By Jason McKeown
Undisclosed fee. If there’s one term guaranteed to rile football fans, it is the cloak of anonymity that a transfer can be buried underneath with the label of ‘undisclosed fee’. Why do clubs insist on doing this? What do they have to hide? Don’t we paying supporters deserve the right to this information?
Speaking on the local radio before Saturday’s home game against Bristol City, Mark Lawn revealed that Huddersfield Town had insisted that their purchase of Nahki Wells be reported as an undisclosed fee, something that Bradford City are forced to abide by. As the anger has raged over the transfer deal, you get the feeling that ‘undisclosed fee’ is not something particularly helpful to the Bantams. It allows speculation to rein rather than fact, with a widely held consensus that ‘undisclosed fee’ must mean the club has got a poor deal.
But is that actually the case? Is the transfer of Wells to Huddersfield really the badly-managed affair that many are portraying? If we actually look more closely at what we do know about the deal, I suspect it is much more profitable than what is widely assumed.
Firstly, let’s tackle the thorniest of issues – the club who has bought him. Wells was apparently insistent upon joining the Terriers rather than anyone else, and Lawn has even stated that the Board were unable to instigate a bidding war between the three clubs who had registered strong interest, due to Wells’ unwillingness to contemplate a move to the other two.
Understandably, this has hurt us supporters badly. Back in the 1990s, a fearsome rivalry was developed between the two neighbouring clubs, headlined by the Kevin Gray ‘tackle’ on Gordon Watson in 1997, which put the recent City record signing out of the game for 18 months.
The mutual loathing remains just as strong today – as evidenced during the League Cup tie earlier this season. Stuart McCall once famously observed that even a game of tiddlywinks between City and Town would be hugely important. It matters, and it is very, very painful to see Wells in that blue and white shirt, scoring on his debut.
Yet on Wells’ part, he has no knowledge or care for this rivalry. He is from Bermuda, not Brighouse.
Wells wanted to leave City this window, which is not in dispute. Phil Parkinson talked about how Nahki had lost some of his focus over the past few months, and attempts to persuade him to sign a new deal had been unsuccessful (WOAP heard from a well-placed source that he was offered £5k a week to stay). Wells is an ambitious striker, and at 23 and after two-and-half-years at Valley Parade, was ready to move on.
Huddersfield, to him, must have represented a logical choice. He doesn’t have to sell his house and move away from an area where he is presumably settled, and he gets to play in the Championship for a club who will provide him immediate game time. For all the talk of Premier League interest, it might have been too much too soon for Wells, who could have found he was swapping League One for reserve team football. Wilfred Zaha – a hugely talented footballer in my opinion – is a cautionary tale for all promising lower league players.
By moving to Huddersfield, Wells can look to establish himself at a higher level. He can play for a club who probably harbour long-term aims of promotion to the Premier League. He can play for a club who – if they don’t succeed in reaching the top flight – he would be able to move onwards and upwards from. The next stepping stone in a career that could easily have another 12 years to run.
We can continue to debate who is the bigger club between City and Town, but I seriously doubt whether Nahki cares who attracts the bigger attendances. He wants to play in the Championship, and from an employment perspective Huddersfield seems a logical move for a player with such aims.
What of the deal that City have secured? Well, what has been revealed is that the transfer is split into three different sections: an upfront fee, add ons and a sell on clause. The size of the upfront fee is unknown. The local media are reporting £1.5 million, while national reports are putting the fee at over £2 million. It’s not clear who is right, but it’s hardly the point – no one, outside the two clubs, knows what the fee is. Educated guesses are still just that: guesses.
The add ons have barely raised a mention in the conversation over the past couple of days, but these could be hugely important. Lawn confirmed that City will receive money for Wells’ Huddersfield appearances and goals, but there is likely to be more to it. We have seen the recent history of City selling youth players to big clubs with all manner of add ons included. There is no reason to believe it will be different with Wells.
It is rumoured that City receive £25k for every time Andre Wisdom plays for Liverpool. Clearly, Huddersfield won’t be paying the Bantams anything like that figure, but it could well prove to be a tidy sum of money when it is added up over time. It’s the same with the goals. If Nahki scores for Huddersfield – like he did yesterday – it appears that City will get paid. Other add ons could include a fee for Huddersfield avoiding relegation and/or getting promotion.
All of which is a double-edged sword for City fans. If Wells is finding the back of the net and Huddersfield are doing well, City benefit financially. It’s not exactly a compelling reason to start hoping for Town victories, but I guess there is some consolation to be had from any success Nahki and Town achieve.
Finally there is the sell on clause, which it has been suggested is a large one. The fact Wells has not made such a big step up now – and that his career can peak beyond Huddersfield – heightens the possibility of him one day moving on for a sizeable transfer fee, one that City will receive a cut of.
In September 2011 the club’s then-Head of Football Development Archie Christie told me about wanting to change City’s approach to selling their brightest young players, to benefit greater from sell-ons, “We don’t want our best youth players to go to Liverpool, we want them to go somewhere where Liverpool will buy them (and City would benefit from a sell on clause). We’d rather they go to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton, play there for two or three years and get to 20 and then a big Premiership club comes in.”
The Nahki deal has strong potential to be along similar lines. Just remember Fabian Delph and the money that City received as part of Leeds’ sale of the midfielder to Aston Villa.
When you consider what the undisclosed upfront fee, add ons and sell on clause might add up to eventually, the deal that City have struck for Wells could in fact prove to be very lucrative overall. And what’s more, staggered income could prove better for the club’s long-term future than having a one-off, bigger payment now – which in a matter of months would have been spent.
In the more immediate term, however, the money that has been brought in upfront is clearly important to the club. As David Baldwin told me in December, City committed to a 2013/14 playing budget that is £1 million higher than break-even point; with a £500k loss forecast for this season. Should City lose the Mark Stewart court case (the decision is due by Friday), that loss would rise to £750k. Baldwin disclosed that the club would make a further £500k loss in 2014/15, if they committed to the same size playing budget.
The initial proceeds of the Wells transfer will cover this season’s projected loss and ensure that no one else has to be sold (and a replacement for Nahki brought in). What’s more, it should cover the shortfall next season; meaning there shouldn’t be summer cut backs or a reduced playing budget.
Finally, the Wells fee should enable the club to maintain its fantastic season ticket initiative. In recent weeks there has been plenty of debate about how prices might need to be raised next season to ensure we can afford to retain the playing budget. To me it would have been completely wrong to abandon this principle and potentially price out thousands of City fans – particularly with attendances on the increase and renewed interest in the club following the 2012/13 heroics.
There should no longer be any reason to have to contemplate a price rise for next season, due to the Wells money. It is a proven long-term strategy that we should remain hugely proud of, particularly as the rest of football gets more and more crazier in its pricing policies.
I am absolutely gutted that Wells is a Huddersfield Town player, it is the one club I didn’t want him to join. But our feelings towards Huddersfield, as City supporters, are our own – they are not his. And I’m not sure it is fair of us to expect him to inherit our prejudices at the expense of what he believes to be the right career path.
I’m not sure that City’s board deserve to be slaughtered for supposedly not getting the best deal on the market. Wells has done so much for City since he joined, and he is not a piece of meat. Once his heart was set on Huddersfield, the board had a responsibility to get the best deal possible from them for his services.
We can only trust and hope that this was the case, but as the transfer is ‘undisclosed’ we will never know for sure. Either way, only time will truly tell just how good a deal this proves to be for Bradford City. Nothing can be concluded right now.