It was only a few months ago that the Salford Reds looked like their days were numbered. With debt of around £600,000 hanging over their heads and a winding up petition issues, the prospect of the Super League season kicking off with just 13 teams seemed like a very real possibility.
In stepped Marwan Koukash, a wealthy businessman and racehorse owner. He saved the club from collapse, and now he has some pretty ambitious plans to take the club from strugglers to becoming a Super League powerhouse.
You may have noticed in that previous sentence that I used the word “ambition”. That is a pretty loaded word in English sport. It normally means that a small club has dreams of playing with the big boys and challenging established groups of successful clubs. That is fantastic, but the way “ambitious” clubs usually chase their goals leaves a lot to be desired.
There is a reason why so many English sporting clubs push hard for higher levels of success only to fall spectacularly from their almost lofty heights, some never to be seen again.
In recent weeks the Salford Reds have made bold moves to sign former player Adrian Morley, Castleford Tigers halfback Rangi Chance, and most recently they have offered Wigan an undisclosed transfer fee for Sam Tomkins. All these moves are a sign of the Salford Reds new ambition to be one of the top clubs in Super League.
The problem with all of this is that fundamentally nothing has changed at the club. They are still one of many Super League teams running on a broken financial model that see’s all but a couple of teams making massive losses every year. They have a below average lineup of players and poor crowds. This is a broken club that needs years of work to turn things around. A club that needs to rebuild from the ground up.
Its all well and good for a rich owner to step in and offer to throw money into an unsustainable business, but what happens when he leaves? The owners of sporting clubs are never around forever. One day they all either run out of money, get sick of spending so much money on a club, or they go to that big private jet in the sky.
Rugby League in particular has seen many wealthy owners willing to throw money around for a while, only for things to turn sour when that cash flow dries up.
As Bradford Bulls fans about the days when they were a powerhouse in Super League and how all of a sudden, there was belt tightening. How things steadily declined until it got to the point where the club went bust. The Bradford Bulls were bigger than the Leeds Rhinos were now. They were unstoppable. If it can happen to Bradford, who even at their lowest point had a great asset in their stadium and that has a decent sized supporter base….it can most definitely happen to the Salford Reds.
Now I’m not saying Marwan Koukash is going to walk away. Far from it. Without him Salford would not have a Rugby League team right now. What I am saying though is that Salford needs a hell of a lot of other work to be done at the club long before it starts to look at signing one of the most expensive players in Super League.
The first person Salford should have looked to sign should have been Brian Smith.
Currently unemployed at any Rugby League club, Smith has a very healthy track record in Super League. Many credit him with the prolonged success the Bradford Bulls had and across the Rugby League world he has a reputation of going to clubs, sorting out their junior development pathways and discipline and getting clubs turns around in a short space of time.
Its not like Salford can’t produce some good junior players either. Over the years the club have lost a number of their best young players to other clubs. If they were able to get the most out of their juniors, they wouldn’t need to look at signing players from other clubs. They are one of the few teams in Super League that could build a decent squad out of players from their own back yard.
Long term sustainability should be Salfords main goal. That work starts right now! For all the money Salford might have to spend on just the transfer fee for Sam Tomkins, they could get a very good coach like Brian Smith or Tim Sheens that could turn the clubs around. They could supply the team with better training facilities and a better back room staff. Even the front office could be upgraded. The crowds Salford draw at home are terrible at times, if they got a decent marketing department they might actually make some money down the track.
All of these things should take priority over some big name signing that is just going to be wasted in their poor lineup anyway.
The Salford Reds only just survived the executioners wrath a few months ago. Now they need to dust themselves off and start the slow process of rebuilding. That does’t start at the very top with big name signings. It starts down in the foundations of the club.