MANY years ago I read a book titled "Left Foot in the Grave". Written by Torquay player-coach Garry Nelson, it chronicled a tumultuous 1996-97 season in the old third division. It was "a view from the bottom of the football league", far removed from the fantasyland of the Barclays Premier League.
Nelson was charged with the impossible task of resuscitating a team that was, essentially, beyond hope. There were no transfer funds. When he wanted to bring a new player to the club, he had to 1) sell off useless deadwood; 2) only bring players in on loan; and 3) somehow convince those loaned players that it was worth their while fighting for his lost cause.
When you follow a Premiership team, it's easy to forget that most clubs aren't owned by ridiculously successful businesspeople, sheiks, or oil oligarchs.
Queens Park Rangers were the big spenders over the winter transfer period as they snapped up Bobby, Djibril Cisse and Nedum Onuoha, among others. But which teams have performed the best in relation to how much they spent before the season began?
Unsurprisingly, Manchester City had the most lavish outlay when recruiting new talent. Mancini spent £68m to bring Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Stefan Savic, and Gael Clichy to Eastlands. The result? Sixty points after 25 matches, two more than deadly rivals United, and enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League tree.
Obviously, City's success is not the consequence of a three month money whirlwind - it has taken time for the cash effect to translate to results. But the two teams that stand out this year, in terms of value for money, are Norwich and Swansea City.
Over the summer, the Canaries shelled out just over £8m. The costliest buy was Steve Morison from Millwall, but Paul Lambert has dealt shrewdly to bolster his newly-promoted team. He bought Daniel Ayala from Liverpool and Anthony Pilkington from Huddersfield, while using the loan system to great effect: Kyle Naughton, Bradley Johnson and James Vaughan are all temporary residents at Carrow Road. Norwich are safe from relegation and, even more surprisingly, holding onto eighth place in the table.
Swansea may be three places below Norwich, but have been even more impressive this season. Since becoming the first Welsh club to reach England's top flight since 1983, Swansea have won plenty of plaudits. They had slightly higher expenditure over the summer, around £10m, but found one of the bargains of the year in goalkeeper Michel Vorm. Vorm arrived at the Liberty Stadium for only £1.5m from Utrecht and has been the rock behind a team that has played excellent football.
Refreshingly, the positions of both teams belie their finances. In a league where it is of paramount importance to "get into the Champions League" or "stay in the top flight" to reap the benefits of television broadcasting money, these clubs are proving their worth on limited budgets.
Neither Brendan Rodgers nor Lambert has been able to invest heavily, but they have recruited astutely. Making the jump up from The Football League to the Premiership is a mammoth task, which both teams have dealt with admirably.
And as Chelsea, who parted ways with over £65m, are now finding out: money can't always buy success.
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