Budgeting for the top six is a phrase that we’ve heard from Dundee’s board for quite some time now.
However with five clubs guaranteed to outstrip us in terms of cash on the park, what exactly does that mean? In practice it’s led to a pair of spoilt manager’s who only have to pretty much ask for a new player in order for one to appear in their squad. Does that mean we’ve aspirations, or just the inability to spend wisely? Squad size and results would certainly suggest the latter. So is this really the best way of using the cash we have at our disposal?
I think most Dundee supporters would agree that as a club we can't compete with Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs in terms of attendances and budget. So really, along with everyone else in Scotland’s top flight, Dundee FC are vying for one spot in the top six. Yes, clubs with bigger budgets can still have disastrous seasons, appoint clueless managers, or have events simply overtake them (three of those mentioned were a division below us recently), so stranger things have happened. While if you look 20 miles down the road, it’s clear to see that clubs with smaller budgets can also over perform relative to the money they spend on players. That St Johnstone didn’t have to ‘budget for top six’ to attain the relative success they did, tells its own story. Instead they've run a tight ship and recruited reasonably well while keeping the squad small. Worryingly we only have to look even closer to home to see that building huge squads and hoping to punt your best players for profit on a regular basis, is walking a tightrope of top three finishes and tumbling into near oblivion.
What Dundee are currently doing is playing fantasy manager. Every football manager is like a bairn in a toy shop, constantly shouting “I want one of those…and those….and THOSE….AND THOSE”. Telling anyone who’ll listen that he is only ever three or four players away from the perfect squad. Instead of playing the grown up and patiently explaining to our current and previous manager that they were given a new player just last week and haven’t even taken him out of the box yet (or got him to score any goals...), what our board have done is cater to the manager's every whim. Paul Hartley's player turnover was frightening, hence goodness only knows how much of our subsequent playing budget has been blown on players receiving a tidy wee sum to pack their bags.
Neil McCann likewise has signed a ginormous amount of players. From memory it was 11 before the transfer window, so we can raise that to 15 (excluding youth prospects). We bang on about teams like Ross County opening the cheque book and signing players willy-nilly whenever the transfer window is open, but we've been equally guilty in recent times, if not more so. In all honesty it's been quantity over quality. I know every manager makes good and bad singings and I'm not suggesting Dundee’s supremo should somehow buck that trend. But while the likes of Danny Williams or James Vincent were brought in with a serious eye to contribute weekly to the first team (and each in their own way failed to), or Nick Ross and Rory Loy proved capable of flash in the pan periods of productivity, why players who were clearly not up to snuff – like Marc Klok, Yordi Teijsse, or even Randy Wolters – were sanctioned as signings, really has to be called into question.
Call it naivety, blind faith, goodwill or maybe the board simply feeling that they are duty bound to back the manager they’ve placed their faith in, but the men at the top really need to scrutinise their own actions in creating the cycle of financial losses they have. Although I'm not arguing that they aren’t dutifully filling that money pit… for now. They are.
The statement that accompanies the club’s latest set of financial figures says that continuity is the answer, but surely we can't continue with the scattergun signing policy of recent times. In all honesty, some of the guys that have arrived have been worryingly below the required standard and we simply do not seem to be learning from those mistakes. That in itself feeds the self fulfilling prophecy, because in all honesty the squad needs another major clear out, which will inevitably be followed by another equally major restocking of the dressing room.
What makes this even more worrying is the naivety (which the Daily Record irresponsibly exploited for their own benefit) in that same statement regarding bringing more punters into the ground as though it will just happen. In ways it’s crass even suggesting that supporters not turning up in greater numbers is where the blame lies. The duty belongs to the club to attract them and keep them. Add in the ridiculous assertion (correct though it may be) that the TV deal is garbage (and may well continue to be so well beyond 2020) as though the league and its authorities are making Dundee Football Club spend the money we are, and both of those comments feel like classic "it's no ma fault, it's everybody else's fault".
Even if the board had said that they will make a priority of engaging existing fans and reach out to lapsed supporters to look at increasing attendances, or that they wanted to liaise with the league to help build a strategy to maximise TV revenue, then they would still be registering that these are areas we see as key elements needing attention, without looking like we're abdicating responsibility for our own accounts.
FPS and our owners do still seem to be looking to do the right things for the club off and on the park, but the worry is that they're still doing them in exactly the wrong way. Another clear out of players looks likely in the summer - if we can - followed by ever more recruitment. Leading to more settlement money earmarked for the departure lounge and more signing on fees for the new arrivals - and their agents. Is that really the continuity we’re looking to achieve? Let’s hope not.