The Bounce Back Gamble: What happens to relegated Premier League clubs that don't get promoted next season?

24.04.2024 16:42:04 Craig Simpkin
Disappointed football fans in stadium.

It’s squeaky bum time in the Championship promotion race.
For those able to get over the finish line, there’s a place in next season’s Premier League to savour. As importantly, there’s the prospect of at least £135 million in earnings to come.

For those that don’t make the grade, there’s heartache, plus, for those relegated from the Premier League the season prior, a real financial headache to solve.

The Profit & Sustainability Rules (PSR), you’ve probably heard a lot about those recently given the spate of points deductions in the EPL and EFL, are calculated over a three-year period, meaning that Championship clubs are being judged on their finances while in the Premier League, where there’s a temptation to overspend in a bid to secure survival.

So, those relegated from the Premier League can find themselves in a bit of a pickle, and if they aren’t able to secure promotion at the first attempt, their second season in the Championship can be something of a disaster.


The Big Sale

When Watford were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2021/22 season, the club’s owners, fearing PSR ramifications, made some tough choices.

They sold £51 million of talent and released seven more players on free contracts, and set about replacing them with lower cost (and lower grade) individuals. The Hornets made a net gain, financially speaking, but on the pitch the talent drain was clear for all to see. Watford finished eleventh, and that inability to gain promotion meant that a further tightening of the belt was required.

Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr were reluctantly sold for a combined £40 million ahead of the 2023/24 campaign, but so fearful are previously-relegated clubs from the EPL they have barely reinvested a penny of that, with the results on the pitch to prove it.

Watford have fallen to 15th in the Championship this term, closer to relegation than promotion in terms of points on the board. It marks a continued downward spiral for the club, who have at least bucked one trend by not sacking a manager every five minutes in 2023/24….well, almost.

Ahead of 2024/25, they won’t have any saleable assets to cash in on and if they drop further down the Championship table, a relegation battle could be in the offing.

It’s a pattern that Leicester City, Leeds United and Southampton, at least one of whom may not get promoted this term, will need to be wary of. Every extra season in the Championship sees further dilution of talent…...A slippery slope indeed.


Be Careful What You Wish For

Leicester City, Leeds United, Southampton, Portsmouth, Coventry City, Derby County….these are all former Premier League clubs that have spent time in League One having been relegated from the Championship.

It’s a cautionary tale of what can befall a club of a decent stature: be it mismanagement on the pitch, financial incompetence or arrogance, or a bit of all three, that sends them into such a mammoth downward spiral.

Of course, clubs have followed a similar trend without having the commercial appeal or the fanbase to cushion such a fall. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Huddersfield Town, who in some ways have been punished for their over-achievement in seasons past.

You don’t even need that good a memory to recall the last time the Terriers were in the Premier League. A brief stop-off in the top-flight in 2018/19 should have laid the foundation for solidity in the years that followed. But a calamitous managerial appointment, Jan Siewert oversaw just one win in 19 games of the club, led to an expensive compensation pay-off, while Danny Cowley, who had impressed in charge at Lincoln City, was unable to galvanise his new charges.

In the end, Huddersfield finished just three points above the Championship relegation places, the stardust of their season in the Premier League now well and truly forgotten.

We’ve used the term ‘talent drain’ already in this article, but that’s exactly what the second season in the Championship after relegation brings. A whopping 22 players were sold or released during the 2020/21 season, with head coach Carlos Corberan forced to bring in eleven replacements on free transfers. So nobody was surprised when Huddersfield struggled again, just about staving off relegation.
Three wins in a row at the end of the 2021/22 campaign kept Huddersfield up, but a house of cards can only take so much pressure until it falls. The Terriers need a minimum of four points from their remaining two Championship games in 2023/24 to avoid relegation to the third tier.

It just goes to show: the perils of second season syndrome in the Championship can strike down anyone. It could be a big club that overspends, or a more modest outfit fighting tooth and nail to remain competitive.


The Smart Way

Although their fans might be frustrated at their apparent yo-yo status, Sheffield United have shown that sensible spending and succession planning can minimise the impact of relegation from the Premier League.

They were demoted at the end of the 2020/21 season, but tightened their belt in the summer and managed to hang on to the core of their squad that had been promoted the campaign prior. It was no great surprise when they finished fifth in their first season back in the Championship, losing out in the play-offs but coming out of the term with plenty of positives.

For 2022/23, they kept the faith in Paul Heckingbottom as boss, brought in some shrewd loan signings and were rewarded with a comfortable promotion, finishing in second place, some eleven points clear of Luton in third.

The Blades have laid the blueprint for Championship clubs: spend within your means and try to create a core of your squad that loves the club, so they stick around even after being relegated from the EPL. But if you get promoted and then start throwing money around to try and secure Premier League survival, note that every subsequent season in the Championship gets harder and harder, potentially with devastating conseqeunces.


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