Odds against new Lane chief being a gambler

Big decisions: United's new chief executive, Justin Winter
Big decisions: United's new chief executive, Justin Winter
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AMID the pressed flesh, messages of congratulation and bonhomie at Julian Winter’s official unveiling earlier this week, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that Sheffield United’s new chief executive will shortly face some pretty tough choices.

With Danny Wilson’s team lying second in the table – and beaten just once in League One since his appointment – life is pretty damn good at Bramall Lane right now. Winter, it seems, could scarcely be joining at a better time.

Behind the joviality, however, there are some excruciatingly difficult decisions to be taken over the coming months.

A recent report by accounting and advisory firm PKF, fittingly entitled ‘Open to Attack’ made uncomfortable reading for the majority of English clubs, especially those operating in Leagues One and Two where members could suffer a 26 per cent reduction in television revenues next season.

Detailing how ticket sales remain the most important source of income for clubs, (yet more than half reported a fall last term), it also revealed only a fifth intend to increase their first-team payroll this season compared to 59 per cent in 2008.

With 49 per cent, United included, planning to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, the days of lavish spending appear over.

Winter’s predecessor, Trevor Birch, now PKF’s head of corporate recovery, said: “The absence of a meaningful economic recovery and looming financial fair play rules are forcing clubs at all levels of the professional game to peg their costs more closely to revenues which remain under serious pressure.

“Merchandising income has been particularly badly hit as fans ... are being forced to view the latest replica shirt as a luxury rather than necessity.

“We are also seeing the polarising of sponsorship with only a small number of top Premier League teams having the profile ... to attract ... major corporations.”

United have made no secret of the need to cut costs following relegation. But, as PKF’s survey confirms, they are not operating in isolation.

Even without leafing through their expenditure records, it only takes a rudimentary knowledge of economics to grasp Wilson’s squad is still running over-budget.

Footballing success and good housekeeping seldom go hand in hand but Winter, who in a previous guise steered Watford through one of the most turbulent periods in their history, must try and broker a marriage of convenience the best he can. A difficult but not impossible task.

“Football clubs have realised that they need to make tough choices to wage related costs to get their finances back on track – albeit several years later than most British businesses,” Birch continued. “We expect a similar story when the transfer window reopens next January.

“We do not expect any of the main revenue streams to show meaningful improvements ... for the foreseeable future.”

Of course, there will be calls from the terraces for United to ignore the rules of business and ‘gamble’ on achieving promotion.

Forget about offloading high earners, just try and live the dream.

Those who do so should ask themselves this: Would you risk your entire livelihood and those of your loved ones on the ability of 11 highly-trained but capricious footballers to perform?