Monday, March 12, 2012

Llambiarse in mostly talking sense shocker

(Image courtesy of Community Friend)

So, we've had the weekend to reflect on Llambiarse's latest pronouncements. Where to start?

How's about the widely-reviled rebranding of the stadium? "Do you think me and Mike call it the Sports Direct Arena? We call it St James’ Park, because it IS St James’ Park." Well, at least the duo acknowledge that fact, I suppose, even if he did also drone on about the need to increase "commercial revenue" while avoiding hiking up ticket prices - if they'd done that, he suggested, then they truly would be guilty of "riding roughshod over people's love".

Nevertheless, the fact remains that it's aroused fierce opposition - from the city council, from local MPs, from fans who have demonstrated their displeasure by means of grafitti and tearing down the Sports Direct signage. As a supposedly cash-generating exercise, it's yet to generate any cash except as a way of promoting Jabba's business interests. A Council of Europe committee recently proposed that clubs should be barred from being heavily sponsored by companies with close ties to their owners - Man City were the example cited, but they'd probably be uncomfortable with our current arrangement too.

Llambiarse also claimed that they do genuinely engage with supporters: "We met a guy who drives from Bournemouth for every home match, so we invited him to be our guest and for them to ask anything they wanted. We’ve done it for other fans we’ve met in restaurants". That's all fine and well, but what about engaging with NUST and their aim of ensuring fan representation at board level or at least fan involvement in the running of the club? That would be far more meaningful.

Otherwise (apart from a cringeworthy comment about the "brilliant video presentation" they do for prospective new signings - "very sharp, it is great"), I think we have to concede Llambiarse actually spoke a lot of sense.

On our ambitions: "This season we targeted tenth or above. Next season it was going to be eighth. But our target will still be eight or above next year. We know where we can punch." That's absolutely right - we know we're punching above our weight this season, assisted by others (Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in particular) punching below theirs, and it's important that we remain realistic and don't allow ourselves to be seduced into ignoring the context and demanding the impossible. Consolidation and then steady improvement are key.

Llambiarse urged that realism is equally important in relation to our chances of retaining our best players: "We’ll be losing one or two names this summer, but that’ll be regenerated back into the squad ... For instance, Tiote has been with us a year and a half. He is out there. People know he’s a good player. He’s proven in the Premier League, he’s not picking up as many yellow cards, he’s learning. How are we going to stop a big club from coming in for him? It’ll be very hard. One thing in our favour is that we now have a very good side and that might encourage the player to stay. But if someone knocks on the door and says they want this or that money, the reality may be that we have to trade".

This season's success has clearly been a double-edged sword - it has inflated the value of our players and perhaps made them more likely to commit long-term, but it's also brought them to the attention of bigger clubs across Europe. In view of the fact that we've just tied Sideshow Bob and Tim Krul down to lengthy new deals, and that Llambiarse spoke highly of both, I'd be a little surprised (though not shocked) to see them allowed to leave - but Mr T and Demba Ba are both players who I suspect we'll struggle to hold on to come the end of the season. (One caveat: Llambiarse's comment perhaps implies that actually we might be actively looking to sell a couple of players - which would be concerning, given that there's no real financial imperative or footballing reason for doing so.)

On the subject of our own transfer dealings, Llambiarse picked out the deal for Papiss Cisse as exemplifying our ideal: "January came and nobody knew Cisse was happening, which is how we like it - those are our most successful deals, without the interference, in terms of upping the price or someone coming in at the last minute". Business conducted in boardrooms rather than on the back pages of the papers - that's as it should be.

The club's hard-nosed negotiating strategy was also laid bare: "At the moment, players and agents know that our first offer is very close to the final offer. Once it’s off the table, it’s off the table and it only goes down. It’s never up, it’s always lower. There are more football players than there are clubs. The manager has his targets and we just move on". Obviously that inflexibility might mean we miss out on certain players, and the success of the approach is dependent upon Llambiarse and Jabba not over- or underestimating a player's value in the first place, but it seems to be working well enough so far and it's encouraging to know that we won't be held to ransom or (hopefully) find ourselves saddled with cash-draining baggage like Alan Smith.

Llambiarse was equally proud of the tough stance towards players or agents insisting on additional clauses: "We just do straight contracts. We do no overseas pensions, no image rights. We say, 'This is your money, now you go away and talk to your tax advisers if you must.'" The decision to scrap goal bonuses, he revealed, was partly prompted by the experience of watching Obafemi Martins in action: "Maybe that’s why he would always shoot from the halfway line! We used to see him on the ball and think, 'Oh look. He’s going to shoot again'".

Not content with changing the way we ourselves operate in negotiations, the pair seem to be intent on revolutionising the transfer system more widely: "We would like to see deferred transfer payments phased out, so that you just pay for a transfer over a year. Why pay for it over five years? Most do it. We prefer to pay it over a short period of time. This was put to the Premer League board in 2010 and was rejected by everybody. We are saying it should be discussed. You shouldn’t be spending money you haven’t got. It’s not the right way to behave". Fair point - and it's refreshing to see us trying to take a lead as regards financially responsible behaviour. The recently published accounts for 2010-11 show a reduction in our operating loss from £33.5m to just £3.9m, indicating that significant strides are being made towards making us a break-even club. While questions still remain to be answered about where exactly the £35m we received from Liverpool for Rocky went, the general picture is far rosier than it was a couple of years ago - and for that, at least, we should acknowledge Jabba and Llambiarse's efforts.

There was one final titbit from the latter: despite oft-repeated rumours, our owner isn't a Spurs supporter. Good to know - except that, in denying this, Llambiarse confirmed that Jabba's actually a Chelsea fan...

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