Andy Penders: Welcome to the Big Time!

Fox Sports presenter, Andy Penders, attempts to fathom the cause for relegation in English football and touches on what is needed to play in the top flight
By Andy Penders

Congratulations to Cardiff City for their recent promotion to the Premier League and for indeed winning the nPower Championship. It looks likely that Hull City will be returning for a second stint in the Premier League, provided they win one of their two remaining games. It will be a second stint in the top tier for the Tigers who return after a two-year absence.

For Cardiff, it will be their first taste of life in the Premier League, and they will become the 46th side to have played at least one season in the big time. The Bluebirds do have great pedigree in the Old First Division by the way, having played there in the 1920's, 50's, and early part of the 60's.

But what does it take for clubs to get promoted? What does it take for teams to stay in the top flight? How can teams suffer relegation and bounce back?

What is even more remarkable for Cardiff is if you think back five years ago, when they were beaten finalists in the FA Cup thanks to a Nwanko Kanu goal for Portsmouth. The Welsh side were plying their trade in the Championship at that time, while Portsmouth were their more illustrious opponents, enjoying life in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp.

Right now, Pompey have just been relegated to League two, meaning three relegations in four seasons. Imagine forecasting the future with that prediction five years ago.

Why is it possible that some sides suffer relegations within a few years of each other? Leeds United, Southampton, Norwich, Charlton, Coventry, and Nottingham Forest are the sides that immediately spring to mind.

And there are also former Premier League clubs who are struggling in the Championship as we speak.

Barnsley are in the relegation zone, as are Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Blackburn are two points from safety.

Of the 45 clubs to have played in the Premier League, 18 are now in the Championship, five are in League One, one in League Two, and one side is now defunct. There are a number of clubs who have tasted life in the Premier League for just one season: Barnsley, Blackpool, Burnley, and Swindon, while Crystal Palace have had four spells in the top flight, all of which lasted for just one season.

Do the sides that constantly slip down the divisions after being in the Premier League have anything in common?

Portsmouth simply had financial problems which meant that they had to sell their best players and highest wage earners. The likes of Peter Crouch, Sylvain Distin, and Glen Johnson were shifted from the books, and while Pompey were still in the top flight they were unable to meet players' wage bills, and subsequently received a nine point penalty. After relegation there were more financial problems meaning, the club went into administration and the free fall firmly began.

Norwich City were another side that were in the Premier League, and then a few seasons later found themselves in League One. The Canaries' first season in the Championship saw them hoping to bounce back immediately. The summer saw little in the way of transfers out from the club but in a tough league, they only managed to secure eighth spot. Key players then left the club, including Robert Green, and despite a fairly solid start to the season, manager Nigel Worthington was sacked. Inconsistency meant the club finished 16th in 2006/07, and again they sold some of their best players to balance the books. The following season saw a 17th place finish, and spurred by a new board, the club bought in some fairly big named players in an effort to get back to the Premier League. However, a 22nd place finish meant League One football for the first time in 49 years. It appears a rotation of managers and a side with little unity caused relegations one after another.

Southampton's relegation trend points to problems off the field, which affected their performances on it. Wranglings at board level for several seasons and a change of ownership did not help matters as well as selling off promising talent in Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, and Kenwyne Jones. Failure to sell any of these players could have put the club into administration which duly came anyway, resulting in a ten point penalty and relegation into League One. Financial problems were certainly the cause for Southampton's downfalls as well as boardroom unrest.

Charlton suffered similar off the field problems with rumours of a takeover vibrant throughout the season immediately after they were relegated. Charlton were in debt, and once again were forced to sell some of their better players. The Addicks then suffered their second relegation in two years after an initial campaign that saw them invest in strengthening their playing squad.

Sheffield Wednesday are another club who have suffered the misfortune of trying to buy their way back into the Premier following the drop only to see spiralling debts and a succession of managers.

Sheffield United followed exactly the same path. Following relegation from the BPL (the Carlos Tevez saga and all), there was another string of managers who simply saw the wage bill rise with the quality on the pitch going the other way. Five years after gaining promotion to the Premier League, in 2011/12, the Blades were playing League One football.

So, which of the sides who were relegated last season from the Premier League and who are struggling in the Championship right now? Blackburn's problems seem easy to detect. Managerial change and boardroom uncertainty is having an ill effect on the players. Rovers' wage bill is spiralling out of control as they have the highest paid squad in the Championship. The ownership has certainly let them down and a heavy investment in the squad in the hope of bouncing straight back simply has not worked.

Wolverhampton Wanderers are currently struggling at the moment and given they appointed Dean Saunders this year, we can see that the trend of rotating your managers is simply not a good one. Saunders was the fourth coach that Wolves had in 12 months. Wolves also spent big in the summer, but this was offset by the sale of their two best players: Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis.

It seems there is a pattern here which all points to the simplicities of human nature.

Boardroom unrest will see performances affected on the pitch. Think about it, if your manager or owners at work didn't know what the future held for them, why should you work your ass off? You don't, it's human nature.

A succession of managers does not help galvanise a team. Sometimes, a new boss can be the catalyst for improved results, in the way Paulo Di Canio has gone about his business at Sunderland for example. But the trend for teams plummeting from one division to the next is that they have had a succession of managers.

Buying your way out of trouble does not work. The pattern that we see is that teams who spend big to get back into the Premier League will suffer. Imagine you have been at your company for a few years and have worked hard, although perhaps the desired results have not come your way. Then your company brings in some bigwigs, who are paid more than you, to help turn the situation around. Too many bigwigs and the air of resentment surrounding these overpaid mercenaries is as thick as the idea in the first place.

What seems to work in football is longevity, and good management. To get the best out of a group of players, the squad needs to be able to bond and aim for a common ground. The owners, board members, and staff need to tick like clockwork and any dissent from the ranks should be swiftly dealt with.

So don't worry if your team gets relegated. Life in the Championship can be fun. Life in the Championship can see a whole lot of W's. Life in the Championship can be as easy as relying on human nature to get you back to the top flight without the need for spending big. Once you are in the Premier League, well, that's a different conundrum altogether.


Andy Penders is a football presenter with FOX SPORTS.