To put that into perspective, it makes Benitez the ninth-highest paid manager in the world and also explains why the former Liverpool and Real Madrid chief was happy to not only inherit a doomed Magpies squad but also remain in place after they had been relegated.
Does Shelvey still earn more than Neymar at Barcelona?
We can make a few more assumptions about the payroll at St James’ Park. For example, Jonjo Shelvey signed a five-and-a-half year deal to join the Magpies in January 2016, with the midfielder enjoying a weekly salary of £80,000.
It soon transpired after Shelvey made the switch from Swansea that no clause had been inserted in the player’s contract in the event of Newcastle suffering relegation, something that promptly happened four months down the line.
Unsurprisingly, Shelvey remains on the Tyneside club’s books although he won’t be the only one earning this amount of money despite operating a level below the Premier League.
After all, Matt Ritchie and Mohamed Diame won’t have made a swift departure from their respective top flight clubs without their salaries being improved upon, so we can safely assume that the wage budget at Newcastle United is higher than Bournemouth, Hull and a handful of others in the division above.
There are all manner of advertising deals and performance-related bonuses in place for professional football players, although it was reported last season that Neymar was ‘only’ on a basic salary of £77,000 per week compared to Shelvey’s £80,000.
The Brazilian star can lay claim to being the third-best player in the world judging from the last Ballon d’Or awards, although even Barcelona seem to have a more stringent wage structure in place than a club who recently departed the English Premier League to be replaced by the likes of Burnley and Hull City.
Big gulf in finances between top and bottom of Championship
Quite simply, Newcastle United are the wealthiest club that has ever found themselves in the second tier of English football. Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley remains happy to bankroll the club and pay Rafael Benitez exorbitant sums in order to restore the fortunes of a “sleeping giant”.
At the other end of the Championship, the transfer budgets and player salaries are a good deal more modest. Take Burton Albion for example, the well-run Staffordshire club who have achieved successive promotions from League Two and League One.
The Brewers recently took the scalp of neighbours Derby County despite their modestly-assembled squad, with Nigel Clough needing to make every penny count when it comes to new signings who know that playing at the Pirelli Stadium will not make them multi-millionaires.
To give you an idea of Burton’s budget, consider that Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink was on a £40,000-per-year contract when he became Albion manager in November 2014. Brewers chairman Ben Robinson admitted at the time that the Dutchman would have earned more in a week as a player, although Hasselbaink used the role to demonstrate his managerial prowess and now manages QPR.
Thanks to Hasselbaink and Nigel Clough, Burton now find themselves in the same division as Rangers, although Robinson has described the chasm in budgets as “phenomenal”.
He said at the beginning of the campaign: “Our plan is to make sure we survive in the Championship which is a much bigger task than League One.
“The difference in budgets between the clubs is phenomenal, far greater than League One. But we couldn’t have a better manager than Nigel Clough holding the purse strings and putting the team together.
"That’s why I’m so pleased Nigel is back here, doing that job. He’s a very clever guy, a great manager and he knows the mentality and level of ability needed to perform in the Championship and he will spend every penny wisely.”
Parachute payments make the Championship playing field imbalanced
From the 2016/17 season, Premier League clubs are making untold riches through the combined £5 billion TV deal being paid by Sky Sports and BT Sport to secure rights.
However, parachute payments have been in existence for a number of seasons and provide a ‘sweetener’ for any club being relegated to the Championship.
When a football club is relegated from the top flight, they are safe in the knowledge that parachute payments will be received over the next four years that total £65 million. Simply from being a Premier League member, even if it was just for one season.
So an average of £16 million coming into the coffers every season is currently more than the annual wage budget of several Championship clubs, meaning that the likes of Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich City were already in a financially stronger position than several counterparts.
The parachute payments certainly helped Burnley and Hull City retain the nucleus of their squads last term so that they could make an immediate return to the top flight, while QPR, Fulham and Cardiff City have also recently benefitted.
Clubs are paid £25 million in their first season of being relegated which would certainly help Newcastle pay the wages of Shelvey, Ritchie and Diame, while it also explains why Aston Villa were able stay within Financial Fair Play rules when they “broke the bank” for McCormack and Kodjia.
Should Championship football players earn so much?
Most people would clearly answer no to this question when it comes to the highest-paid earners on the books at Newcastle United and Aston Villa. Salaries such as £80,000-per-week are impossible to comprehend considering that sum of money represents a very good annual income in the United Kingdom.
Further down the Championship ladder, a more typical salary would be £10,000-per-week and you would find players at Ipswich Town, Preston North End and Barnsley earning this sort of money.
Indeed, the English second tier can be broken down into several clumps of clubs in the same way that you can create brackets for the Premier League. There are firstly the clubs with a heavy financial backing that also benefit from parachute payments.
There are then clubs such as Derby County, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brighton & Hove Albion who have rich investors but still have a wage structure in place and the relative owners want accountability from their appointed managers.
At the bottom are clubs such as Burton, Rotherham United and Barnsley, clubs who have traditionally been operating at a lower level of English football and can’t break the bank due to the budget in place. It’s partly dependent on fan base but more to do with the financial consequences of being relegated after signing players on “Championship wages”.
In January 2011, Liverpool were criticised for spending £35 million on Andy Carroll although the Merseyside club argued that they still made a £15 million profit on the basis that Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea for £50 million.
Similarly, while astonishing sums of money are being spent signing players and paying their wages at Championship level, it could be argued that the prize of reaching the Premier League and getting a slice of the £5 billion TV deal means that clubs are prepared to take a calculated gamble in a bid to finish in the top two places.
The Championship play-off final has been described as the “richest game in football”, with one club joining Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in the top flight, while the other has to contend with trips to Oakwell.
Therefore, the goalposts have moved as far as finances in English football are concerned, with plenty of newly-rich Championship clubs likely to have increased spending power as they benefit from the influx of new ownership money and / or parachute payments that come their way in the event of a worst case scenario.