From caution to big spending: the different approaches of Norwich, Aston Villa and Sheffield United to Premier League returns
Villa have spent emphatically while Norwich have trusted in what got them promoted
The temptation is to focus on the presence of the former managers of Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Dortmund II.
The Premier League curtain-raiser on Friday night is Liverpool against Norwich City, Jurgen Klopp versus Daniel Farke, but with ideas and personnel borrowed from the Bundesliga.
In another respect, however, it is the austerity derby.
Liverpool’s only senior signing this summer, Adrian, is a reserve goalkeeper.
Norwich have spent around £1 million (Dh4.4m) in transfer fees, bringing in Sam Byram, potentially their second-choice right-back, plus loanees Ibrahim Amadou, who could join permanently for £9m next summer, Patrick Roberts and Ralf Fahrmann and the free transfer Josip Drmic.
At both Anfield and Carrow Road, the emphasis will lie instead on coaching and continuity.
If it makes both clubs exceptions to the Premier League rule, Norwich are also the anomalies among the promoted clubs.
Sheffield United have broken their transfer record four times, raising it first for Luke Freeman, then Callum Robinson, followed by Lys Mousset and finally the £17m forward Oli McBurnie.
Aston Villa, whose overall outlay has topped £120m, have found themselves rubbing shoulders with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus among Europe’s biggest spenders.
Norwich’s approach has been altogether different.
“We’ll probably have lowest budget ever as a promoted side,” director of football Stuart Webber told the Eastern Daily Press in June.
He has been the instigator of an inspired recruitment strategy. Teemu Pukki, the scorer of 30 goals last season, arrived on a free transfer; Emi Buendia, the flair player who illuminated the Championship, cost just £1.5m.
Only Grant Hanley and Timm Klose of the current squad cost more than £3m and the latter’s arrival predated Webber’s.
They will go into the 2020s which price tags more redolent of the 2000s.
"We've not get caught up now in the euphoria of having money,” Webber added in June.
Norwich amassed a wage bill in their last stint in the top flight that was unsustainable when they were relegated; as Webber said this week, they then made £70m in sales and “95 per cent of it has gone to pay off misdemeanours”.
They are exuding responsibility. The risk, however, is that it appears also to be a crippling sense of caution.
The reality is that promoted clubs, especially those like Norwich and Sheffield United not burdened with players on Premier League contracts, come up with plenty of room for manoeuvre in a budget boosted by £100m of top-flight revenue.
Because Huddersfield were prudent with salaries, they could spend around £40m in the transfer market in 2017-18 and still make a £23m profit for the season.
Sheffield United’s recruitment of players from Swansea City, Nottingham Forest, Queens Park Rangers and Preston North End suggests they are not over-committing on wages and are operating with two plans in mind: many ought to stay even if they do go down.
The addition of eight players shows how slender their squad was. Even now, it is scarcely huge.
Villa’s spending spree highlights the wealth of their owners and brings comparisons with Fulham, whose £120m outlay did not prevent an ignominious relegation, but also reflects the modern Championship.
Borrowing forms a growing part of constructing a successful side and five of those who featured in their play-off final win were only on loan.
Villa faced a £60m bill simply to stand still, either by buying three of those players, in Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi, or equivalents, with Ezri Konsa replacing Axel Tuanzebe and Wesley Moraes taking over from Tammy Abraham in attack.
They also parted company with nine experienced players. With the honourable exceptions of Jack Grealish and John McGinn, they scarcely owned any bona fide Premier League players.
Time will tell how many they, Sheffield United and Norwich have now, but a test of their mettle doubles up as a nine-month experiment into different policies.
Updated: August 9, 2019 08:57 AM