The Allams interview, part 2: Hull City's owners hit back at claims they weren't willing to invest
Assem and Ehab Allam speak exclusively to the Mail about transfers, budgets and their ambitions for Hull City.
The Mail: Have there been any significant changes to the football side of the business, and the management of it, between January of this year and today that could cause concerns?
Assem Allam: The policy is exactly the same, we have a very good squad, we are going to strengthen the squad, we are not going to move out any of our players that we need. We made this statement in December. We made money available in December and we chased the manager and Adam [Pearson] to buy strikers twice in our offices and a third time in the chairman's suite at the KC Stadium. The policy is still the same, we need to keep our squad and we need to add new players.
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Ehab Allam: Last year we said we wanted to push for a top-six finish. Nothing has changed. We still have ambition and we still want to drive the club forward, we are still looking to achieve a top-six status, with a promotion push next season. Nothing has changed. None of our core team are for sale. We were approached last week for some players and the offers were rejected. We have had no offers this week, despite recent speculation. We are in the same position as the last 12 months, we are looking at strengthening, not weakening, the squad. That won't change. We have a very good squad and the chance of a top-six finish and a promotion push next season, with a few tweaks.
Which players were offers made for and for what sort of money?
EA: I don't want to say but the press speculation has been pretty accurate so far. It is the principle for us. We are not selling.
AA: We rejected these offers before the developments of this week. There has been nothing changed this week.
Is there any concern that the current uncertainty could destabilise some of the key players?
EA: We have tried to reassure the coaching staff and the team that the club is not for sale, as has been suggested, we are still fully committed, and we are looking to strengthen, not weaken, the team.
Adam said it would be mainly free transfers over the off-season. Does that suggest there is not much money available to spend in summer?
AA: We have one of the highest wage bills in the Championship. We are much higher than most in the play-offs. In addition to paying that, we will also look to support the recruitment of new players. The question for us is not cost, it is value for money.
EA: We are not focused on the transfer funds, it is about bringing the right people who represent value, rather than anything else.
If your manager says he has identified a player who is the right man for you, at a cost of £1m, would you support that?
EA: We would take it on its own merits. We will consider everything on its own merits, take one decision at a time and make every decision count. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case so far, in our opinion. The decisions we have been making have not been ones that count, and as a club, we have still been wasting money.
You said the wage bill is one of the highest, what does it stand at now?
EA: This season it has been £17m, which is one of the highest. We now have the financial fair play rules which were released last week, saying clubs will be punished by an embargo on transfers if you don't conform to the regulations, so we have to look at the impact of that. We know that we have a lot of waste in our squad. Look at the fringe players who had no impact on the performance whatsoever, there is a lot to be saved without affecting the core team and the performance of the club.
How many players have we had this season who have never even smelt the grass on the pitch?
It's a combination, for me it is the principle of not having waste. We need to make every decision count and not have waste. That is what we do here. We invest to get a return, at the moment we are investing without a return.
You were very clear in stressing that money was available in January when you released a statement yesterday, why was this?
EA: Because there was speculation that it wasn't available, and it was.
Was there enough to bring in the quality of player needed?
EA: I had offered to fund a Premier League quality striker at a level between £30,000 to £40,000 a week for the rest of the season. That was my suggestion. I was saying 'don't you want a striker?' They were talking about extending the loans of Robbie Brady and Josh King, but I was prepared to offer that kind of money for a Premier League standard player to come down. They did not want it, but we offered it. I personally offered that to them. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't believe they didn't take us up on the offer.
Playing devil's advocate, you had previously said you wouldn't pay such big wages at the club?
EA: That's not true. Our policy is sensible decisions. When you are fifth in December, is it not sensible to invest? It was not a big risk either, it was a risk for four months. A high wage for four months is very, very different to being reckless and signing someone on a three-year deal on big wages. We are talking about where are you, and making a big decision. We were in fifth place, in December, with a chance of winning promotion. It was the right thing to do. For me, we have always said we will run a business on sensible decision making. It's not sensible to sign a player on big wages for three years, but when we are looking at a four-month window of opportunity, it is sensible given the position we were in.
