No big fees as West Brom play the long game in window

Where has the money gone?

That is the question being asked by Albion fans following the closure of the transfer window.

The Baggies signed six players throughout the summer – each one a free transfer or loan.

And that means, quite rightly, fans want answers at the perceived lack of spending – with the club in receipt of parachute payments while star player Matheus Pereira was also sold.

Of course, the summer window has been played out on the back of the coronavirus pandemic – everyone understands that.

But it’s the sale of Pereira and those parachute payments that have left supporters angry and confused.

It’s important to note Albion, as a general rule, are cautious spenders.

Owner Guochuan Lai will not invest any of his own money.

And there is a feeling at the top of the club that, in the past, they haven’t spent money well.

That was particularly true in the summer of 2017 when the Baggies’ net spend of £42.8million was the sixth highest in the Premier League. That year they were relegated.

Sales

The Express & Star understands Albion expected their transfer kitty to be significantly boosted by the sales of Pereira and Sam Johnstone this summer.

Johnstone, of course, has stayed with everyone hopeful he will now sign a new deal.

But while Pereira did leave for Al Hilal, he left for significantly less than was expected.

While it has never been confirmed, the Express & Star understands the Saudi Arabian side landed the Brazilian in a £17million deal.

But the structure of that deal sees Al Hilal pay Albion £4.25million a year for four years.

The reality is the Baggies have hardly seen their transfer war chest boosted at all.

In terms of parachute payments, Albion are set to receive £40million this year, a drop on other years because of the pandemic.

But that payment from the Premier League is made in two instalments.

Albion received 60 per cent of it – £24million – in July. But the rest will arrive later in the season.

Nevertheless, £24million is still a significant sum of cash.

So where have Albion spent?

The club paid £2million in compensation to land boss Valerien Ismael from Barnsley.

Additional compensation was also paid to the Tykes to land members of his backroom team.

Loan fees were paid to bring in Matt Clarke, Jordan Hugill and Jayson Molumby.

Free agent arrivals Alex Mowatt and Adam Reach received signing on fees.

Agents were also paid for all of those deals.

Transfer instalments have been paid to both Huddersfield and West Ham for Karlan Grant and Grady Diangana – deals that were done last summer but which Albion are committed to over the next few years.

The Baggies have also had to set money aside for Molumby – with his loan move highly likely to become a permanent transfer.

All those things though pale into insignificance when it comes to Albion’s biggest outlay: Wages.

The Express & Star understands Albion have the second biggest wage budget in the division – with only Fulham spending more.

Increasingly in the Football League, clubs are spending more on wages than they are spending on transfer fees.

The last time Albion were in the Championship, their wage bill for all staff was £59.7million.

It is understood to be even higher now with the likes of Matt Phillips, Kyle Bartley and Darnell Furlong having all recently put pen to paper on new long-term deals.

Because the club has multiple players on long-term contracts – with Grant, Diangana and Callum Robinson among them – it is understood Albion have also set money aside in case they aren’t promoted in the next two years.

The aim is very much to return to the Premier League as quickly as possible. But if Albion don’t, and there are no guarantees, they want to ensure they can still spend big on wages in the 2023/24 season – when they won’t be in receipt of parachute payments any more.

The Express & Star understands Albion’s wage bill is now a similar figure to the club’s revenue.

That is perhaps the most important point of all.

There was some wriggle room to make another addition last month if Ismael truly felt the squad needed it.

But Albion are a club without an overdraft.

That is something they are particularly proud about, especially when the club’s latest published accounts – for the 2019/20 promotion winning season – showed they made a loss of £23.7million.

We probably won’t see the accounts for last season – when fans attended just one match at The Hawthorns – until March next year.

All these factors go someway to explaining why Albion haven’t spent a transfer fee this summer.

It’s a choice the club has made.

And it is frustrating for fans, especially when they see clubs like Bournemouth splash out £4million on deadline day.

The bottom line, though, is Albion are running a tight ship.

That will not change while Lai is owner.

And the outpouring of anger that arrived on social media on Tuesday wasn’t actually because the Baggies haven’t paid a transfer fee, it was because Lai is continuing to hold Albion back by not investing his own money – although the Express & Star understands he has not taken money out either.

What also angered Albion’s fans was CEO Xu Ke – who is known as Ken – describing the budget as ‘healthy.’

Many people felt that implied Albion would be significant spenders this summer.

Ken did make that comment at a time when the club expected both Pereira and Johnstone to be sold.

But it was a clever choice of word – with any club operating without the need of an overdraft following the pandemic in a ‘healthy’ position.

The truth is Albion are never going to be able to spend what fans crave while Lai is owner. The quicker he sells the better.

But there are still plenty of positives.

Ismael has built a squad where – with the exception of right wing-back – there are at least two senior players for each position.

The boss has also built an outstanding team spirit and has all his players believing in his high energy, high intensity style of play.

Albion have also won their last four games and sit joint top of the Championship.

It really has been a fantastic start to the season. A number of fans would like to see more cash spent.

But this squad, with Ismael’s guidance, should be good enough to continue to push for automatic promotion.

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