Newcastle United may be back in the big time, but their struggles have continued this summer - and other clubs must take note.
We hear it every year, but this, surely, is the summer when the English transfer window turned truly barmy. Clubs like Everton and Leicester City are able to spend amounts previously reserved for Chelsea and Manchester City and United. The two sides' failed £40million pursuit of Gylfi Sigurdsson shows just how far west the market has gone - or so the story goes.
Sigurdsson, at Swansea City, is as close to priceless as a footballer can be in English football at this moment in time. Huw Jenkins' £50m valuation is perhaps conservative. The midfielder's goals, assists and inspirational performances undoubtedly kept the club in the Premier League last season. A year earlier - and despite the best efforts of Andros Townsend - Newcastle United had nobody to save them. Now back in the top flight, the Magpies are still feeling the effects of relegation.
Rafa Benitez turned a £30m profit last summer and then achieved promotion at the first time of asking. In this climate, though, with a bumper new television deal, that still is not quite enough.
When Mike Ashley promised the manager "every last penny" back in May, newspapers plastered nine-figure budgets across their back pages. A warning published by Lee Charnley alongside the club's latest accounts - "results for the year ending June 30, 2017, will reflect the significant financial impact of relegation," he said - was quickly forgotten. Benitez could well drain Newcastle's bank account and yet it would not come close to matching the spending power of their Premier League rivals.
Swansea pipped Newcastle to the signature of Tammy Abraham as they met the lofty demands of his loan transfer. Boosted by £109m in prize money - for finishing 15th - it was a deal they could afford. With two weeks to go until the Magpies' top tier return at home to Tottenham Hotspur, the striker berth set aside for Abraham still has not been filled.
Brighton and Hove Albion, also promoted, have similarly faltered in an inflated market, while even Huddersfield Town - backed by the ambitious Dean Hoyle and breaking their transfer record on four occasions this summer - have not spent more than £11m on a single player. Newcastle's own highest payout, Michael Owen's £16m fee, remains unmatched some 12 years later.
Newcastle offer the best warning of the perils of the drop, having spent just a single season out of the division. The signings they have made look smart on a budget. Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy and Mikel Merino are talented players with great potential. The problem is that they are joining a Championship squad. Had these buys complemented a mid-table side, spirits would have understandably been higher on Tyneside.
It is true that the Premier League was fairly rotten from eighth downwards last season, but each and every one of the sides that stayed up has been given the opportunity to invest heavily before the new campaign. Survival has never been so vital and, for a promoted team, so difficult.
If Newcastle's situation is tough, however, it pales in comparison to the grave circumstances facing Norwich City and particularly Aston Villa. Both teams spent alongside the Magpies after relegation but failed to follow Benitez's men back into the top flight; Villa fell some way short.
And so, having exhausted their comparatively modest 2015-16 prize pot of £66m, Villa fans were greeted with reports of a budget barely into seven figures. They have still spent but have had to box smarter after seeing huge outgoing fees in the last two windows return little reward. Norwich, too, are working within tighter restrictions and were powerless to prevent the aforementioned Murphy from joining his boyhood club.
These teams must now compete with Middlesbrough, who have rattled through their own £105m fund. Sunderland and Hull City, perhaps wary of Villa's example, are acting more cautiously. The problem remains, though, that they simply cannot afford to miss out on promotion. Boro, it seems, are happy to speculate to accumulate.
Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher should guarantee goals in the Championship, but topping the table would still represent just half the battle for Garry Monk's side. Relegation hurts. Head 32 miles up the coast to Newcastle and Benitez can confirm that.
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