At the start of every Championship season, each team has a dream of reaching the promised land and the riches of the Barclays Premier League. Some will have a realistic chance and will arrive at the top table of English football in style, whilst others will fall painfully short. Undoubtedly the most exciting way to join the big boys is through the Playoffs, often heartbreaking, always dramatic. A multi-million prize awaits the winners, but how have the sides that have achieved this glory fared over the last 10 years?
Back in 04/05 Crystal Palace were the victims of a last day relegation having spent just £4.5m on new players, with their most high profile signing being Fitz Hall at £2m. It has taken them the best part of the next 10 years to regain their place in the elite, following this summer’s playoff success. During that time it has needed a multi million pound takeover to put them back on the right track.
West Ham United have undoubtedly been one of the most successful playoff winners of this period, finishing 9th in the 05/06 season and runners up in a famous FA Cup Final against Liverpool. They were backed to the tune of £20m that season, with Dean Ashton arriving for a whopping £9.5m, whilst Yossi Benayoun at £3.3m provided further class. Their spending continued for some time after, the next season saw the stunning arrivals of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez before they ultimately hit the wall financially, concluding in relegation in 2011. West Ham maintained the majority of a Premier League quality squad and bounced straight back, again through the playoffs. They splashed the cash once more upon their return on players such as Matt Jarvis(£8.3m), high profile loan signings such as Andy Carroll and quality free transfers in Mo Diame and Jussi Jaaskelainen. That spending on Premier League class players resulted in a comfortable 10th place finish and provides a foundation for further success.
Watford were relegated immediately, finishing bottom with just 5 wins after their playoff win in 2006. They spent £9m in the Premier League, with Danny Shittu their most expensive acquisition at £2m, failing to build a squad strong enough to survive. They unfortunately fell short in this year’s playoff final with a squad filled with loanees.
Derby County fell at their attempt in season 07/08, scoring an all-time low points total despite spending a relatively high sum of £20m. This included £4m+ strikers Rob Earnshaw and Kenny Miller, both proven goalscorers. They also added the experience of the likes of Robbie Savage and Danny Mills to no avail. What may have caused difficulties for Derby was the mid season change of manager from Billy Davies to Paul Jewell, alongside a corporate takeover.
Hull City survived the following year, although it also went down to the last game of the season, Their success stemmed from a stunning start, spearheaded by the brilliant Geovanni and their highest value signing at £4.6m Jimmy Bullard. Despite the glory of survival, Hull succumbed to supposed ‘2nd season syndrome’ and were relegated. A couple of seasons in the Championship supplemented with heavy spending have lead Hull back into the top flight for this season via automatic promotion.
Burnley changed their manager from Owen Coyle to Brian Laws in their sole Premier League season in 09/10, with Steven Fletcher their only major signing at £4m. He wasn’t enough to save them despite an impressive win over Manchester United. Burnley have since struggled to find the form that propelled them to a surprise season in the top flight and have changed their manager on a number of occasions in search of the solution.
Blackpool were shock playoff winners next time around and almost pulled off an even bigger shock after reaching 30 points well in advance of Christmas. However, a lack of major signings and a stream of free transfer journeymen were not enough to survive, ultimately going down with defeat at Old Trafford on the last day of the season(the only time they were in the bottom 3 all season!!). Blackpool were relegated having spent less than £5m on new players, their chairman refused to sanction the signing of a goalkeeper when they were down to just one half fit keeper in the second half of the season. Their captain Charlie Adam earned himself a place on the PFA Team of the Season, illustrating what may have been with a couple of million spent in the right place. Blackpool came within a whisker of an instant return, losing the playoff final 2-1 to West Ham despite being the better team on the day. They’ve since gone into free fall thanks to a lack of investment and a crazy managerial merrygoround.
In 11/12, Swansea defied the odds after a terrific debut season by finishing a respectable 11th under Brendan Rodgers, a performance which earned him a move to Liverpool. They spent a modest £11m, but brought in reliable top level players such as Wayne Routledge and Michel Vorm. Their style of football was a departure from previous promoted teams as they did not sacrifice their footballing principles in order to survive. They’ve since gone on to complete another successful campaign including a League Cup win under the guidance of Michael Laudrup and continue to go from strength to strength.
So what of Crystal Palace this time around? Their manager Ian Holloway has been there before with Blackpool where he vowed to ‘attack the Premier League’. What he found that time around was that the result of playing in the playoffs meant that his time were weeks behind others in terms of fitness, preparation and perhaps more importantly, the signing of new players. He was left with the scraps that no one else wanted and had to resort to signing relative unknowns.
At the time of writing, history appears to be repeating itself as Crystal Palace have only been able to secure 7 new players, none with real Premier League experience. Dwight Gayle at £4.6m is their most expensive purchase but has no experience at the top level, whilst Arsenal fans may warn the signing of Marouane Chamakh my not be anything to get excited about. My prediction is that yet again the Championship Playoff winners will struggle to keep their heads above water and will find themselves back in the Championship when the dust settles on the new season.
It’s clear to see that a combination of things are required in order to survive. Money needs to be invested in the squad wisely, including the acquisition of experienced top flight talent, faith in the team that achieved promotion may only get you so far. Stability is key, though the pressure of top flight survival affects the judgement of many chairmen!!! Planning ahead is vital if you’re going to keep up with your competition given the time restraints that the playoff winners suffer. Finally, the likes of Swansea and West Ham have proven that maintaining your footballing principles reaps dividends and an intimidating atmosphere will help secure those vital home wins. Crystal Palace, it’s over to you………..