Here are the programme notes: 'Your Transfer Window Questions Answered With Gary Sweet' from Saturday's edition of This Is Our Town.
After a busy summer of ins and outs, Town chief executive Gary Sweet answers all the pertinent questions Hatters fans may have about the club's transfer window activity...
With Cameron McGeehan, Jack Marriott, Isaac Vassell and Tyreeq Bakinson all sold this summer, have Luton Town become a feeder club for higher level teams?
Absolutely not. The summer window is always busy for most clubs, every year, including us. In general, we've not released any more players than we have in previous summers, it's just that we've managed to attract good fees for more of them, which is a testimony to our long-term progress. If people deem us to be a selling club then everyone else is, at every level. For example, most top Premier League clubs have sold more players for fees than we have, often to clubs higher up and as we climb the leagues, this will inevitably continue.
Has the departure of Vassell and Marriott left us short of firepower up front?
I wouldn't say so and it's impossible to answer that question without balancing it with our new recruits, James Collins, Elliot Lee, Harry Cornick and Aaron Jarvis. Whether it is the player who initiates the move or the club, it is always our objective to strengthen the whole squad for this season and the longer term. We firmly believe we have achieved that.
How close did we come to signing a new central defender?
Quite simply, whilst we browsed and pushed a couple of buttons, we couldn't land a player who was better than what we had and who was suitable for us, at this moment. We shouldn't underestimate the quality of defence we had last season (and now) so although we looked to strengthen, we did so by adding three new goalkeepers, a full-back full of potential and an experienced holding midfielder, all of whom should contribute to the team letting in fewer goals than we did last term.
How much profit have we made from players sold this summer?
A reasonably good profit on balance, over time. However, it's difficult to be specific on values when we can't or don't feel it appropriate to disclose individual fees. The net income is sufficient to give our generous shareholders a well-earned break from covering operational losses. As a rule of thumb, if we make a profit on a player (the balance remaining from transfer income minus sellon costs) we generally re-apportion it three ways – to strengthen the squad, to invest in longer-term performance infrastructure (such as training facilities, conditioning equipment, academy facilities) and to ease the burden on the shareholders. This summer's trading has enabled us to achieve this and also help provide some reserves to support our planning applications too. Statistically speaking:
• Including loans in and out, we said goodbye to 15 players and replaced with 11;
• We committed to spend on fees, less than a quarter of what we received;
• We have increased our future potential income on balance by securing good add-on clauses and very good sell-on percentages;
• Our wage bill remained broadly static, as did the squad's average age.
Do we get the majority of the money straightaway?
As bizarre as it sounds – and contrary to the way other clubs operate – we have no objection to phasing income payments over a longer period, not only because it provides longer term stability but it also enables us to negotiate better contingent clauses in transfer contracts. Similarly, when we buy, we tend to negotiate robustly with the temptation of an immediate payment in full.
Why don't we disclose transfer fees paid or received?
I mostly explained this in my Ipswich programme notes but I'll expand. Whilst we always prefer to be transparent in this respect, there can be a number of reasons a fee is undeclared. Firstly, if the trading club wishes it to be undisclosed, we cannot. Secondly, if the player is a teenager, we don’t think it appropriate to draw unnecessary pressure on them. Thirdly, when we’re expecting an active market, we prefer not to show our hand and weaken our position. Lastly, and probably most validly, the complexity of transfer contracts these days generally tends to be high, and especially so with us (due to pushing the negotiation in every way we can), which makes it very difficult to estimate a comparable value to any sale. It’s not untypical for a transfer agreement to contain up to 30 clauses and sub-clauses, all of which would need to be publicised in order for the deal to be fairly valued, at which point confidentiality would then be breached. Needless to say, we categorically do not call them undisclosed in order to drain profits from the business – as has happened in the past. Indeed, as shareholders, Trust In Luton representatives will be shown the full detail of our transfer activity at our next board meeting.
Why are we selling our young prospects from the academy?
It isn’t a primary strategy to sell our young prospects. Of course, everybody’s dream scenario would be to recruit a young boy at seven, debut him at 17 and retire him at 37 by turning him into a successful academy coach. In the real world however, this simply isn’t going to happen so we must ask ourselves what the objective of an academy is, and whilst it remains that its aim is to deliver players into our first team, we must face a number of stark reality checks.
Firstly, our academy is in transition on a journey from a well-established EPPP3 academy with the short-mid-term aim of elevating to Category 2. This means we currently do not have a full development squad so the opportunity to join a regular games programme is limited, which suits some lads but not others.
Secondly, we’re the victims of our own success. Our league and cup adventures of the 2015/16 season were because we had an overabundance of rich talent at that particular age group. Despite this success it simply isn’t feasible to expect more players to be introduced to the first team when our expectations to gain promotion are greater than ever. Additionally, winning the U18s double also brings an over-expectation amongst that age group whereby, for them, such success generates more desire to take the next step up without necessarily having to graft as hard as they would need to without the success. This is a challenge every young player needs to face and every coach needs to manage.
Thirdly, in order to further develop our academy status, we need to generate income to fund it. For example, the income which will be received from Tyreeq’s transfer fee and potential future values will go some way to help build a 3G dome – a prerequisite for EPPP2 status! So, whilst this isolated case may seem like a backwards step, it is a giant leap forward for the academy as a whole providing a more stable long-term platform for the Club. Part of the 2020 mission statement was that LTFC’s first team should include, on average, at least three players developed from its own youth academy and three more from its development squad.
Does this policy still stand?
Firstly, since the creation of 2020 Mission almost ten years ago, the introduction of the EPPP framework run by the Premier League has made those objectives much, much more difficult, as did our five-year formal departure from academy football! Without opening the can of worms to assess where that all went wrong while we were away however, our original policy stated that we should aim to give three academy players professional contracts, which we are delivering. The most challenging phase in a young player’s career now – not just at Luton but at every club at every level – is how they elevate from turning pro to securing a first team position. James Justin is the perfect example of how it should be done and we see great delight in watching JJ’s professional career progress so magnificently. But don’t we also take great delight in looking out for those who have moved on, such as Jay and Cole DaSilva or Cauley Woodrow? I certainly do.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the summer transfer window from a club’s perspective?
There’s no denying, from a business perspective, it has been an excellent window, but it would be wrong to rate it just now. But, if we get promoted this season it’ll be a 10!