2017-18 Preview - Money helps fuel high ambitions of Yorkshire rivals
THERESA MAY spent the election vehemently denying its existence. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, made so many promises to voters that the only conclusion to be made was that, contrary to the denials of the Prime Minister, he had found one at the bottom of his Islington garden.
The money tree, mythical or otherwise, was a constant feature of June’s hustings but it is only now that we can say with any confidence that it does actually exist here within the Broad Acres. Or at least a version of it does, judging by the manner in which Yorkshire’s football clubs have been splashing the cash over the past month or so.
Huddersfield Town, their coffers swollen to bursting by the TV money that accompanies promotion to the Premier League, have been the most voracious when it comes to spending big.
The club’s record transfer fee was broken an incredible four times in less than a week at one stage as the White Rose county’s sole representative at the top table of English football made clear their intention to stick around for longer than one season.
Huddersfield, though, are far from on their own in displaying huge ambition this summer with Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday having already spent the thick end of £25m on two players between them.
New Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani also has not been shy when it comes to getting his wallet out, the near £20m spent on buying back Elland Road being followed by several seven-figure new arrivals in the transfer market.
After a slow start, Hull City, too, began spending with Kevin Stewart arriving from Liverpool for an initial £4m and the upshot is a season that – like the General Election in which the fabled money tree was such a constant feature – may well prove to be one of the most fascinating for many a long year.
This is certainly the case for the good folk of Huddersfield, a town eagerly looking forward to hosting top-flight football for the first time since 1972.
Excitement abounds, just as it did in Barnsley (1997), Bradford (1999) and Hull (2008) ahead of their own Premier League bows.
Two of that trio stayed up in that first season among the elite and David Wagner’s task is to follow the example of the Bantams and Tigers by doing the same.
The portents are promising, Wagner having once again made some astute signings with Aaron Mooy perhaps the key addition following his heroics on loan from Manchester City.
If there was a better midfielder in the Championship last season then this correspondent did not see him, Mooy’s ability to slow the game down when required or slip through the gears being key to Town upsetting the odds in such a spectacular fashion.
Steve Mounie and Tom Ince are also hugely promising signings by a club determined to make its mark among the elite.
Crucially, Wagner also got much of his work done early. This has allowed the German to – as was the case 12 months earlier – ensure the new faces are fully up to speed with Huddersfield’s style when the new season gets under way.
What Terriers fans will also quickly discover is that, the top six or seven clubs aside, the Premier League is nowhere near as all-powerful and intimidating as often made out.
There are plenty of distinctly average sides who survive year after year thanks to the failings of others, as Watford and Swansea City proved last season.
Into the Football League and, while change – something most Yorkshiremen shy away from as a force of habit – was the order of the day in the summer of 2016 as no less than five clubs appointed a new manager, this time around things have been much calmer.
Just Leeds, Boro and Hull have made a change since the end of last season, and even then the Elland Road outfit had theirs forced on them by Garry Monk’s decision to leave.
All this chopping and changing over the past year or so means Carlos Carvalhal, about to kick off his third season in English football, is comfortably Yorkshire’s longest-serving manager.
It is a big campaign for the Portuguese.
Back-to-back play-off qualifications for Sheffield Wednesday is a notable achievement in such a tough and unpredictable division.
But there is a growing sense that the next step now has to be taken. Financial Fair Play regulations – whereby clubs can lose up to £13m per season over a three-year period – are not impacting on the Owls just yet.
Nevertheless, after spending £8m on Jordan Rhodes this summer to continue the policy of investing heavily in transfer windows under ambitious chairman Dejphon Chansiri, Wednesday will soon have to start keeping a closer eye on potential losses or risk future punishment from the League. Promotion, of course, would wipe away that threat at a stroke.
Along with the Owls, Boro look an excellent bet to prosper in the Championship.
Britt Assombalonga’s capture for £15m underlines the level of intent at the Riverside and with Monk on board, the Teessiders will be strong.
Elsewhere in the county, Leeds and Sheffield United must hone the feelgood factor surrounding their respective clubs.
Radrizzani’s buyout of Massimo Cellino and subsequent purchase of Elland Road has ensured any hangover from last season’s disappointing fall out of the play-off places has been swept away but much will depend on how quickly the foreign legion of signings can settle.
At Bramall Lane, meanwhile, the momentum generated by last season’s record-breaking title win will surely smooth the club’s return to the Championship after six years.
Barnsley proved last season the step up from the third tier does not have to be an arduous one if the right manager is in charge and Paul Heckingbottom’s ability to unearth hidden gems should stand the Oakwell club in good stead once again.
As for Hull, a recruitment drive that has only picked up recently makes Leonid Slutsky’s job harder and it may well be a season of consolidation in the East Riding.
With no Yorkshire representative in the basement for the first time, all eyes in the lower divisions will be on League One.
Bradford City have had a summer of transition following May’s play-off final defeat, while Rotherham United’s main task is to banish last season’s travails. Doncaster Rovers, meanwhile, return on a high following promotion.
All are expected to challenge strongly, meaning anyone who can locate a money tree before Saturday’s kick-off may well be wise to pick a couple of notes and get down the bookies to back at least one of the White Rose trio.