Around 100 years ago, when I was a football correspondent, rookie managers would turn to elder statesman Ronnie McFall for advice.
Big Ronnie was never one for sugar-coating or circumlocution. Golden rule: “Spend every penny those buggers give you… because they’ll sack you anyway. Oh, and good luck…”
The legendary Irish League title-winning boss with both Portadown and Glentoran was, and still is, right about that.
Not blowing the available dosh won’t earn you any brownie points for parsimony. Indeed, it’s more likely to be cited as one of the reasons you’re being handed your cards.
Conversely, spending big on a move that doesn’t work out can have a similar outcome.
An intriguing stat emerged last week, revealing that Fred, the non-scoring, largely unloved Manchester United midfielder, had been involved in more ‘goal involvements’ this season than Chelsea’s Romulu Lukaku.
Fred, at £47m from Shakhtar Donetsk, cost a pretty penny himself but wasn’t recruited for his incisive forward play.
Lukaku, whose transfer fee was more than double that of Fred, most certainly was.
Yet the Brazilian archorman’s goal against Leeds United put him ahead of £97.5m striker Lukaku who, that same weekend, produced a display of hitherto unprecedented anonymity against Crystal Palace.
The big Belgian, who is on £325,000 a week, touched the ball just seven times — the lowest 90-minute return of any player since Opta began keeping track on such things two decades ago.
Indeed, a topical joke doing the rounds was that any seizure of Chelski’s Russian assets wouldn’t involve Lukaku; they can gladly keep him. Ha. Ha.
But who’ll ultimately get the blame for that: the player who, as previous transfer fees have shown, remains undoubtedly valuable, or the manager who was in charge when he was brought in?
There’s no hint of Thomas Tuchel’s job being in any jeopardy at present, but questions are now being asked about why he was so keen on the club breaking their transfer record on someone who clearly doesn’t fit into the German’s long-term, possession-based strategy.
Lukaku will always score goals, but has he improved a team that won the Champions League last season? Are Chelsea really any closer to challenging for a Premier League title last won under Antonio Conte six years ago?
Ironically, Lukaku enjoyed one of the most productive spells of his career at Inter Milan, managed by Conte after he left Stamford Bridge.
It was the 28-year-old’s Scudetto-winning displays at the San Siro which convinced Tuchel to bring the ex-Everton and Man United forward back to Chelsea, the club that first blooded him in the Premier League.
The London club, however, has a poor record when it comes to splashing the cash on strikers who have done the business at other clubs — think Andrei Shevchenko, Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata and Timo Werner.
And now Lukaku is being branded by some as “the biggest waste of money in Premier League history”.
Having been at the club for only a few months, and having already bagged ten goals, that’s clearly unfair.
In any case, that ignominious label would surely sit better on Paul Pogba.
According to Mark Ogden, correspondent with ESPN, the Frenchman will have cost United £179.6m by the time his contract expires in June.
Those colossal £290k-a-week wages aside, Pogba’s 200-odd first-team appearances have come at an additional cost of over £80,000 per game, with his goals ‘value’ averaging out at around £4.5m apiece.
Let those figures hang in the air for a moment.
This wouldn’t rate a mention had 28-year-old Pogba helped deliver United’s 21st title or another Champions League but they haven’t got within a beagle’s gowl of either trophy during his spell at Old Trafford.
Yes, the World Cup winner contributed to the 2017 Carabao Cup and Europa League successes, but big clubs regard those as mere tinsel these days.
Pogba’s recent performance against Leeds was microcosmic of his second spell at United following a then world-record £89.9m transfer.
He was so brilliant in the first half, you were almost screaming at the United board to hand him a new deal worth half a mill a week.
Yet — and not for the first time — he went on to display similar anonymity to his one-time good friend and Red Devils team-mate Lukaku; giving the ball away, meandering back into position.
United, having been pegged back to 2-2, only secured the game after Fred — yes, there’s that man again — replaced his more illustrious colleague.
I’m told that the multi-lingual Pogba is hugely popular in the United dressing room but that was hardly the reason he was signed.
Five and a half years on, he is the costliest footballer the club has ever signed.
Lukaku eclipsed that last year and, no doubt, the number 10 who was recruited for more than even that mind-boggling fee is glad that the troubled Chelsea man is getting all the media attention at present.
Step forward, British football’s first £100m bench-warmer Jack Grealish.
The 26-year-old will pocket a Premier League title winners’ medal later this year, but it would be quite a stretch to suggest he’s been anything more than a peripheral part of the reigning champions’ set-up.
Like Lukaku, he’s been a less effective ‘forward’ this season than good old ‘Fred The Red’.
And as the former Aston Villa favourite admitted himself in December: “It’s been a struggle, and my new club hasn’t seen the best of me yet.”
But at least City manager Pep Guardiola won’t be sacked for slavishly following Big Ronnie’s advice and “spending every penny the buggers give you.”