Will I do that this summer? Who knows? Probably not, but if we are in the same position in January, I will want to have something in reserve to try and do the same again. You don't get to fifth and say that's it. Come on, let's be sensible. Who puts £50m in and then scrimps and saves on £30,000 to £40,000 a week to get you promotion?
AA: Having spent £48m already at that stage, and with a chance of promotion looking very promising, would you not spend £3m more?
I mentioned a name at the time, because it was a name floating around, of Billy Sharp. I heard the name so much around me so I mentioned the name twice to Adam and Nick and they said he was too expensive and would upset the dressing room. He was sold for £1.8m to Southampton and I would have sanctioned that signing in a second, although Adam and Nick did not request him. All of their requests were met which were the extension of Robbie Brady's loan, a new contract for Richard Garcia, the return of Jay Simpson and the loan signings of Josh King and Vito Mannone.
Will there be a different approach with it being a summer transfer window?
EA: We have our squad which is very good. We will strengthen in the summer. There will be players going out off contract, and there will be players coming in to strengthen us. I would also like to have something in reserve for the January transfer window if we're in the same position as this year. Again, it's all about sensible decisions. We have the added financial constraints of the Financial Fair Play rule (announced last week) and need to consider that but we are ambitious people. We didn't put £50m in to let the club slide.
There has been criticism that you've only ever wanted your hands on the KC Stadium and everything comes back to that issue. How would you respond to that?
EA: I understand the negative comments because of what has gone on in the club's past but if we were interested in property, we would have invested £50m in property. Would we really put £50m into a football club on a leasehold? Our interest is the football. The interest in acquiring the stadium was to increase the income for the football club, not for our personal gain.
The delays surrounding season ticket renewal forms has caused unrest amongst supporters, is there any cause for worry on that issue?
AA: Before they paid for their season ticket, we wanted the fans to know what the situation was. It was not fair on the fans to ask them to commit to season tickets when they don't know. They don't know and it's not their fault but we are unable to tell them what they want to know. When things are known and things have settled down, then we start on the season tickets.
EA: In the past, tickets have gone on sale early because the cash was needed. The reasons for timing of the sales and discount periods was all about needing the cash now. We're not in that position but, to be fair and open with fans, we are looking to adjust prices. We believe at a £17m wage bill we will be right up at the highest wage bills for the Championship, yet our season pass price was the fifth cheapest in the Championship last year. That needs to be balanced.
So, does that mean supporters should expect a price rise, then?
EA: I would like to pitch the season pass price at a mid-table price, but with the expectation of the top six finish to get value for money. With one of the highest wage bills and one of the lowest season ticket prices, that needs to be balanced. I don't want to tip it entirely the other way but at least come close to balance.
How much of an increase do you envisage being implemented?
EA: It may be around the 10-15 per cent mark but there hasn't been an increase for the last couple of years. We even had a reduction last year because we took the hit on the VAT increase, rather than passing it on. It would have been announced by now if it wasn't for the current situation.
AA: Having listened to that there is an interesting point fans will come up with. They will say we promised a reduced price of £5 and £10 but it needs to be kept in context. We said we were looking to increase the capacity and increase revenues for the football club. We never said we would take prices from £30 to £10. We wanted to have an increase in capacity and allow some fans to come in at a minimal cost.
Are the new Financial Fair Play rules of the Football League a concern if you continue to lose money?
EA: We are on target to come into line with those from next season while maintaining the current squad and current performance level. We are gearing the club from now to conform with the new regulations but still be competitive.
What are your long-term plans for the club? Have they changed in your time at the club?
EA: We are still pushing for promotion. The club is not for sale, the speculation is incorrect. We're not looking to sell players. We're not buying Hull KR. I don't know how these rumours start but they're all unfounded. Our actions are not about to instigate a mass exodus of the playing staff. Offers were rejected last week and we're not looking for offers to sell. Every offer has been rejected and every offer will continue to be rejected because our aim is to strengthen.
AA: Would it be the aim of any businessman to put £50m in and then see the company slide? There have been too many people scaremongering.
EA: We've said from day one that we'll run the club as a business and make every decision count. We don't believe in just throwing money at a problem, we believe in making the best decisions for the club.
Finally can you say whether Nick Barmby been suspended by the club?
EA: No comment.
Interview by Paul Baxter and Philip Buckingham
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