Jan 31 2013 The Liverpool Post
TRANMERE are grappling with unfamiliar but welcome problems as they mount a strong challenge for promotion from League One for the first time in almost a decade.
Faced with the prospect of being a Championship club next season, or spending a 13th consecutive season in football's third tier, Rovers must plan for both.
Chief executive Nick Horton says the Wirral club are drawing up two budgets for next season to cover each eventuality. Rather than wishful thinking, it is a matter of necessity, he says.
For manager Ronnie Moore the task is even trickier.
He has to put together a group of players by the beginning of August who can be competitive in the Championship or a squad strong enough to mount another promotion push in League One next season -- but he won't know which it will be until late April or May.
Moore said: "This is the time when we have to start speaking to players about next season. We have 15 out of contract in the summer.
"Where we end up, division wise, dictates who we keep. How many of those 15 do we think will be good enough for the Championship if we go up?
"We will speak to one or two now but the others we will have to wait and see what happens. They will just have to realise there is not a great deal we can do. Not knowing which division we are going to be in is the hardest part."
Tranmere took the first decisive steps in laying plans for next season by securing the services of Moore and his backroom staff of assistant John McMahon, goalkeeper coach Dave Timmins and physiotherapist Gregg Blundell on two and a half year contracts last week.
This week Moore identified left-back Zoumana Bakayogo as a player he wants to sign for next season, irrespective of which division Tranmere find themselves in. Rovers are talking to the Frenchman's new agent in hope of renewing a contract that runs out at the end of the season. Tranmere also secured the future of promising teenage striker Cole Stockton on a two and a half year contract.
Decisions on many others will have to wait.
Horton said: "The type of players we consider approaching if we're in League One or the Championship will certainly be different. The infrastructure of this club will be different if we go up. Hopefully that is a headache we can cope with."
Moore added: "It is ifs and buts at the moment so we are preparing two budgets and plans. You've got to look forward and hope and pray we stay where we are in the table."
Tranmere operate on a budget that Horton says puts them in "the bottom six" of League One in terms of expenditure on players. Yet they have stayed ahead of the division's big spenders through the first 29 games of the campaign, holding top spot as they prepare for this weekend's home game against Carlisle United.
It is a remarkable achievement. No-one at Prenton Park wants to count their chickens or "put the mockers on" as Horton says, with 17 games of a wide-open promotion race to run in which at least a dozen clubs believe they have a chance of going up.
Moore points out that many players and agents will also be hedging their bets until Tranmere's destination for 2013/14 becomes clearer.
"If we start speaking now to some players we want to sign in the summer, all the agents will say is: 'it depends on which division you are in.'
"Those players might well come to us if we go up, but say no if we don't, so our planning is very difficult. It would be nice to me if we were 15 points clear. At least that would give us the chance to get on with it.
"But is going to be very tight. I think it will go down to the wire."
Whether Rovers win promotion or not, Moore can look forward to being "very busy" through May, June and July. "I hope we have a nice problem," he said. "If we are still in this division it will be easier to sort out a team for next season. If it is the next division up, it will be extremely difficult because we won't be able to pay anywhere near the money many Championship clubs pay players.
"Someone said to me the lowest budget for players in the Championship this season is £5 million. That shows you the gulf between this level and the next one up."
Tranmere's budget for this season probably comes out at between one quarter and one third of that figure.
Whoever is promoted from League One will be up against a group of Championship clubs enjoying the benefits of big parachute payments from the Premier League.
Horton said: "The football authorities like to talk about level playing fields but how can that be a level playing field?"
RONNIE MOORE has some history in operating in football’s second tier on a shoestring.
He won back-to-back promotions to guide Rotherham United into the Championship in 2001.
He said: “We had a wage bill of £1.5 million and we were playing the likes of Manchester City and West Ham. We stayed up for four years.
“Each summer you would look at the fixtures and wonder where you are going to get the 50 points from but we managed to do it.”